​This Situation Assessment was originally published at the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies

Ignoring warnings from his international allies, especially in Washington, Israeli Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, on 6 May greenlighted a "limited" military incursion into the eastern neighbourhoods of Rafah. The Israeli forces seized the Rafah crossing into Egypt and about 3.5 km from the Salah al-Din (Philadelphi) Corridor, which extends along the border between the Gaza Strip and Sinai. The assault on Rafah came only hours after Hamas announced it had accepted the terms of a truce brokered by Egypt and Qatar in coordination with Washington.


In the past several months, decision-makers in Israel have expressed almost unanimously their conviction that, following the Battle of Khan Yunis, occupying Rafah is crucial to achieving the declared war goals of eliminating Hamas' governing and military capabilities in the Gaza Strip and recovering Israeli captives. On 6 April 2024, the Israeli army withdrew from Khan Yunis about four months into fighting without achieving any of its goals.[1] Subsequently only about five battalions of the Israeli army remained in the Gaza Strip, compared to more than 25 battalions in the occupied West Bank during the same period. The five battalions were stationed on the road built by the Israeli army in the centre of the Gaza Strip (Netzarim Corridor), which divides it into northern and southern halves, to prevent displaced Palestinians from returning to the northern Strip.

The hesitant US position has prevented Israel from carrying out a full-scale operation to occupy Rafah, so the Israeli army has remained stagnant in the Gaza Strip in recent weeks without achieving any significant goals other than further killing Palestinian civilians. In light of Netanyahu's insistence on carrying out a large-scale military operation in Rafah, the Biden administration agreed to a "limited" military operation in Rafah, with the aim of pressuring Hamas to make more concessions in the prisoner exchange negotiations.

Limited Military Operation

Several factors forced Israel to settle, at least for the time being, for a "limited" military operation in Rafah. First, despite Washington's support for Israel's declared objectives of its war on the Gaza Strip and its provision of various forms of military, economic and political assistance to achieve them, the Biden administration and the extreme right-wing government of Netanyahu differ on multiple issues related to the war, including Washington's reservations about a large military operation in Rafah, fearing the loss of large numbers of civilian lives. Currently, about 1.3 million Palestinians in an area of land that does not exceed 64 square kilometres, in addition to the dispute over what the plans are for the "day after" and Israel's lack of commitment to allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza, which has led to famine in the north. Netanyahu strongly opposes the US administration's vision for the Gaza Strip the day after the war, which calls for the withdrawal of the Israeli army after achieving the war's goals, the return of a "revived" Palestinian Authority in government, and creating political unity between the West Bank and Gaza as part of vision for a future Palestinian state. But Netanyahu continues to reject the establishment of a Palestinian state, even in exchange for expanding its normalization with Arab countries...

Read the full paper at The Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies.