‘It is in America’s interest to see Hamas crushed’: Experts on why a Rafah operation is necessary

Israel’s war is not against just Hamas but Islamist terrorists more broadly.

By Jack Elbaum, The Algemeiner

Israel must operate in Rafah, Hamas’ last stronghold, if it wishes to achieve its war objective of eliminating the threat posed by the Palestinian terrorist group, according to experts who spoke with The Algemeiner.

The United States has been pressuring Israel not to move forward with full-scale military action in the southern Gaza city, but Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has reiterated that “we are determined to do this.”

Max Abrahms, a tenured professor of international relations at Northeastern University and a consultant to US government agencies, told The Algemeiner that it is “imperative for the Israel Defense Forces to go into Rafah.”

There are a few reasons for this, he explained. One is that, because there are substantial numbers of Hamas terrorists and leaders in Rafah, an operation is the only way for Israel to achieve its war goals of destroying the Islamist group.

“Obviously, Israel could take them out with air power alone,” he said, “but the civilian toll would be prohibitive. It is both more effective and humanitarian to deploy boots on the ground.”

Another reason is to re-establish deterrence: “Beyond Hamas,” Abrahms explained, “Israel is surrounded by tens of thousands of state-sponsored terrorists when you include those hiding out in Lebanon and the West Bank — not to mention Gaza. Winning the war against Hamas is critical for signaling to other non-state Israeli adversaries and their backers in Doha, Tehran, Ankara, and Sana’a the costs of attacking Jews.”

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Since Hamas launched the current war in Gaza with its Oct. 7 massacre across southern Israel, the Hezbollah terrorist group in Lebanon has been firing rockets at northern Israel daily.

Tensions have been escalating between both sides, fueling concerns that the conflict in Hamas-ruled Gaza could escalate into a regional conflict.

Meanwhile, Israel has arrested thousands of wanted terrorists in the West Bank since the start of the war, roughly half of whom are members of Hamas, according to the Israeli military.

And in Yemen, the Houthi rebels since Oct. 7 have been attacking shipping in the Red Sea and targeting Israel in what they say is a show of solidarity with the Palestinians.

In such a security environment, Israel’s war is not against just Hamas but Islamist terrorists more broadly, according to experts, who say defeating the former will help combat the latter.

“The same holds true for the broader global jihad. Hamas is on al Qaeda’s side,” Abrahms said. “Indeed, Operation Al Aqsa Flood [Hamas’ name for the terror group’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel] breathed new life into the global jihad. A win for Israel is a win for counter-terrorism around the world.”

He pointed out: “This is why it is in America’s interest to see Hamas crushed.”

Abrahms also linked an operation in Rafah to the release of the remaining hostages seized by Hamas terrorists on Oct. 7.

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Even though “some commentators have suggested that negotiations [for the hostages] in lieu of military force are more effective for bargaining,” he acknowledged, “this perspective is deracinated from the international relations literature, which emphasizes in the bargaining literature that threats of force are an important part of bargaining processes.”

“The specter of full-scale defeat is the best motivator for Hamas to relinquish the hostages,” he argued.

Elliott Abrams, senior fellow for Middle Eastern studies at the Council on Foreign Relations and a former White House deputy national security adviser, agreed.

“In the end, if Hamas survives as a fighting force and government it wins the war,” he told The Algemeiner. “Israel is rightly unwilling to contemplate such an outcome. But there are four enlarged Hamas divisions in Rafah, and if they are not destroyed that is the real outcome of the whole conflict: a Hamas victory. This is why Israel must eventually go into Rafah.”

The primary objection to an Israeli operation is that it will make an already dire humanitarian situation worse. US President Joe Biden said he has “deep concern” over such a prospect.

Over a million Gazans are currently in Rafah — a city that usually is home to just a few hundred thousand people. Getting access to food and medical care in Gaza has become extremely difficult, bordering on impossible in some cases.

Abrams acknowledged that the battle in Rafah “requires allowing Gazans to move away, whether to northern Gaza or other parts of southern Gaza.” He said if this does not happen, then “it will be impossible for Israel to fight effectively.”

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It would also likely result in many civilian casualties.

Consequently, Abrams explained, “the discussions between the United States and Israel should focus on exactly this: how to provide other refuges for Gazans now in Rafah. This will likely require provision of tent cities and other new (perhaps prefab) housing, and food, at locations outside Rafah.”

Reports indicate Israel and the US are currently discussing how exactly to approach a Rafah operation.

Amid these discussions, and continued pressure on Israel by the US not to move forward with an operation, former US Ambassador to the United Nations and White House National Security Adviser John Bolton wrote this week: “The critical question is whether Biden agrees that Israel’s legitimate right of self-defense includes its clearly-stated objective of eliminating Hamas’ military and political capabilities.”

He advised that “this is not the time for the United States to show weakness, especially at the UN.”

Bolton explained why by pointing to a larger goal than just defeating Hamas, arguing, “Victory there could be a decisive turning point in the struggle against the ultimate aggressor: Iran.”

Both Hamas and Hezbollah are backed by Iran, which for years has provided the terrorist groups with arms, funding, and training. The Iranian regime also supports the Houthis, whose slogan is “death to America, death to Israel, curse the Jews, and victory to Islam.”