Israel-Gaza War: Tel Aviv to unscramble and respect the “red lines”

If Rafah, which Netanyahu calls the last bastion of Hamas, is fully invaded amid large-scale casualties, then the region may not see peace for years to come.

Even after seven months and various twists and turns, the Israel-Hamas war sees no signs of abating, let alone a ceasefire or truce. On the contrary, the fears of a full-scale Rafah invasion are becoming more real with every passing day. Rafah is the last cornered bastion for the million plus internally displaced Gazans bearing the brunt of Israeli firepower and a lack of sustenance due to utterly interrupted humanitarian supplies.

Rafah is a ‘red line’ even for the Americans, who have been all-weather supporters of the Jewish state despite the Biden administration becoming frustrated with the ultra-right government of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Biden‘s pause and hold in the supply of arms and ammunition to the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) does not seem to have affected the morale or intransigence of the vengeful political leadership of Israel, even as Netanyahu dramatically claimed that they will fight with bare nails, if needed. Knowing too well the power of the Jewish lobby at the Capitol, he also announced that Israel was not a ‘vassal state’ of the US and that the intense part of the fighting in Rafah is just weeks away .

Once again, as regards the ‘two state solution’, Bibi was categorical in rejecting it as the ‘greatest reward for the terrorist that you can imagine’, completely disregarding all UNSC, UNGA, Arab Peace Plan, and all other resolutions and hopes that envisaged a viable Palestinian state living side by side with Israel since 1948. Moreover, even though most members of the UNSC voted for a resolution to give full UN membership to Palestine, Washington happily vetoed it for lame reasons. UNGA has, again with a big majority, requested the UNSC reconsider it, but the result will most likely be the same as the US will not listen to its conscience.

No wonder the US Congress passed a resolution asking the President not to stop supplies of arms and ammunition to Israel. The Israel Security Assistance Support Act would prevent Biden from freezing any congressionally approved military aid to Israel, including 3,500 2,000-pound and 500-pound bombs that he has put on hold.

But such small victories will have their own costs for Tel Aviv as the Biden administration begins to count its own real costs and losses in an election year when it is increasingly facing domestic and international pressure and protests for its complicity and double standards. However, the US military has completed the installation of a floating pier for the Gaza Strip to ferry badly needed humanitarian supplies through the Mediterranean, as they realised the ineffectiveness of their hold over Netanyahu.

Rafah is not only critical for the Palestinians but also for the Egyptians, who have been trying to persuade the Israelis not to invade Rafah, which could eventually breach the 1979 Peace Treaty between the two countries. In order to avoid a direct conflict with Tel Aviv, Cairo has not been keen to take the Palestinian refugees, but the full-scale Rafah invasion would alter the ground situation and could alienate Israel, and convert Egypt into an adversary forced to confront Israel.

This would add a serious complication to the already fragile and fungible West Asian complex. This is the reason that Egypt has joined South Africa at the International Court of Justice (ICJ), which is debating charges of ‘genocide’ by the Israelis in Gaza. Likewise, the International Criminal Court (ICC) is discussing issuing an arrest warrant against Benjamin Netanyahu for the same reasons, which will create difficulties for Bibi, who is already in the docks at home for corruption and other charges. Iran and Israel were on the verge of an expanded war that was averted.

Turkish President Erdogan has not only stopped all trade but, speaking to the Parliamentary Group of his Justice and Development Party (AKP), claimed, “If this rogue terrorist state of Israel is not stopped, it will set its eyes on Anatolia with its delusion of a promised land.” Saudi Arabia, the UAE, the Arab League, and the OIC have all warned against the invasion of Rafah.

It is evident that if indeed Rafah, which Netanyahu calls the last bastion of Hamas, is fully invaded and large-scale casualties occur in the complex of the Middle East, hope for further normalisation will be dashed for years to come. Miffed Qataris have said that the ceasefire talks are virtually dead as the Israeli leadership refused to consent to the draft that Hamas had agreed

As an unprecedented number of UN personnel have lost their lives in Gaza, Secretary General Antonio Guterres has been highly critical of the Israeli collective punishment and continued bombardment of the Palestinians while criticising Hamas’s terror attacks and retention of hostages. He lamented in a tweet, “In speed and scale, the war in Gaza is the deadliest conflict in my time as SG—for civilians, aid workers, journalist and UN colleagues.. any assault on Rafah is unacceptable. It would inflict another surge of misery when we need a surge in life saving aid.” As if anyone cared.

On Wednesday, an Indian former Army Colonel, Retd Vaibhav Anil Kale, of UNDSS, was killed by a missile attack by the IDF in Gaza. Even if it was by mistake, it has underlined the madness of the ongoing war as poor hostages also continue to suffer seven months of captivity in filthy and adversarial conditions. The Indian government issued an advisory against travel to Israel as Air India operations were halted. India was also forced to deploy her naval assets in the Red Sea and Indian Ocean with the rising threats and attacks by Houthis on commercial shipping in commiseration with the Hamas.

India has a strong strategic partnership with Israel, and both have stood for each other in times of crisis. India also condemned the October 7 terrorist attacks by Hamas, as it underscores the need for a viable and sovereign Palestine side by side with Israel. India also voted at the UNGA for Palestine and voted against the settlements.

But seeing the extant killings and destruction of Gaza and the plight of Israeli hostages, PM Modi has been talking to various leaders in the region and beyond, including Netanyahu, urging for a ceasefire. Speaking to several media outlets this week, PM Modi mentioned that he had sent a Special Envoy (NSA Ajit Doval) in March to tell Israelis not to bomb Gaza during Ramzan, and they tried to follow it.

The ’day after scenario’ is perhaps too early to call, but there is definitely divergence of opinion on Gaza’s governance between Defence Minister Yoav Gallant and Netanyahu and his right wingers, who threaten to pull the rug from under his feet should he be seen as being soft to Palestinians. Israeli Minister Ben Gvir again called for the colonisation of Gaza, while Gallant did not want the army to rule Gaza, as the controversial Senator Lindsey Graham went crazy in reportedly suggesting to “hit Gaza with a nuclear bomb to end the war”, provoking the Japanese Foreign Minister to denounce such comparisons.

But either way, there is a deep dyke that may not be filled until a permanent solution is found and respected by all sides. Hope the hitherto mute and frustrated international community will absolve itself creditably.

Anil Trigunayat is a former Indian Ambassador to Jordan, Libya and Malta and is a distinguished fellow with leading think tank Vivekananda International Foundation.

The article was originally published in The First Post as Israel-Gaza War: Time for Tel Aviv to respect the ‘red lines’ and find permanent solution on May 18, 2024.

Disclaimer: All views expressed in the article belong solely to the author and not necessarily to the organization.

Read more by the author: Netanyahu’s Defiance, Biden’s Dilemma: US Support for Israel Strains Under Unrelenting War

Acknowledgement: This article was posted by Ankita, a research intern at IMPRI.