How Israel pushed ‘red lines’ to get its way in Rafah | Israel-Palestine Conflict News

Israeli tanks have entered Rafah city center and its army announced that it now controls the entire Philadelphia Corridor, the strip of land that runs along Egypt’s border with Gaza’s Rafah governorate.

This violates the conditions of its treaty with Egypt which stipulates that the strip, also known as the Salah al-Din Axis, is a buffer zone that Egypt oversees from its side of the border.

Israel had been threatening a “full-scale” ground invasion of Rafah for months, much to the distress of the international community, which warned that such an attack would be a “red line.”

Then, just over three weeks ago, on May 6, Israel said it wanted to carry out a “limited operation” against Hamas targets in eastern Rafah.

He stepped up airstrikes in the area and ordered some 100,000 displaced Palestinians, crowded there, to be evacuated to al-Mawasi, which, aid organizations have said with horror, cannot sustain human life.

By the next day, he had taken control of the Rafah land crossing, a death knell for aid deliveries to the besieged and battered Gaza Strip and its starving people. From then on, things only got worse for the 1.4 million people who sought refuge in Rafah.

Whose line is it?

Israel appears to have crossed all Western “red lines” with no apparent consequences or remorse for the Palestinian victims, experts told Al Jazeera.

In February, all members of the European Union – except Hungary – warned Israel against a large-scale military operation in Rafah and the staggering human cost it would cause.

In March, US President Joe Biden said a major Israeli invasion of Rafah would violate its self-proclaimed “red line” unless steps were taken to protect and evacuate civilians.

As it escalated airstrikes and ground assault on Rafah, Israel’s lawyers told the International Court of Justice (ICJ) on May 17 that it would be a “localized” operation.

Israel then captured part of the Philadelphia Corridor between Gaza and Egypt, which sees the move as a threat to its national security and the treaty between them.

As its ground forces pushed deeper into Rafah from the east, Israel maintained its attacks on the western flank of the governorate.

On May 26, it attacked a displaced persons camp in Tal as-Sultan, west of Rafah; Gaza’s media office said Israel dropped a 2,000-pound (900 kg) bomb on the camp.

Israel said it fired a precision missile at a target more than a kilometer away, apparently to kill two Hamas fighters, and that damage to the camp must have been caused by a fuel tank explosion.

At least 45 civilians (half of them children) were burned, decapitated or otherwise killed by the explosion.

“One thing I have learned from covering this conflict for the past eight months is that there are no red lines on this issue,” said Mairav ​​Zonszein, a senior Israeli analyst at the International Crisis Group (ICG), a nonprofit organization. dedicated to ending conflicts around the world. .

A displaced Palestinian child observes some of the destruction after Israeli planes bombed shelters of displaced Palestinians in Rafah on May 27, 2024 (Hani Alshaer/Anadolu Agency)

“The red lines continue to move and that is something to keep in mind. (Western) ‘red lines’ are not real,” he told Al Jazeera.

Change of sea?

Israel’s horrific bombing of the displaced persons camp initiated a policy shift among its traditional allies, according to Hugh Lovatt, an Israel-Palestine expert at the European Council on Foreign Relations think tank.

He believes some European capitals were shocked by how brazenly Israel contravened the interim order the ICJ issued on May 24.

The ICJ ordered (13 judges to two) Israel not to proceed with an operation in Rafah that undermines the rights of Palestinians under the Genocide Convention.

Legal experts previously told Al Jazeera that any major operation in Rafah effectively violates the ICJ order.

Lovatt agrees.

“It is difficult to interpret Israel’s latest operation in Rafah as anything other than a disdain by Israel to the international community,” he said.

This disregard for the ICJ is causing some of Israel’s allies to consider options that would not have been conceivable a year ago, Lovatt added.

He noted reports that the European Union could suspend its Association Agreement with the EU, which gives Israel preferential access to its markets.

“There will be strong opposition… from some states, particularly Hungary,” he said. “But the lack of unity may not be a problem depending on the mechanism the EU uses to suspend its agreement (with Israel).”

Washington’s measure?

On May 8, Biden threatened to suspend US offensive arms sales to Israel if the latter goes ahead with its invasion of Rafah, clarifying that he would never stop “all” weapons because Israel’s defense is “critical.”

After Israel attacked the Tal as-Sultan displaced persons camp, the Biden administration deliberated and then concluded that Israel’s gradual invasion of Rafah and the ongoing bombing of the “safe zones” – which it had told whatever besieged civilians were – did not constitute a “major offensive.” “That would trigger a response.

Omar Rahman, an Israeli-Palestinian expert at the Middle East Foreign Affairs Council, believes that the United States will never take punitive measures against Israel.

He said Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, accused of committing war crimes and crimes against humanity by the chief prosecutor of the International Criminal Court, has “successfully shown Biden’s bluff” throughout the war.

“Netanyahu knew that a red line coming from the United States is meaningless because Washington is unable to hold Israel accountable for its actions,” he told Al Jazeera.

Rahman added that each of the condemnations coming from Biden have been “rejected” by his own administration, signaling to Israel that they are not as frustrated as they say they are.

“The United States still supports the war as such… and that’s why I don’t think Israel is worried about the United States doing something decisive because they have the same interests in mind,” the ICG’s Zonszein told Al Jazeera.

U.S. President Joe Biden is greeted by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as he visits Israel amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas, in Tel Aviv, Israel, October 18, 2023. REUTERS/ Evelyn Hockstein
Biden is greeted by Netanyahu during his visit to Israel amid Israel’s war on Gaza, in Tel Aviv, Israel, on October 18, 2023 (Evelyn Hockstein/Reuters)

She believes Israeli and American interests align in Gaza as both want to “keep up the pressure” on Hamas, although the war has not achieved Israel’s stated goal of “eradicating” the group.

Symbolic measures

On Tuesday, Ireland, Norway and Spain recognized Palestine as a state after condemning Israel’s attack on another displaced persons camp northwest of Rafah.

However, experts say the move is largely symbolic and will do little to protect Palestinian civilians.

“Recognizing Palestine means nothing on the ground,” Zonszein said. “It’s an easy fix that doesn’t match the magnitude of what’s needed now.”

Rahman said no talk of “red lines” will deter Israel from its goal until the country suffers punitive measures for violating international law.

He added that Western states are allowing Israel to pursue what he believes is its true objective: the destruction of Rafah, which is the last refuge for civilians in the entire Gaza Strip.

“Israel entered Rafah despite warnings and highly predictable results in terms of human casualties because closing the last line of salvation to the civilian population and destroying their last refuge is essential to (Israel’s) goal of liquidating Gaza,” he told Al Jazeera.

“When people like me use the word ‘genocidal’ to describe Israel’s campaign in Gaza, we are not being hyperbolic.”

Leave a Comment