US poised to back Rafah operation in exchange for Israel dropping major Iran strike

Netanyahu has reportedly backtracked on a pre-approved military response to Iran’s attack


An IDF soldier in Gaza (Photo: JNS)

The United States has agreed to back an Israeli operation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah in exchange for Israel forgoing a major strike on Iran, unnamed Egyptian officials have told the Qatari Al-Araby Al-Jadeed news outlet.

The development comes after Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported on Wednesday that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had backtracked on a pre-approved military response to Iran’s massive drone and missile attack due to pressure by Joe Biden.

The US president reportedly told Netanyahu during a phone call on Saturday that Washington would not participate in nor support an Israeli retaliatory attack.

According to the report, the Israeli prime minister thereafter shelved a series of options that had already been approved by the Cabinet.

“The response won’t be what was planned, diplomatic sensitivities won out,” the report quoted a senior Israeli source as saying. Nevertheless, the source stressed that there would be some form of action against Iranian interests.

Biden told Netanyahu last month that he would not support a major military offensive against Hamas in Rafah. Instead, the White House favours a limited operation aimed at high-value targets and securing the Gaza-Egypt border.

The US had reportedly considered conditioning military aid to Israel if the IDF moves forward with its conquest of the last Hamas stronghold of Rafah.

Following the IDF’s withdrawal of almost all ground forces from Gaza on 7 April, the army shifted into a new phase in the war, which last week saw forces enter the eastern Gaza City neighbourhood of Shejaiya as well as Nuseirat in the central Strip.

Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant has said that the decision to withdraw troops was made in preparation for the looming offensive in Rafah, where Hamas’s final battalions are concentrated and where the senior leadership and remaining hostages are believed to be.

Gallant held a briefing on Monday evening to discuss “a series of measures to be taken in preparation for operations in Rafah, with an emphasis on the evacuation of civilians and the expansion of activities related to the delivery of food and medical equipment to Gaza,” according to his office.

Yesterday, he vowed to fight Iran’s ongoing attempts to foment violence in the Jewish state during a visit to the Binyamin region, near Jerusalem.

“It starts in Tehran, reaching Beirut, Damascus, Judea and Samaria and Gaza. Iran’s wicked hand can be seen everywhere,” said the defence minister, vowing to “cut off these cruel hands wherever they are.”

A US official told American broadcaster ABC News on Wednesday that the Israeli response to Iran could now come after the Passover holiday, which begins Monday evening and ends 30 April.

ABC cited Israeli officials as saying that Jerusalem on two occasions this week dropped imminent plans to strike Iran.

Overnight on Saturday, Iran launched more than 300 missiles and drones at Israel. The IDF said it and its military allies intercepted some 99 per cent of the projectiles.

On Wednesday, Netanyahu said that Israel would make its own decision on how to respond to Tehran’s unprecedented attack.

“I thank our friends for supporting Israel’s defence – support both in words and in deeds,” Netanyahu said ahead of a Cabinet meeting in Jerusalem.

“They also have all kinds of suggestions and advice. I appreciate those, but I want to make it clear: We will make our own decisions, and the State of Israel will do everything necessary to defend itself,” he added.

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