Israel Gaza Starvation Ploy Intensifies With Seizure of Rafah Crossings

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The caliber of information on what is happening on the ground in Rafah is poor thanks to Israel’s pogrom on journalists. Israel has had the good luck of Rafah reporting being crowded out by bigger-seeming events: the prospect of ICC arrest warrants being issued against Netanyahu and his defense minister Yoav Gallant; Ireland, Norway and Spain announcing they intend to recognize Palestine; and the death of Iran’s president Raisi. Nevertheless, we’ll hazard an update.

A new Wall Street Journal story describes how far Israel has gotten in its plan to take control of the crossings into Egypt in Rafah. Egypt says Israel has taken over 70% of what had been a demilitarized zone; Israel says it has only about half (Anadolu Agency says its sources say half). From the Journal:

The [Israeli] military has doubled the number of brigades operating in the Rafah area…

Israel says taking control of the corridor is critical to its goal of defeating the militant group that it says is holding out in Rafah… But doing so could jeopardize the country’s 45-year-old peace treaty with Egypt, which limits the number of troops both countries can deploy in the area. The Israeli Defense Ministry declined to comment on whether it aims to take full control of the southern frontier or has a timeline for doing so….

The Israeli operations that began in Rafah earlier this month have also reduced the entry of aid through two key southern border crossings to a trickle and displaced some 800,000 people from Rafah, where more than a million had taken shelter from fighting elsewhere in the strip.

A fresh Associated Press account reports the UN has given up on aid deliveries to Rafah:

The United Nations suspended food distribution in the southern Gaza city of Rafah on Tuesday due to a lack of supplies and an untenable security situation caused by Israel’s expanding military operation. The U.N. warned that humanitarian operations across the territory were nearing collapse…

The U.N.’s World Food Program said it was running out of food for central Gaza, where hundreds of thousands of people are now living.

“Humanitarian operations in Gaza are near collapse,” said Abeer Etefa, a WFP spokesperson. If food and other supplies don’t resume entering Gaza “in massive quantities, famine-like conditions will spread,” she said.

But the same story notes that Biden Administration is fine with the collateral damage from the Rafah operation:

A senior United States official said Israel has addressed many of the Biden administration’s concerns about a full-scale ground invasion of Rafah aimed at rooting out Hamas fighters there…

The official said the administration stopped short of greenlighting the Israeli invasion plan, but said Israeli officials’ changes to the planning suggested they were taking the American administration’s concerns seriously.

In case you still harbored doubts:

The rationale for Israel violating its agreements with Egypt to do so was that this move would enable it to rout out what remained of Hamas. Yet Hamas has reasserted itself in northern Gaza, so it seems questionable that Israel could kill all that many Hamas fighters in a Rafah operation. However, Hamas famously has many supply tunnels into Egypt, and Israel intends to destroy them.

But the most immediate effect is cutting off trucked-in aid supplies. From Middle East Eye:

Gaza’s Rafah crossing with Egypt has been closed for two weeks, after Israel seized the terminal in a ground operation and Cairo refused to open it from the Sinai side….

The Rafah crossing is located in an area designated as demilitarised in the 1979 treaty and a 2005 agreement between Egypt and Israel.

The peace treaty and the 2005 accord allow troops to be deployed in the crossing area only after mutual agreement between the two sides….

For the past two weeks, Israel and Egypt have been trading blame for the closure of the Rafah crossing, and aid trucks carrying food and medical supplies for Palestinians in Gaza have been piling up on the Egyptian side of the border.

Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry on Monday said that the Rafah crossing is closed due to the presence of troops and operations in the vicinity of the terminal, which he said threaten the safety of aid convoys.

Israel is blaming Egypt for failing to cooperate with respect to the Rafah crossings, although it’s not clear what cooperation is supposed to amount to.

According to Twitter, Israel is having great success in wrecking Hamas tunnels. But we heard that sort of thing when Israel first invaded Gaza. Hamas is believed to have a simply ginormous network, so even if Israel blows up quite a few, it has no idea what proportion of the total that represents. Indeed, a different Middle East Eye account describes how the US is vexed by Israel’s poor military showing:

The top-ranking general in the US criticised on Monday Israel’s military strategy in Gaza, warning that the failure of Israeli forces to both secure captured territory and eliminate Hamas from northern Gaza is hampering its ability to achieve its military objectives.

“Not only do you have to actually go in and clear out whatever adversary you are up against, you have to go in, hold the territory and then you’ve got to stabilise it,” said General Charles Brown, who chairs the joint chiefs of staff, as reported by Politico…

Brown said after Israel “cleared they didn’t hold, and so that allows your adversary then to repopulate in areas if you’re not there”.

Remember, this comes from the same US military that thought that the great Ukraine counteroffensive, with no air support, would be a smashing success because those inferior Slavs would run away as soon as they saw Western weapons in action.

Brown either does not understand or chooses not to understand how the Hamas tunnel system operates. As both Alastair Crooke and Scott Ritter have explained, many of the tunnels were built for one-time use and are even pulled down afterwards. It’s also an obvious ploy to booby trap them. Flattening the buildings over them has also served to create terrain that it ideal for Hamas surprise attacks and the rubble dampens the effectiveness of bunker-busters. So it isn’t hard to imagine that Hamas has a tunnel network remaining that is too deep for even the heaviest nasty bombs to collapse.

Nevertheless, there’s a lot of Israeli triumphalism on display:

The Middle East Eye story cited earlier on food supplies confirms that the pier-for-aid-deliveries gimmick is an abject failure:

According to US officials, the new floating pier, which became operational on Friday and is called “Trident”, will help with the additional delivery of 90-150 truckloads to Gaza each day.

So far, only 10 truckloads have been transferred to a UN World Food Programme warehouse in central Gaza’s Deir al-Balah on Friday. The UN says 500 trucks of aid are needed daily to address the acute needs of Gaza, where famine is spreading.

“The pier is more performative than effective and Rafah remains an essential piece of the puzzle to deliver sufficient aid and avoid a further deterioration in the already terrible conditions on the ground,” said Fabiani.

No aid was received on Sunday or Monday, a UN official told Reuters, while only five trucks reached the warehouse on Saturday and 11 were stopped and emptied by starving Palestinians on the way.

To give some context of how desperate conditions are in Gaza, from the New Arab in Palestinians surviving on 3% of minimum daily water needs in Gaza:

Some Palestinians in the Gaza Strip are surviving on just three percent of the global minimum standard for daily water usage, two humanitarian groups have said, as Israel’s war has decimated the enclave’s water infrastructure.

A lack of clean water and sanitation facilities have led to an increase in diseases and infections among Gaza’s civilian population, particularly children, according to the International Rescue Committee (IRC) and Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP)…

A deterioration of water, sanitation and hygiene conditions “have significantly increased acute watery diarrhoea among children under five, while other water-borne and communicable diseases such as Hepatitis are proliferating among families who cannot access sources of clean water,” the report found.

Families have been forced to build their own toilets, with hundreds of people using a single one, amounting to 30 times more than the minimum global standard, IRC and MAP said….

A BBC satellite analysis from earlier this month found that more than half of Gaza’s water treatment plants and sewage system have been damaged or destroyed by Israel’s heavy aerial and ground bombardment.

For months, families have been forced to spend hours queuing up with plastic bottles and gallons at water tanks, and then make efforts to ration supplies.

In other words, the Rafah operation appears to have the same primary effect as post IDF initiatives: to intensify the pace of the genocide. And by that measure, it is succeeding admirably.

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  1. The Rev Kev

    Netanyahu and his cohort are facing ICC charges of genocide. In a logical word, a deal could be made. Israel could let all those food convoys in and as the Gazans would not be starving, then the ICC could be convinced to drop those charges for Netanyahu’s government. And to save Israeli face, the ICC could keep the charges against Hamas leaders active as they know know that they will never see the inside of a courtroom. But we all know that that will never happen as the maniacs in charge of Israel want their genocide too bad.

    1. voislav

      Yeah, its not mentioned nearly enough how widespread the support for genocide is in Israel, IIRC, something like 10% of Israelis though IDF is using too much force in Gaza. Israelis are protesting against Netanyahu not because of his genocidal policies, but because of his personal corruption and security failures.

      Depending on how things go in Gaza over the next couple of months, I can see Israel escalating in the West Bank. West Bank population is around 3 million, so not much larger than that of Gaza, and Jordan has limited capability to stop the civilian exodus. This could be Netanyahu’s final gambit, trying to seize the main prize after the failure in Gaza.

      1. John

        If you’re speaking of the November polling, it’s even worse than that: 57.5% said they weren’t using enough firepower in Gaza, 36.6% said the amount was appropriate, 4.2% said that they weren’t sure, and 1.8% said that the IDF was using too much firepower in Gaza.

        Now, that poll is much closer to the events of October 7th than we are now. But there hasn’t been much indicating that Israelis are beginning to turn against the slaughter in Gaza specifically, they are mostly unhappy that the hostages haven’t been returned.

    2. Jeff A

      Maybe in Israel it’s 90% or so, but look at Britain I’d say well over 50% support it, certainly the govt and opposition do. Likewise America, where Trump would be even worse than Biden, infinitely worse.

  2. David in Friday Harbor

    Netanyahu, Likud, and their coalition are fascists. Fascism is the basis of Jabotinsky’s “Revisionist Zionist” movement, in opposition to Weitzman and Ben-Gurion. The Stern Gang, led by Begin and Shamir, were the original terrorists.

    As the ICC arrest warrants aver, like the Nazis who inspired them these criminals are using starvation as a weapon of war in Gaza, in order to complete the genocide of the Palestinian people begun by the Stern Gang and to facilitate their replacement by European and American settlers. This has always been the avowed goal of Revisionist Zionism.

    Biden, Blinken, and Sullivan are willing propagandists for these fascists, along with the looney-tunes GOP. They have made a cynical and nihilistic farce of what are professed as American values in order to pursue their pathetic personal vanity and lust for power. However, our system of Inverted Totalitarianism gives all political power to Our Billionaire Overlords and their rapacious greed; we only have the power to curse them.

  3. Cian

    It is incredibly funny to me that Israel will post these videos of IDF soldiers ‘attacking’ Hamas, and you never see a single Hamas soldier. Often they seem to be firing at, or in, empty houses.

      1. Cian

        Oh sure. There are lots of videos, posted by Hamas, of their fighters (2-3 max) engaging with Israeli soldiers and tanks (often at very short range).

        Then you’ll see some videos, posted by the IDF, of about 20 soldiers firing into walls, seemingly empty houses and clearing buildings with nobody in them. If there are Hamas fighters shooting at them, it’s not at all obvious in any of these videos.

        When you do see people in IDF videos they’re always civilians.

    1. JohnnyGL

      I have come to the conclusion that Israelis are literally ALWAYS lying. Curiously, it’s to themselves, as much as it is to the rest of the world.

      130 fighters killed…pics/vids or it’s bull$h…

      Hundreds of tunnels found connecting to egypt…cool, cool….I can believe that…but wait…pics/vids?!?!?

      Where’s the big weapons caches and supply depots? Where are the manufacturing facilities for all those endless supplies of armor-piercing Yassin RPGs???!?!

      Where’s all the cameras, videography equipment, internet connection equipment like routers, servers?!?!?

      Why not let the media in to show off all your wondrous accomplishments?!?!

      They got NOTHING, except press releases and statements issued.

  4. ciroc

    Since there is no way to confirm the total destruction of Hamas fighters, Israel would have to occupy Gaza (or all of Palestine) to declare victory. But that would inevitably lead to the creation of a new Hamas from among the Palestinians. Thus, the war will continue until all Palestinians are expelled or killed, or Israel is unable to continue fighting for some reason.

    1. Mikel

      ” But that would inevitably lead to the creation of a new Hamas from among the Palestinians.”

      Or the creation of another Hamas from Israel. As long as there are Palestinians, Israel will need to say there is something like another Hamas.

  5. noonespecial

    Re: “Brown either does not understand or chooses not to understand how the Hamas tunnel system operates…Nevertheless, there’s a lot of Israeli triumphalism on display”

    Brown’s intel report may be upgraded by looking at the embedded video in this Cradle piece showing a Hamas fighter exit and return to a tunnel shaft after placing an explosive beneath a tank.

    And those IDF-stans may also need an op-status update given that the afore linked Cradle piece notes that, “The army also continues to face heavy resistance in the northern Gaza Strip, particularly in areas in which it had previously operated and had said months earlier that Hamas had been “dismantled.”

    But I recently heard Alastair Crooke on a Judge Napolitano video reporting that Israel’s PM sees this war as a 10 year plan. So maybe Bib is cosplaying Odysseus and is on a 10-year struggle to regain the homeland.

    1. Cian

      I think he’s just trying to kick the can down the road on his own prosecution. The moment he’s kicked out of office, the corruption trial can restart.

      It’s not just that Israeli policy is short sighted, but that it’s short sightedly focused on the tactical goal of keeping the PM out of jail. That Biden decided to destroy his presidency by helping that goal is just one of the many mysteries of our age.

      1. NN Cassandra

        IMO it’s not just Netanyahu. That Hamas was able to breach walls of Gaza concentration camp and then overran IDF base, points to level of corruption and incompetence that wouldn’t pass even in Ukraine. Then there are the little questions like how many Israelis were killed not by Hamas but by the most moral army in the world that, knowing nothing else, defaulted to run their standard script on own population. There are a lot of people who are totally fine with the party line that now unity is needed and time for reckoning will come only in some undefined future after the war is won for good.

  6. Balan Aroxdale

    The Israelis remain unable to solve the single largest logistical issue in their ethnic cleansing plan: How to get the Gazans out?

    – The initial plan was to drive them out into the Sinai. Simple and cheap, but vetoed by a skittish Sisi, too fearful of the public backlash even in October. No Egyptian leader will acquiesce now.
    – The Israelis will never allow the Gazans into Israel proper as that would defeat the purpose of the whole operation.
    – A _very_ smart Israeli leader could transfer them to the West Bank, undoing 50 years of settler gains at a stroke, but the internal and international political fallout are both potentially nuclear. It might save Israel in the long term, but more likely rip it apart in the short.
    – Boats are an excruciatingly slow option and a final destination (other than bottom of the sea) is required, and none are suggested. At this point this risks getting the EU navies involved and is by now a non-starter.
    – Starving the Gazans to death in situ is the current default plan. But this will put more government members — and foreign allies — under threat of ICC charges also. As awful as the world is right now I think images of thousands of skeletal corpses will finish what is left of Israeli support, even in the US.
    – I go back to the original leaked Israeli plan, from the Strategic Affairs ministry, which explicitly listed out the intended destinations for Gazan population transfers to various Arab states. I think this is still the plan. And what Israeli cannot get diplomatically, I think it will try to force militarily. So one or all of Egypt, Jordan, Syria, or Lebanon could well expect an invasion force on their border, with the goal of forcing Gazans across for “humanitarian reasons”.

    Now. Pick the option that is the most stupid and self-destructive. That is the one the Israeli government will go for.

    1. Travis Bickle

      There’s a temptation to read your assessment as….. hyperbolic? But, when you consider the pattern of Israeli actions in pursuit of a Greater Israel over time, patiently but relentlessly doing what could be gotten away with at any particular time, there is nothing unexpected going on.

      There has been an eb and flow to be sure, depending on whether Israel had the people ready to occupy new ground, or the PR need to not be TOO blatant about things, potentially disrupting the US funding that underwrites their project, but it’s pretty obvious.

      The end-game has a bit of subtlety to it and will require flexibility. A good salesman keeps creating facts and leaving clues until the dense client finally reaches the “final solution” on its own. It does not do to advocate directly for ethnic cleansing what is in fact their God-Given land (and in fairness, this business of “genocide”, really is over the top). But when the US and the world are finally faced with the living skeletons of Gaza Israel certainly knew were to be expected months ago when they started this particular style of war, they’ll make the question “Why, oh why, doesn’t Washington do something???”

      Washington, once it wakes up, will start leaning on the neighboring states to accept them through checkbook diplomacy, with the balance being resettled in the US. Something like that. There is a certain amount of improvisation in power politics, but the Israeli intention is clear and always has been.

  7. Just saying

    If Israel succeeds in its genocide and ethnic cleansing, it will be a Pyrrhic victory. They will be a pariah nation to most the world and there are more than enough signs that they maybe facing an internal civil war.

    My prayers are with the Palestinians and the few brave Israelis that stand with the Palestinians and other protestors in the world. The bloodshed will only end when everyone has full rights in one state.

  8. ChrisPacific

    So the US, having tentatively and briefly expressed reservations, is now comfortable with the new Israeli scope for a ‘limited’ Rafah assault. Even though a side effect is all food aid being cut off at the border.

    This just reads like the US doesn’t want to see Gaza civilians dying to Israeli guns and bombs, but is A-OK with letting them all slowly starve to death.

  9. Synoia

    The US position on Gaza to illustrates the corruption of money in forming a government after a long and expensive campaign season. A decision which screams “Pay me and I will reward you and support your cause”. which abrogates any possibility of the elected EVER serving any but its paymasters.

  10. Victor Sciamarelli

    On Dec. 2, 2023, Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III spoke at the Reagan National Defense Forum. I think it’s worth pulling out some of his remarks and noting Biden, Blinken, Sullivan, et al., have rejected Austin’s strategic imperative and ideas like humanitarian corridors.
    According to Austin, “But democracies like ours are stronger and more secure when we uphold the law of war.” “First and foremost, that’s the right thing to do. But it’s also good strategy.”
    “You know, I learned a thing or two about urban warfare from my time fighting in Iraq and leading the campaign to defeat ISIS. Like Hamas, ISIS was deeply embedded in urban areas. And the international coalition against ISIS worked hard to protect civilians and create humanitarian corridors, even during the toughest battles.”
    “So the lesson is not that you can win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. The lesson is that you can only win in urban warfare by protecting civilians. You see, in this kind of a fight, the center of gravity is the civilian population. And if you drive them into the arms of the enemy, you replace a tactical victory with a strategic defeat.”
    “So I have repeatedly made clear to Israel’s leaders that protecting Palestinian civilians in Gaza is both a moral responsibility and a strategic imperative.”
    I would like to think it has now dawned on Austin that Israel’s goal has always been to exterminate and/or drive out the Palestinians.

  11. Savita

    For your interest.
    There has been some discussion regarding the photographs of aid trucks arriving via the new pier. And queries around why the trucks are half empty.
    I was just now listening to Australian radio (ABC the state broadcaster) conduct an interview with an expert in Middle Eastern affairs. I arrived late so I couldn’t ascertain exactly the nature of their specialisation.
    The entire interview was surprising in its tone, being entirely focused on the harm caused to Palestine via Israel. Israel policy toward Palestine, remarks Israel politicians have made for example ‘There is no such thing as a Palestinian’. And some interesting discussion about the royal family of Jordan condemning Israel. Oh, and photographs of Israeli politicians standing in front of a map titled Greater Israel- which encompassed Jordan, Syria and Egypt. I couldn’t believe all of this was being so blatantly discussed.

    Anyway the point of my comment is regarding the trucks. The commentator said Israel strictly controls not only what aid can enter, but also how. They only allow a certain kind of truck. And the trucks must be half-empty according to these requirements. It makes inspection easier.

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