Israel’s Invasion of Rafah Is All but Inevitable, Experts Say

“The main goal,” the report found, is not the conquest of Rafah but “to prevent arms and weapons smuggling.”

The current protocol between Israel and Egypt, agreed on when Israel withdrew its troops and settlers from Gaza in 2005, assigns Egypt to secure the border with a force of 750 soldiers equipped to combat terrorism and smuggling. Israeli officials say that the accord is outdated, not least because Hamas took control of the enclave in 2007, and Mr. Netanyahu has vowed to restore security along the border. Egypt says that it has taken significant action to secure the area and eliminate the tunnels, and that some smuggling into Gaza occurs from Israel as well.

“There are now three barriers between Sinai and the Palestinian Rafah, with which any smuggling operation is impossible, neither above nor below the ground,” Egypt’s chief spokesman, Diaa Rashwan, said on Tuesday.

Nevertheless, the United States is brokering an agreement between Egypt and Israel to build a more technologically advanced barrier on the Egyptian side of the border, which would be financed by Washington and could be monitored from afar by the United States and Israel.

Should Israel take Rafah and secure the border, the question of who will govern Gaza after the fighting ends remains unanswered. “The key to rendering Gaza safe for Israelis, and for that matter for Gazans, lies in what follows the fighting,” said Lawrence Freedman, emeritus professor of war studies at King’s College, London.

“From the start the lack of a credible political dimension to Israel’s strategy has been its most evident flaw,” Mr. Freedman wrote in an email. Israel, he added, has failed to appreciate the impact of heavy civilian casualties on its reputation and has also failed to produce a plan for Gaza’s government and its reconstruction, “essential if Hamas is not to return to its former position.”

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