Operation Iron Swords Special Update on Rafah 5/9

Israel’s Rafah Operation and the US Reaction

The US is withholding some arms shipments to Israel in response to the IDF’s operation in the southern Gaza Strip city of Rafah. Here's what you need to know:



  • Rafah, located on the Egyptian border, is the last major enclave deemed critical by Israel, to defeating Hamas. The IDF claims that is has disbanded 20 of 24 Hamas battalions in Gaza, but four of the remaining intact battalions and many Hamas senior leaders, as well as hostages, are believed to be in Rafah. According to military analysts, most of the weapons Hamas used to massacre Israelis on October 7 came through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt. 
  • As a result of the fighting in the rest of the Strip, an estimated 1.3 million Palestinians are sheltering in Rafah, including many who followed Israel’s orders to evacuate northern Gaza to safer territory in the earlier stages of fighting. 
  • The US, and many other countries, have called on Israel to refrain from attacking Rafah due to concerns over a humanitarian crisis that could result from major fighting in the area. Egypt is also worried that an attack on Rafah could see hundreds of thousands of Gazans storming the border and entering Egypt.
  • Washington has said that if an incursion must take place, then Israel needs to take considerable measures to ensure the safety and well-being of the civilians in the city.
  • At the same time, negotiations over a ceasefire and the release of hostages continue. Many in Israel have argued that the only way to get Hamas to compromise and reach a deal, is through significant military pressure, especially in Rafah. Over the weekend, the Wall Street Journal reported that Israel had given an ultimatum saying that a Rafah operation would go ahead unless a hostage deal was reached by the end of the week.


Initial Incursion

  • Over the weekend, rockets were fired from Rafah at the Kerem Shalom crossing, killing four Israeli soldiers and wounding seven others. The crossing, which facilitates dozens of aid trucks entering Gaza each day, was badly damaged in the Hamas attack, and was forced to close. (Israel has since speedily made temporary repairs to the facility, allowing the crossing to reopen today, and aid to Gaza to continue).
  • On Monday, Israel issued evacuation orders to around 100,000 civilians in one area of Rafah. The warnings were sent via leaflets, text messages, and radio broadcasts, urging Palestinian civilians to move to nearby humanitarian zones in Al-Mawasi. The IDF facilitated the expansion of field hospitals and tents and an increase of water, food and medical supplies in the safe area. 
  • That evening, a low-level, pinpoint Israeli incursion into Rafah began, that did not involve major fighting.
  • The IDF reported that during the operation, the military eliminated 20 terrorists in the area, struck Hamas targets and located several tunnel entrances.  

The IDF also established operational control of the Gazan side of the Rafah crossing, where special forces are currently scanning the area, after Israeli intelligence showed it was being used for terror purposes. The crossing is located some 1.8 miles from the Israeli border along the Philadelphi Corridor where weapons are frequently smuggled into Gaza from Egypt. 

U.S. Reaction

  • Yesterday, US President Joe Biden warned Israel that he will stop US weapons shipments earmarked for a Rafah offensive if the IDF embarks on a major military operation there. The President told CNN, “I’ve made it clear that if they go into Rafah… I’m not supplying the weapons that have historically been used to deal with Rafah.” 
  • Earlier in the day US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin told the Senate Appropriations Committee the US had already paused one shipment to Israel of payload munitions due to concerns over Rafah. 
  • Nonetheless, Biden reiterated what he has repeated many time in recent weeks, and that is the US’ “ironclad” support and commitment to Israel’s security. Specifically, he told CNN, “We’re not walking away from Israel’s security. We’ve walked away from its ability to make war in those areas.”
  • Biden also said that what Israel has done so far in Rafah does not constitute a major military operation in that southern part of the enclave.


Moving Forward

  • The Israeli government will meet this evening to discuss next moves. While some have said that the US decision to withhold arms strengthens Hamas’s negotiating position, others have expressed confidence that Israel does have the capability of balancing its own security interests alongside its critical relationship with the US.
  • Many Israelis and others have remained defiant. One “unnamed senior Israeli official” told N12 News in Israel that, “an attack on Rafah will occur in any event. We have enough supplies to accomplish this without external help.”
  • Meanwhile, CIA Chief William Burns is again in the region trying to help the sides reach a hostage-release and ceasefire agreement, that would also halt further fighting in Rafah.

Jewish Federations continue to unquestioningly support Israel’s right to defend itself, including destroying Hamas’s capabilities to harm the Jewish state, while also strongly supporting the critical and close relationship between the United States and Israel. 

We are closely monitoring the situation on the ground and are considering a public statement.


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