What Happened: Overnight, Israeli security forces carried out a successful rescue of the 61-year-old Fernando Simon Marman and 70-year-old Louis Har, both taken from their homes on Kibbutz Nir Yitzhak on October 7th. Both men are in good condition and were taken by helicopter to hospital, where they were reunited with their families.

According to the IDF and Shin Bet, the operation was planned for some time, based on precise intelligence that was cleared operationally “once conditions permitted.” The operation was led by special forces who used a bomb to enter a second floor apartment in the southern Gaza city of Rafah. They killed armed guards inside and outside the building, extracting the hostages safely under heavy fire.

Context: The successful operation to rescue two hostages is being celebrated in Israel. However, 134 hostages remain in Hamas captivity, now for 128 days. The rescue operation was based on such detailed intelligence that they knew by which door to enter in order to kill the armed guards and not harm the hostages. Forces entered Rafah undercover, in an area not yet under Israeli control.

Israeli forces are prepared for a wider maneuver into Rafah. On Friday, Prime Minister Netanyahu announced a plan to evacuate civilians in the city. The Israeli government sees a ground operation in Rafah as a vital step to achieve four of the war’s objectives:

  1. Engage, destroy, and dismantle the remaining four (out of 24) of the Hamas brigades, thereby removing the last bastions of Hamas military structure.
  2. To block the smuggling routes from Egypt, which is crucial to preventing the re-armament of the Strip.
  3. To continue to hunt down the Hamas leadership which, having evaded Israeli forces elsewhere, are now seemingly underneath Rafah.
  4. According to the Israeli doctrine, this final operation will pressure Hamas to soften their demands over the hostages negotiations. There is also a chance that the operation could allow for further rescue missions.

Prior to the war, Rafah had a population of around 250,000 people. It has now swelled to an estimated 1.4 million Gazans, who have fled the fighting elsewhere. Before Israel can start a ground offensive, they will need to establish another humanitarian corridor, probably back into Khan Yunis, once the ground operation there is completed.

Operations along the Egyptian border, referred to as the Philadelphi Corridor, are particularly sensitive for Egypt, who are concerned that pressure will increase to open their border to allow Palestinians to enter into the Egyptian half of Rafah. The Egyptians are anxious and have also placed tanks and infantry troops on the border, as well as covering the border wall with heavy layers of barbed wire. An Egyptian delegation met with Israeli security officials in Tel Aviv on Friday to reach understandings around Rafah.

Over the weekend, a senior Israeli official described Israel’s relations with Egypt as “strategic, long-term and important for the continued prosecution of the war and a hostage deal. Relations between us are excellent and the operation will be coordinated.”

The US is also concerned for Gazan civilians and continues to insist that Israel:

  • Operates in coordination with the international community, and according to international law.
  • Avoids noncombatant casualties as much as possible.
  • Allows more humanitarian aid into the Gaza Strip.

Some of the aid into Gaza is being held up on the Israel side, due to pressure by some families of the hostages and their supporters, who believe aid into Gaza should be contingent on their release. Currently, Egypt allows all the aid entering to undergo Israeli security inspection, to ensure against weapon smuggling. However, these protests could lead Egypt to deliver aid to Gaza directly via Rafah without Israeli inspection.

Over the weekend, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron wrote on X, that he is “deeply concerned about the prospect of a military offensive in Rafah… the priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out, then progress towards a sustainable, permanent ceasefire.”

Looking Ahead: The IDF needs to complete operations in Khan Yunis, before the security cabinet can approve the plan to evacuate the civilian population from Rafah. The IDF is hoping to have the operation in Rafah finished by the start of Ramadan, in a month’s time. More shuttle diplomacy is likely before an operation is launched, to ensure at least a degree of coordination with the US and Egypt. CIA chief William Burns is expected to visit Cairo in the days ahead as he looks to press forward with a deal to release the hostages and agree a ceasefire. Israeli officials are also being encouraged to join the talks too.

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