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Tom Clonan Israel has pursued the relentless massacre of innocent Palestinians in Gaza

The security analyst says an immediate and permanent ceasefire is the only hope now for Gaza.


SINCE 27 OCTOBER last, Israel’s brutal ground invasion of Gaza has lasted 108 days. In this time, the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) have reportedly killed over 28,000 Palestinians and seriously wounding a further 70,000.

Of this total, Netanyahu claims that the IDF has ‘eliminated’ approximately 9000 Hamas fighters. If true, this means that a staggering 70% of the casualties of the IDF’s ground campaign are innocent civilians. Therefore, for each day of Israel’s campaign, an average of 183 innocent men, women and children have been slaughtered by Israeli troops.

In addition, an average of 453 innocent Gazans have been permanently maimed and disfigured on a daily basis in airstrikes, tank fire, sniper attacks and indiscriminate fire from Israeli forces.

What now for Rafah?

These figures are set to spiral in the coming days as Israel’s ground campaign enters its final phase – an all out assault on Rafah. Thus far in the invasion of Gaza, the Palestinian population has endured three ‘evacuations’ or forced expulsions. Contrary to the provisions of the Geneva Conventions, over a million Gazans have been forced at gunpoint – and under continuing harassing fire – to flee Gaza City in the north to Khan Younis.

With Israel’s assault on Khan Younis, which lasted approximately nine weeks, the internally displaced civilian population then had to flee to Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza located on the border with Egypt. Over 1.5 million civilians are now trapped in this city, increasing its original population tenfold.

Surrounded by Israeli occupation forces to the north, east and west – and pushed up against the Egyptian border, the traumatised and decimated people of Gaza have literally nowhere to run to.

Netanyahu’s repeatedly stated war aims have been twofold. To destroy Hamas in its entirety and to secure the release of over 100 remaining Israeli hostages – abducted by Hamas in its assault of mass murder on Israel on 7 October. In this bestial attack, Hamas murdered over 1,300 Israeli men, women and children. It should be noted that Hamas continues to commit war crimes – by holding these hostages and by continuing to fire rockets and missiles at civilian targets in Israel on a daily basis.

Israel’s military targets in Rafah will include the remaining four Battalions of Hamas fighters based there. The Israelis will also seek to find and kill any other Hamas fighters who have exfiltrated south from the occupied zones of Gaza and Khan Younis to Rafah.

The IDF will also seek to ‘neutralise’ the so-called ‘Saladin Axis’ or ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ – a narrow strip of land at the southern end of Rafah, along the entire length of the border between Gaza and Egypt – from the Kerem Shalom border crossing in the east, through the Rafah border crossing and west to the Mediterranean.

In destroying Rafah and entering and occupying the Philadelphi Corridor – however temporarily – the IDF’s objectives include apprehending or killing the leadership of Hamas, which remains at large, and destroying the tunnel network between Gaza and Egypt. In achieving these objectives, Israel will have to wage highly kinetic combat operations right on to the Egyptian border – risking the 1979 Israeli/Egyptian Peace Treaty and the Philadelphi Corridor Accord of 2004.

Civilian losses

These strategic concerns however pale into insignificance compared to the pitiful plight of the Gazan population – over 1.5 million men, women and children concentrated into what will become a high intensity combat zone. It is likely that ground combat in Rafah would take at least nine weeks to meet its stated objectives. If the coerced and concentrated population is not evacuated – civilian casualties will be exponentially higher than before, with tens of thousands of Gazan men, women and children facing imminent slaughter.

Based on the figures thus far and the projected casualty rate – this would mean that one in 10 Gazans, will have been killed or seriously injured in this war.

That would represent the literal and metaphorical decimation of the Palestinian people in Gaza. If Netanyahu persists with this assault, it will represent an unfolding crime against humanity of Biblical proportions.

Notwithstanding the imminent assault on Rafah, the civilian population there is in such extremis that what is required is an immediate and permanent ceasefire to allow humanitarian aid, water, sanitation and medical assistance to be rendered. There is almost universal alarm among even Israel’s most staunch allies at the prospect of the continued prosecution of the war into the last refuge of Rafah. The US administration is alarmed at a possible backlash in the Arab world – with a regional escalation involving Hezbollah in Lebanon, and a potential direct confrontation with Iran.

International reactions

President Biden has called Israel’s excessive – and illegal – use of force as ‘over the top’ or disproportionate. In a 45-minute call with Netanyahu, President Biden insisted that Israel come up with a ‘credible’ plan for the civilian population trapped in Rafah. Such a credible plan – presumably involving the evacuation of the entire civilian population, along a ‘safe evacuation corridor’ to a ‘safe zone’ – is hard to envisage.

It is unlikely that Gazans would willingly evacuate to Khan Younis – now occupied by hostile IDF forces. Nor is it likely that 1.5 million people could be safely or reliably evacuated to Al-Mawasi just north east of Rafah – or further north into central Gaza. Even Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron – a staunch ally of Israel – has expressed incredulity at Netanyahu’s intention to assault Rafah. ‘We think it is impossible to see how you can fight a war amongst these people. There’s nowhere for them to go… we want Israel to stop and think very seriously before it takes any further action. But above all, we want an immediate pause in the fighting and we want that pause to lead to a ceasefire’.

Dark days ahead

As I write this analysis, dozens of Palestinian men, women and children have been killed overnight in Rafah – with more casualties from sniper fire reported during the day. Israeli helicopter gun ships are reportedly hovering over the southern and eastern boundaries of Rafah – machinegunning civilian targets in what is a de-facto free-fire zone. As a UN peacekeeper, I witnessed similar tactics in Lebanon almost 30 years ago – with innocent men, women – and shamefully – children, being the principal victims of war fought in and among the civilian population. It is utterly depressing to see this relentless massacre of the Palestinian people by an Israeli state – led by Netanyahu and the far-right – that, by its rogue actions, brings Israel into international disrepute.

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Qatar and Iran – for once, aligned – are clear in their condemnation of and unease with Netanyahu’s actions in Rafah. In the last 24 hours, the IDF has launched further airstrikes into Lebanon at Tayr Harfu and Maroun al-Ras. There is a real risk of a wider regional escalation of Netanyahu’s war – which would bring with it far-reaching and potentially devastating consequences for the Middle East, Europe and the United States. Iran’s principal military ally – Vladimir Putin – will undoubtedly benefit from the ongoing disaster that is Netanyahu’s leadership of Israel.

With the prospect – perhaps – of a Trump presidency in an increasingly unstable global security environment, the entire world should be calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Gaza. For the sake of all Palestinians. For all our sakes.

Dr Tom Clonan is a retired Army Officer and former Lecturer at TU Dublin. He is currently an Independent Senator on the Trinity College Dublin Panel, Seanad Éireann.