Netanyahu: When Rafah operation starts, IDF will be just weeks away from victory

Soldiers from the IDF’s Seventh Brigade in Khan Yunis, the southern Gaza Strip, Feb. 25, 2024. Credit: IDF/X.

(JNS) — Once the Israel Defense Forces launches its military operation in Gaza’s southernmost city of Rafah, it will be “weeks away from total victory,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS News on Feb. 25.

Plans for the IDF offensive in Rafah, Hamas’s last stronghold in the Gaza Strip, will be reviewed by the political echelon on Feb. 25, the premier said in an interview with CBS‘s “Face the Nation.”

The potential hostages-for-ceasefire deal under discussion in Doha won’t stop the IDF from operating in the city, Netanyahu added.

“If we have a deal, it will be delayed somewhat, but it [the Battle of Rafah] will happen. If we don’t have a deal, we’ll do it anyway,” he stated.

Earlier that day, Netanyahu announced he would “convene the Cabinet to approve the operational plans for action in Rafah, including the evacuation of the civilian population.

“Only a combination of military pressure and firm negotiations will lead to the release of our hostages, the elimination of Hamas and the achievement of all the war’s objectives,” he added.

According to Israel, there are four Hamas battalions positioned in Rafah, the population of which has swelled to some 1.5 million, more than half of Gaza’s total of 2.3 million, after the IDF directed civilians to a humanitarian zone there when the war began in October.

“We very much want to achieve another [hostage] release and we are prepared to go far, but we are not prepared to pay any price, certainly not the delusional prices that Hamas is demanding of us, the meaning of which is the defeat of the State of Israel,” said Netanyahu last week.

He added that those calling for Israel to forgo an operation in Rafah were effectively urging the IDF to surrender to Hamas.

“I speak with world leaders every day. I tell them decisively: Israel will fight until we achieve total victory. And indeed, this includes action in Rafah, of course after we allow the civilians found in the combat zones to evacuate to safe areas,” said Netanyahu.

“Whoever wants to prevent us from operating in Rafah is telling us in effect to lose the war. I will not allow this… We will not surrender to any pressure. We will not surrender, because we are a people of heroes. We will not surrender because we are a people that desires life. We will not surrender because we must — must — defeat the evil,” he added.

The comments came after U.S. President Joe Biden demanded a temporary ceasefire to secure the release of hostages in Gaza, claiming that a deal “has to” go through before Israel launches a military operation in Rafah.

In a call on Feb. 22 with Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant, Lloyd Austin, the U.S. secretary of defense, raised “the need for a credible plan to ensure the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering in Rafah before any military operations proceed there.”

The call came after a Pentagon spokeswoman said that the U.S. Defense Department was unaware of any plans being presented to Washington regarding how Israel would protect Palestinian civilians in Rafah during a ground operation.

Earlier this month, Netanyahu attempted to assuage the concerns of Jerusalem’s allies, highlighting plans for the safe passage of Palestinians “so they can leave” Rafah.

To this end, the premier ordered the security establishment to submit to the Cabinet a combined plan to evacuate civilians and target Hamas’s remaining battalions.

“We have worked out a detailed plan to do so. And that’s what we have done up to now,” explained Netanyahu. “We are not cavalier about this. This is part of our war effort, to get civilians out of harm’s way. It’s part of Hamas’s effort to keep them in harm’s way. But we’ve so far succeeded and we are going to succeed again.”