Feb 26, 2024 - World

IDF told Egypt that Israeli Rafah operation won't push Palestinians into Sinai: sources

Displaced Palestinians shelter near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt on Feb. 16. Photo: Mohammad Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Displaced Palestinians shelter near the border fence between Gaza and Egypt on Feb. 16. Photo: Mohammad Abed/AFP via Getty Images

Israel Defense Forces Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi and Shin Bet security agency director Ronen Bar visited Cairo last week to reassure their Egyptian counterparts that Israel will take steps to ensure an operation in Rafah will not create an influx of Palestinian refugees into Egypt, two U.S. officials briefed on the issue told Axios.

Why it matters: The high-level visit by the most senior officer in the Israeli military signals the importance the Israeli government is giving to its security relationship with Egypt, which has already warned that the displacement of Palestinians to the Sinai Peninsula would lead to a rupture in its relations with Israel.

  • The meeting also took place amid growing global concerns, including in the U.S. and Egypt, that an Israeli operation in Rafah, where more than 1.4 million Palestinians — many displaced from elsewhere in Gaza — are sheltering, will lead to mass casualties.
  • Israeli officials have said that coordination with Egypt is a precondition for any future operation in Rafah.

Behind the scenes: Halevi and Bar met with the Egyptian intelligence director and senior Egyptian military officers and discussed the possible Israeli operation in Rafah, the U.S. officials said.

  • Halevi and Bar presented the Egyptian officials with their ideas for how an Israeli operation in Rafah could be conducted in a way that would prevent a mass flow of Palestinian refugees into the Sinai Peninsula, the U.S. officials said without elaborating.
  • The IDF and the Shin Bet declined to comment. Egyptian officials didn't respond to Axios' questions on the issue.

State of play: The IDF on Sunday presented Israel's war Cabinet with a plan to evacuate civilians from Rafah. It includes allowing Palestinians to move to areas north of Khan Younis and south of Gaza City, according to Israeli officials. The IDF also presented its operational plan for Rafah.

  • Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu told CBS on Sunday that a hostage deal between Israel and Hamas will delay an IDF operation in Rafah, but stressed Israel will still conduct the operation at a later time.
  • He also said that Egyptian officials "know very well" that Israel is not aiming to push Palestinians from Rafah to the Sinai.
  • "'[W]e're coordinating. We're talking to the Egyptians all the time, Netanyahu said. "The peace between Israel and Egypt serves the interests of both countries and will continue to serve the interests of both countries, I don't think it's in any danger."
Go deeper