Rafah: The mother of all battles

Now in its fifth month of war between Palestinians and Israelis in the Gaza Strip, and with the genocidal Palestinian death toll at nearly 29,000, nearly half of whom are estimated to be children and two-thirds women and children, the conflict has reached a pivotal point for the continuation of the war as well as the prospect of ending it. This is the Battle of Rafah on the wider border of Palestine with Egypt, where approximately 1.5 million Palestinians, almost 60% of the population of the Strip, have been camped in terrible conditions. The strategic importance of the ongoing Battle of Rapha lies in the control of the so-called Philadelphi Corridor or Saladin Axis.

The Philadelphi Corridor is the narrow, 14 km long strip of land along almost the entire border between the Gaza Strip and Egypt. Following Israel’s unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip in 2005, the Philadelphi Agreement was concluded with Egypt, which authorized Egypt to deploy 750 border guards along the route to patrol the border from the Egyptian side. The Palestinian side of the border was controlled by the Palestinian Authority until 2007 when it came under the control of Hamas. The joint authority for the Rafah border crossing was transferred to the Palestinian Authority and Egypt for limited passage by Palestinian identity card holders and others by exception. For Tel Aviv, the purpose of the Philadelphi Corridor was to prevent the movement of materials (including arms and ammunition) and people between Egypt and the Gaza Strip, which it did not.
In fact, the Philadelphi Corridor is the Gaza Strip’s bridge to the outside world, breaking Israel’s stranglehold. The entire underground city that Hamas built in the previous 17 years and the building of its deterrent capability was based on material and human resources that passed through these underground tunnels from Egypt to the Gaza Strip. Even now Palestinian supply lines pass through this corridor while Israeli prisoners of war are possibly held near it, if they have not already been dispersed abroad.

Tel Aviv seeks to seize the Corridor in question to cut off Hamas’ supply lines and with a sustained war to exhaust the Palestinian arsenal in order to bring about the neutralization of the Palestinian Resistance. In such an eventuality they are planning a zone at least one kilometer deep in the Corridor, where they will attempt vertical cuts underground to destroy the tunnels connecting the Strip to Egypt.

The Palestinians are estimated to have enough supplies in the Catacombs of the Strip to fight for at least a year even if communication with Egypt is cut off. The build-up of civilian population in the Corridor helps the Palestinian Resistance as it makes it difficult for Israel to operate. Hamas is estimated to have concentrated much of its forces in Rafah to control the Corridor, above and below ground.

At the same time, the eyes of major powers, global and regional, are concentrated on Rafah. The Palestinians’ allies, the Palestine Resistance Front, or “Islamic NATO” are ready to escalate if Hamas tends to overindulge in the battle of Rafah. It is now an open secret that the viability of the Palestinian resistance in the Strip is based on control of the Philadelphi Corridor.

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