6 min read

Whiplash in the Middle East

Israel’s incursion into Rafah marks another twist in the ongoing ceasefire negotiations.
Whiplash in the Middle East
Israeli tanks entering Rafah. (Israel Defense Forces)

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Israeli tanks rolled into Rafah this morning, marking the country’s first ground incursion into the southern Gaza city where more than 1 million Palestinians — over half of Gaza’s population — have been sheltering during the war.

Israel quickly established “operational control” of the Gazan side of the Rafah border crossing with Egypt, closing a key entry point for humanitarian aid into the territory. Israel said that the operation — which killed at least 23 Palestinians, including at least six women and five children, according to the Associated Press — represented a more limited version of its original plans for a full ground invasion of Rafah. According to Israel, Rafah is Hamas’ last major stronghold in Gaza, the location of four of the group’s six remaining battalions.

The incursion ended 24 hours of whiplash in the Middle East, during which ceasefire talks between Israel and Hamas had appeared to be nearing completion — only for more snags to crop up near the finish line.

Hamas announced Monday that it had accepted a ceasefire deal drafted by Egypt and Qater, which have mediated the talks, but Israel quickly clarified that the proposal deviated in key ways from the offering their negotiators had submitted last week. The major sticking point continues to be whether a ceasefire agreement will plot out a permanent end to the war; Israel has said it will not accept a deal that does, while Hamas has said that it will not accept a deal that doesn’t.

According to the Times of Israel, Hamas’ latest counteroffer also changed the number of living Israeli hostages who would be returned as part of the first phase of a ceasefire. Israel’s proposal had called for 33 hostages to be released in the first phase, who would primarily be women, older men, and the sick and wounded. Hamas’ response said they would return 33, but that some of that number would be the remains of hostages in those categories who have already died.

How should the dizzying array of developments be understood?

According to the New York Times, the White House believes that each of the moves — from both sides — “signaled less than originally met the eye,” instead reflecting “efforts to gain leverage at the negotiating table” in Cairo, where ceasefire talks are continuing despite the Rafah operation.

The Times writes, explaining the view of U.S. officials:

In fact, Hamas did not “accept” a cease-fire deal so much as make a counteroffer to the proposal on the table previously blessed by the United States and Israel — a counteroffer that was not itself deemed acceptable but a sign of progress. At the same time, Israel’s strikes in Rafah evidently were not the start of the long-threatened major operation but targeted retaliation for Hamas rocket attacks that killed four Israeli soldiers over the weekend — and along with the warning to civilians, a way to increase pressure on Hamas negotiators.

Indeed, an Israeli delegation is set to arrive in Cairo in the coming hours, a positive development after Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government initially monitored the talks from afar. Qatar is sending a team of negotiators today as well; CIA Director Bill Burns will be on hand representing the U.S.

Related news to know:

  • President Biden will deliver a major speech on antisemitism today, during a U.S. Holocaust Museum ceremony at the U.S. Capitol. Biden is expected to address the anti-war protests that have broken out on college campuses in recent weeks. Watch at 11:30 a.m. ET
  • The UN is warning that, after this morning’s operation, Israel has “choked off” the two main entry points for humanitarian aid into Gaza: Rafah and Kerem Shalom. The White House said Monday that Prime Minister Netanyahu had assented to a request from President Biden to reopen the Kerem Shalom crossing, although it was unclear if that directive had been carried out. Cindy McCain, who now leads the UN’s World Food Program, said Sunday that Gaza had entered “full-blown famine,” with hundreds of thousands of starving civilians.
  • The Biden administration is one day away from a key self-imposed deadline to report to Congress on whether Israel has violated U.S. or international law in Gaza using U.S. weapons. The report is sure to spark backlash, whatever its contents.

More news to know.

File:Marjorie Taylor Greene (51770691096).jpg
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene. (Gage Skidmore)

House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA) met for nearly two hours Monday with Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) as he seeks to diffuse her threat to trigger a vote on his ouster. Per Punchbowl News, Greene asked Johnson for commitments not to send more U.S. aid to Ukraine, to defund Special Counsel Jack Smith’s investigations into Donald Trump, and to follow the “Hastert Rule” (only holding votes on bills supported by a majority of House Republicans).

  • The two are expected to meet again today. According to the Wall Street Journal, Trump is “furious” with Greene and has told the Georgia firebrand not to make a move against Johnson.

The Trump campaign is preparing for the possibility of their candidate being jailed after Judge Juan Merchan threatened that a future violation of Trump’s gag order could be met with incarceration.

Republicans are planning a push to capitalize off of the indictments against Sen. Bob Menendez (D-NJ) and Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-TX) — although Trump stepped on the message with an apparent defense of Cuellar on Monday. Both Democratic lawmakers are accused of illegal conspiracies with foreign governments: Egypt (Menendez) and Azerbaijan (Cuellar).

Social Security and Medicare both face funding crises in the next 12 years — but a new government report pushed both deadlines off. Social Security is now expected to deplete its finances in 2035, a year later than previously projected. Medicare is believed to have until 2036, five years later than last year’s estimate.

A U.S. soldier was detained in Russia last week.

The day ahead.

The Wall of Remembrance at the U.S. Holocaust Museum. (Thomas Hawk)

President Biden will deliver the keynote address at the Holocaust Memorial Museum’s annual Days of Remembrance ceremony at the U.S. Capitol at 11:30 a.m. ET. Per Politico, the address represents Biden’s core belief — not shared by all is advisers — that one big speech can reframe debate on an issue.

  • Later today, Biden will meet with President Klaus Iohannis of Romania.

Vice President Harris has nothing on her public schedule.

The Senate will vote on confirmation of Donna Welton to be the U.S. ambassador to Timor-Leste. The chamber will then resume consideration of the FAA reauthorization bill and its many amendments.

The House is set to vote on the Hands Off Our Home Appliances Act, which would restrict the Energy Department’s ability to set energy conservation standards for household appliances. The chamber will also vote on overriding Biden’s veto of H.J.Res.98, which would overturn his administration’s “joint employer” rule.

Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial will continue, with porn star Stormy Daniels expected to testify.

Before I go...

Here’s something inspiring: Rep. Jennifer Wexton (D-VA) became the first lawmaker known to use a voice-to-text app on the House floor Monday, delivering a speech on legislation despite her recent diagnosis with progressive supranuclear palsy (PSP).

PSP is a rare neurological disorder that can affect vision, speech, balance, and movement. Wexton is retiring from Congress in January.

Wexton used the app to speak about a bill she introduced to rename a Virginia post office for Madeleine Albright. Watch below via C-SPAN’s Howard Mortman:

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