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MIDDLE EAST CRISIS UPDATE: 12 FEBRUARY 2024

Netanyahu pledges safe passage for Rafah civilians; Iranian president calls for Israel’s UN expulsion

Netanyahu pledges safe passage for Rafah civilians; Iranian president calls for Israel’s UN expulsion
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. (Photo: EPA-EFE / RONEN ZVULUN)

Israel would go after the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah despite strong international criticism and was preparing a plan to get civilians out of harm’s way, said Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi repeated a plea to other governments to isolate Israel and said the country should be removed from the United Nations for its continued offensive on Gaza.

Israel will have to sell a near-record amount of bonds this year to fund its war against Hamas, according to several finance ministry officials with knowledge of the matter.

Israel plans to move Rafah civilians before warfare, says Netanyahu

Israel would go after the remaining Hamas battalions in Rafah despite strong international criticism and was preparing a plan to get civilians out of harm’s way, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said.

“We are working out a detailed plan to do so,” Netanyahu said on ABC’s This Week on Sunday, adding that “those who say under no circumstances should we enter Rafah are basically saying: lose the war, keep Hamas there.

“We are not going to let Hamas emerge victorious,” he said. “And if we leave, it’ll be a tremendous victory for the Iran terror axis.”  

Egypt has threatened to take the extraordinary step of suspending its 45-year-old peace treaty with Israel if it sends its troops into Rafah, the Gaza Strip’s southernmost town, Egyptian parliamentarian Mostafa Bakry said in a social media post on Saturday. More than one million Palestinians are taking shelter in Rafah, many after seeking refuge from Israeli bombardment in the north.

Philippe Lazzarini, head of the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, said, “There is a sense of growing anxiety and growing panic in Rafah. People have absolutely no idea where to go.” 

On Fox News Sunday, Netanyahu said, “There’s plenty of room north of Rafah for them to go to, and that’s where we’re going to direct them,” including with fliers and mobile phone calls.

Jasem Mohamed Albudaiwi, the secretary-general of the Gulf Cooperation Council, condemned Israel’s declared intention to invade Rafah. It “threatens to escalate violence, destabilise the region’s security and stability, and lead to the further deterioration and suffering for the Palestinian people”, the Saudi Press Agency cited him as saying. 

US President Joe Biden last week criticised the extent of Israel’s military campaign in Gaza, calling it “over the top” and escalating his criticism of Netanyahu after the Israeli leader previewed plans for ground forces to enter Rafah.  

The fighting began on 7 October, when Hamas militants attacked southern Israel, killing some 1,200 people and taking more than 200 hostages. Israel’s retaliatory air and ground offensive has killed more than 28,000 people in Gaza, according to the Hamas-run health ministry. Netanyahu estimated on ABC that about 12,000 of the dead were Hamas fighters. 

Netanyahu and his government insist that Israel must eliminate Hamas and free all hostages. Negotiations for their release are under way, but an agreement remains elusive. Egypt, a leading mediator in the talks, has warned Hamas that it must reach an accord within about two weeks or Israel will proceed with the Rafah invasion, The Wall Street Journal reported on Sunday.  

Iranian president calls for Israel’s expulsion from UN

Iranian President Ebrahim Raisi repeated a plea to other governments to isolate Israel and said the country should be removed from the United Nations for its continued offensive on Gaza.

“An important step that must be taken is Israel’s expulsion” from the world body, Raisi said in a televised speech on Sunday to an annual gathering for the anniversary of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. He didn’t elaborate on how the measure would affect Israel.

Iranian officials, including the country’s supreme leader, Ali Khamenei, had previously called on Muslim countries to cut off economic ties with Israel, including curbs on oil supplies to the country.

The remarks came as Iran paraded a range of missiles and combat drones on city streets on Sunday. A satellite launcher, which officials said was used to send three Iranian research satellites into space last month, was also put on public display in Tehran. 

Israel, just downgraded, readies bond spree to pay for war 

Israel will have to sell a near-record amount of bonds this year to fund its war against Hamas, according to several finance ministry officials with knowledge of the matter.

The task got more complicated on Friday, when Israel’s credit rating was downgraded for the first time. Moody’s Investors Service cut the government one level to A2. While Israel is still well within investment grade territory — and now on a par with the likes of Iceland and Poland — the move underscored the economic toll the conflict is taking on the nation.

Read more: Israel hit with first downgrade ever as Moody’s cites war impact

The government is likely to rely heavily on shekel debt markets as it increases its issuance, said the financial officials, who spoke on condition of anonymity so they could discuss sensitive matters. But it is also set to sell more foreign-currency bonds, especially via privately negotiated deals. 

The war will “materially raise political risk for Israel as well as weaken its executive and legislative institutions and its fiscal strength”, Moody’s said when it announced the downgrade after markets had closed for the week. “Israel’s debt burden will be materially higher than projected before the conflict.”

As the financial costs grow, Israel is on track to run one of its widest budget deficits this century. The government envisions raising more debt in 2024 than in any other year bar 2020, when it had to spend and borrow heavily to contain the fallout from the coronavirus pandemic and lockdowns, according to the officials.

Analysts in the private sector agree. Total debt issuance will be around 210 billion shekels ($58-billion), an increase of nearly a third from last year, according to Alex Zabezhinsky, the chief economist at Meitav DS Investments. In 2020, the figure was 265 billion shekels. 

US proceeds with $23bn warplane, missile sale to Turkey

The US moved ahead with a $23-billion sale of F-16 warplanes, missiles and bombs to longtime ally Turkey after Ankara’s ratification of Sweden’s membership in Nato.  

Congress approved Turkey’s acquisition of as many as 40 Lockheed Martin F-16 Block 70 aircraft and 79 upgrade kits to modernise its fleet as well as hundreds of missiles and bombs. The critical sale will reinforce Turkey’s defence at a time when Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the Israel-Hamas war has roiled the Middle East.

The purchases will enable Turkey to retire its F-4 jets and to modernise Nato’s largest F-16 fleet after the US as a stopgap until it can develop its own warplanes. Jeff Flake, the US ambassador to Turkey, hailed the decision in a message posted on X on Sunday, saying Turkey’s “F-16 fleet is critical to Nato’s strength, ensuring future interoperability among allies.” 

Turkey is home to an early-warning radar at Kurecik, a critical part of Nato’s ballistic-missile defence capabilities, as well as Incirlik Air Base, close to Syria and used by the Pentagon to store tactical nuclear weapons.  

UK, UAE express concern about planned Israel Rafah offensive

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron said he was “deeply concerned” about the prospect of an expanded Israeli military offensive in Gaza targeting a key refugee outpost for Palestinians in Rafah. 

“The priority must be an immediate pause in the fighting to get aid in and hostages out,” Cameron wrote in a post on X on Saturday evening, noting that Rafah — located near the Palestinian territory’s border with Egypt — was home to more than half of the population of the Gaza Strip. 

Concern is growing among Israeli allies and Arab states as renewed efforts to secure a ceasefire in the months-long war continue. DM 

Read more in Daily Maverick: Israel-Palestine War
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Comments - Please in order to comment.

  • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

    The Palestinians were asked to move from north to south and then bombed all the way to the south.
    Move people anywhere then block food water and medicine they will die anyway.
    This Benjamin God.

    • Vic Mash says:

      Netanyahu the furer!!!

    • JP K says:

      Note also that Israel has targeted UNRWA. In a report which provided no evidence, Israel claimed that 12 members of the agency were Hamas members. A NY Times journalist who had previously served in the IDF further promoted the propaganda reporting that 10% of UNRWA staff have links to Hamas. Despite the lack of evidence, Western donors obediently and promptly cut funding.

      The timing of the release of the report diverted attention away from the ICJ ruling and, more importantly, undermined the crucial work of the agency. According to Lazzarini, the UNRWA Commissioner-General these attacks are political in nature and aimed at destroying UNRWA.

      Lazzarini continues: the steps to suspend funding constitute “additional collective punishment” for Palestinians already reeling from nearly four months of non-stop Israeli bombardment.

      For those with short memories, the ICJ ruled: “The State of Israel shall take immediate and effective measures to enable the provision of urgently needed basic services and humanitarian assistance to address the adverse conditions of life faced by Palestinians in the Gaza Strip”.

      And so, Israel relies on many methods to deprive Palestinians of the conditions necessary for life and the undermining of UNRWA is just another way of strangling the Palestinian population to me seems in contravention of the ICJ order and further supports the claim that Israel is plausibly committing genocide.

  • Jim F. says:

    I would have thought that forced removal from the UN would be in Israel’s favour. Shut out the white noise and prove the irrelevance of remaining members.

  • Ken Shai says:

    Israel is the ultimate sociopathic narcissistic state, that possess all classical clinical characteristic of narcissism. Jews are master race chosen by God, and every other nation is inferior human animals. Among them using false mask that is the opposite of its true nature, pathological liar, manipulative, always above the law, everything that is good for it is moral and everything that is against it is evil (or antisemitic) anyone who wants to understand Israel should read psychiatry books on narcissism.

    • Kenneth FAKUDE says:

      There is already a 100+Palestinian body count in Rafah in preparation to move in by the IDF.
      We already know what to expect, next week the genocide issue will be in the headlines again.

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