Israel approved Rafah military operation and started striking Hamas targets

Israel launched a volley of strikes in the Gazan city of Rafah and said it would continue military operations there, even as the Biden administration has openly warned against the launch of any large-scale mission in the city without civilian protections.

In response to a Sunday attack by Hamas on Israel, Israel on Monday ordered 100,000 people to evacuate a section of eastern Rafah, leading the Biden administration to fear Israel was speeding up its timetable for a Rafah invasion.

In the hours following, the Israel Defense Forces said they were bombing the southern Gaza city — Hamas’ last stronghold — both to target the militants and pressure the group to agree to Israel’s terms for a cease-fire.

Hamas had announced earlier that it agreed to a cease-fire deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar that didn’t meet Israel’s demands.

"Even though the Hamas proposal is far from Israel's basic requirements, Israel will send a delegation of mediators to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement under conditions acceptable to Israel," the office of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a Monday statement. In the meantime, "Israel will continue the operation in Rafah to exert military pressure on Hamas to advance our war aims: the release of our hostages, destruction of Hamas' military and governing capabilities, and reality where Gaza does not pose a threat to Israel in the future."

The escalation shows Netanyahu has no qualms about defying President Joe Biden. The American leader has pushed Israel to do more to protect civilians in Gaza but has refused to exert all leverage on the country — namely through arms transfer restrictions — to convince Netanyahu of a different military course. Now he has to decide whether to issue a rebuke as Israel puts civilians in Rafah at risk.

Both men held a 30-minute call on Monday morning that touched upon the situation in Rafah.

For months, the Biden administration has warned Israel against launching any form of operation in the city. Around 1.1 million Palestinians are perched there in tents, a quintupled total after hundreds of thousands of people in Gaza fled south to avoid fighting elsewhere in the enclave. On Monday, before Israel’s Rafah decision, National Security Council spokesperson John Kirby said the United States opposed "Rafah operations in general" that endangered civilians.

The IDF asserts that it’s doing everything possible to protect innocent men, women and children by ordering them to move to al-Mawasi and Khan Yunis, zones the military says is an “expanded humanitarian area.”

The people who go there “will receive full humanitarian aid and where water, food, medical equipment and shelter will be provided,” said Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari, an IDF spokesperson. He also announced that Israel struck 50 Hamas targets on Monday.

Maj. Nir Dinar, another spokesperson for the IDF, told POLITICO earlier in the day the evacuations were “part of the preparation” for an eventual invasion of Gaza “to keep civilians out of harm’s way.”