Palestinian women and children flee Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip with some belongings on May 15. Tens of thousands of civilians fled heavy fighting in Rafah, as Palestinians marked the 76th anniversary of their mass displacement during Israel’s wartime creation in 1948, which they call the “Nakba” or “catastrophe.” / Photo by AFP via Getty Images.


As the war in Gaza enters what may be its final phase, Joe Biden has been unable or unwilling to restrain his Israeli ally

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has responded to the October 7 attack by Hamas with months of devastating collective punishment for Gaza. It troubles me to report that he has emerged as a far more formidable leader than President Joe Biden, who, after months of indecision, has finally ordered a delay of delivery of US bombs to Israel. That delay has yet to take place and it will have no impact on the final stages of the Israeli army’s hunt for the Hamas leadership in Rafah.

Bibi has shrewdly turned Biden’s public cold shoulder into a rallying cry, telling the audience at a televised Memorial Day ceremony last week: “If we need to stand alone, then we will stand alone . . . if necessary, we will fight with our fingernails. But we have much more than our fingernails”—Israel is known to have a significant nuclear arsenal—“and with that same strength of spirit, with God’s help, together, we will win.”

The last phase of the Israeli war—it is now little more than a manhunt—is underway in the maze of tunnels under Rafah. I’ve been told that five of the twelve tunnels have been flooded and a few battle-hardened Israeli battalions, whose ranks include many combat engineers skilled in demolition, are working their way in the dark and booby-trapped tunnels toward Yahya Sinwar, the Hamas leader who is Netanyahu’s ultimate target. One day’s fighting, I was told, produced twelve Hamas casualties. The Israeli military has so far released no information about its combat deaths.

Netanyahu has made few public statements since the underground attack began, but he has promised, an informed American official told me, that “all” in the tunnels “are going to die.” The official, who has followed events in Israel and in Washington closely since October 7, added this blunt assessment: “You may not like Bibi but you don’t get a vote. The Israeli citizens call the shots and they want and have a leader and right now their priority is security. Analysts may consider his uncompromising strategy versus the Palestinians, both in the West Bank and Gaza, counterproductive in the long term but this is now and the Hamas threat was real and struck the heart and confidence of every Israeli. They wanted and got someone who not only said what they wanted to hear, but did what they wanted done.”

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