Netanyahu is taking his war to another level. He is on a path he knows he cannot retreat from if he is to remain in office. And yet his actions threaten to destabilise the whole of the Middle East, with the risk of a generalised war becoming ever more real. Revolution is also stalking all the regimes in the region as the anger of the masses is pushed to ever greater heights. The next tragic act, the massive bombing and land invasion of Rafah, could prove to be the tipping point.

Netanyahu has stated: “We’re going to do it,” as the military operations are being prepared. He added that: “Those who say that under no circumstances should we enter Rafah, are basically saying ‘lose the war, keep Hamas there’.” From the point of view of his own interests, he cannot afford to be seen as losing in Gaza.

The timing of this planned invasion is significant. Negotiations for some sort of ceasefire have allegedly been making progress, with Hamas delegates on their way to Cairo today to meet with Egyptian and Qatari mediators. With Netanyahu’s political life on the line (along with his freedom, given the many corruption cases against him) it is in his interests to scupper any peaceful resolution. So much for Zionist accusations that Hamas alone is responsible for needlessly dragging out the war by ‘refusing to surrender’!

Rafah is a city that normally houses around 250,000 people. Now, 1.5 million Palestinians are crowded there, living in intolerable conditions. Huge numbers are camped out in tent sites, under the constant threat of facing another brutal onslaught. Many of these poor people had fled, first from Gaza City, then Khan Younis, and now they are with their backs against the wall of the Egyptian border.

The masses huddled in Rafah literally have no safe place to go to. Netanyahu, revealing his complete lack of humanity, cynicism and utter hatred of the Palestinians, has suggested that they can go back north: “There are plenty of areas there”. Yes, plenty of bombed-out areas, plenty of rubble. They are facing two possible options, either flee to the beaches, or try and make their way back north. 

As the Financial Times reported on Tuesday about one family, that of Thaer Mohamed, who had already previously been displaced, together with his family from Khan Younis: “We’re trying to escape death but it’s all around us.” Sarah Nayef expressed the dilemma facing her family: “They’ve left us no place to escape. The night they rescued the hostages, missiles rained down and I thought we’d be killed.” They are now preparing to move to a tent in the coastal area.

Both destinations involve the danger of being fired on by Israeli forces. As we were going to print, the IDF forcibly evacuated hundreds of Palestinians from the Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis, with at least three shot dead and 10 wounded by Israeli snipers. Any who do manage to move north would have to travel through active war zones only to find destroyed buildings, no infrastructure, no water or power, and the daily threat of being killed by unexploded bombs and mines. 

This is a humanitarian nightmare of unprecedented proportions. UNRWA Commissioner-General Philippe Lazzarini said on Sunday, “A military offensive in the middle of these completely exposed, vulnerable people is a recipe for disaster. I am almost becoming wordless.”

With the main advance having not yet begun, at least 67 were killed in Rafah during Israeli bombings early on Monday. As I write, the latest figures are that at least 28,473 Palestinians have been killed since 7 October, and 68,146 have been injured. There is now talk of further tens of thousands possibly being killed should the IDF go into Rafah.

The IDF is now boasting that they have rescued two hostages, and this will be used by Netanyahu to convince the people in Israel that his strategy is working. We can be sure he will not make too much noise about the fact that far more hostages have died in the bombing campaign.

During the rescue operation, immense firepower was brought to bear on Rafah. There were horrendous scenes of ordinary civilians running for their lives, desperately seeking shelter from the bombs. Now they live in constant fear that this will soon be repeated on a grand scale across the whole of the city.

Imperialist nerves rattled

The prospect of more horrific scenes, on an even higher level, being watched by millions of ordinary working people across the Middle East, not to mention the billions globally, is rattling the nerves of the western imperialists. 

This, however, is not due to any humanitarian concerns. They have stood by and allowed close to 30,000 Palestinians to die at the hands of the Israeli military over the past four months, refusing to even call for a ceasefire, while actually providing weapons and supplies to the Israeli government. 

These same ladies and gentlemen also stood by while close to 400,000 died in the recent Yemen war, with over 150,000 people killed in the bombings, and a further estimated 227,000 dead as a result of famine and the lack of healthcare facilities. That devastation was inflicted on the Yemeni people by Saudi Arabia, armed and backed by western imperialism, as is Israel.

No, their concerns are not about the lives of the Palestinians. Their concerns are about the further destabilisation of the region, including the real threat of the collapse of some neighbouring regimes.

This may explain why western broadcasters such as the BBC have woken up to the fact that terrible suffering was inflicted on the people of Gaza. They have now published a documentary about the first month of the war, which describes scenes such as ambulances being targeted by the IDF as they head out to rescue injured people. 

Of course, on the BBC News programme, aired on Tuesday, they added an official comment from the IDF that it doesn’t target medical staff! They must always grant the Israeli government and the IDF the right to express their views and ‘correct’ any news reports that may be damaging to their image. 

Source:  שי קנדלר, Wikimedia Commons

No such rights are granted to the Palestinians, nor to anyone who campaigns in solidarity with them. On the contrary, every time the number of daily deaths is reported, the media feel obliged to add “according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health”, as if to imply they could be exaggerating the figures. No doubt, this is to appease local Israeli embassies that are ever-ready to pounce on any statements that they feel can be construed as ‘antisemitic’.

Nonetheless, the fact that they are reporting more on the suffering of ordinary civilians and exposing at least some of the IDF’s brutal behaviour during the war is an indication that they are trying to put some pressure on the Netanyahu government to accept a temporary ceasefire. The problem is that Netanyahu has his own agenda. 

The Zionist media inside Israel stifles any reporting on the real effects of the Israeli bombing of Gaza, and concentrates the minds of ordinary Israelis on seeing the whole of the Palestinian population as a threat to their safety. Part of their objective is to dehumanise the Palestinians, the first step in preparing the ground to butcher them like animals. 

The tragic irony is this kind of dehumanisation and slaughter is precisely what millions of Jews suffered at the hands of the Nazis. Hitler referred to the Jewish presence in Germany as a “race-tuberculosis of the peoples,” i.e. a disease to be eradicated. Nazi propaganda portrayed Jews as “subhuman” creatures.

Just two days ago, Israeli National Security Minister Ben-Gvir referred to Palestinian women and children as “undercover terrorists”, and went on: “We cannot have women and children getting close to the border… anyone who gets near must get a bullet [in the head].”

The mood inside Israel

The Financial Times recently published an article, ‘War on Hamas unites Israelis in quest for ‘total victory’’ (12 February 2024), which explains that, “…the immense suffering in Gaza has barely featured in the Israeli media, and instead the national debate remains consumed by the trauma of a day that Israeli officials describe as the deadliest for Jews since the Holocaust.”

There is a genuine fear among ordinary Jewish people that another Holocaust could be possible. After all, what seemed unimaginable actually happened under the Nazi regime. Netanyahu has an interest in maintaining this mood. In fact, Arabs are presented by the Zionists as tantamount to modern-day Nazis, out to destroy the Jews. It is this fearmongering that allows Netanyahu to survive politically, even when all the polls show that he would massively lose any election were one called soon. 

The mood inside Israel is therefore very different to that in other countries. In the surrounding Arab nations, the daily bloodshed is broadcast every day. Al Jazeera has provided on-the-spot reporting of all the suffering of the people of Gaza. The widespread anger and revulsion, and the natural instinct of solidarity towards the Palestinians, is the logical outcome of all this.

These are two very different worlds. The subheading of the Financial Times piece states: “Surveys suggest majority of population [in Israel] are committed to the battle to defeat militants and return hostages.”  The same article quotes Tamar Hermann, a senior research fellow at the Israel Democracy Institute: “Certainly… the lion’s share of the Israeli Jewish public is not in favour of pulling out of Gaza. The war is perceived in Israel as a no-choice war.” And far from seeking de-escalation, the article points out that: “…rather than ending the war in Gaza, many Israelis believe the state should be escalating on another front: the northern border with Lebanon.” 

The logic of this is that they fear that one day Hezbollah could launch a much bigger attack than that carried out by Hamas. The mood is therefore one of wanting to ‘finish the job’. Israel and Hezbollah have already exchanged fire since 7 October. While most of the latter’s rockets are intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defence system, a strike on Safed in northern Israel today killed and wounded several soldiers. The Israelis immediately retaliated with airstrikes in southern Lebanon. The danger of a full-blown conflict is implicit in the situation as these clashes escalate.

While the western bourgeois media rankles at the use of the term ‘genocide’, many on the right in Israel proclaim that this is precisely their objective. A brief browse of social media comments, or messages in response to newspaper articles, reveals a very dark side within Israeli society.

What we have to understand is that, in recent decades, Israeli society has moved steadily towards the right. What was perceived as the ‘left’ became discredited in the eyes of ordinary Jewish people in Israel. This was in line with the general discrediting of the so-called ‘left’ globally, where Labour Parties, Socialist parties, the social-democracy in general, participated in the destruction of social reforms that they themselves had brought into being in the past at the height of the postwar boom. This has led to the present situation where they have become indistinguishable in the eyes of many working people from the conservative parties everywhere.

Long gone are the days when Mapai (which later dissolved and became part of the Israeli Labour Party), was carrying out welfare reforms, including almost free access to housing subsidies, and health and social services for Jewish Israelis. In its first decades of existence, much of the economy of Israel was either state-owned or run with state aid. The fact that the Histadrut ‘trade union’ was the biggest employer after the state for a long time was a reflection of this.

All the state-owned resources were later privatised. Under both Labour and Likud governments, the old Israeli welfare state was gradually dismantled, with a massive transfer of resources from the public sector to some of the country’s wealthiest investors. Labour, at one point after the 1984 elections, even joined a national unity government with Likud, further eroding its popularity among its traditional electorate.

This created a scenario where a significant section of the population, especially the poorest layers, felt abandoned by traditional politicians. It is on this terrain that first we saw a swing towards the Likud, and then the far-right elements were able to consolidate their grip on a section of society.

While there may have been differences over social reforms though, when it came to the Palestinian question, there were no substantial differences. Leaders like David Ben-Gurion, Golda Meir, Shimon Peres, Itzhak Rabin, etc., were as responsible, if not more responsible than the Zionist ‘right’, for entrenching the oppression of the Palestinians within the very foundations of the Israeli state.

In this process, the Zionist ‘left’ was simply squeezed out of existence by the period of decline of global capitalism and the dynamic of the occupation. Netanyahu gained prominence by appearing as being more effective in the war-mongering, ‘an eye for an eye’ approach to the occupation, and in supporting the colonisation and the settlers. The last show of impotence by the Zionist ‘liberals’ was on display over the many months of anti-Netanyahu protests, revealing the extent of their blindness to the oppression of the Palestinians.

The same process that saw the rise of Trump, Bolsonaro, Boris Johnson, Le Pen, saw the emergence and strengthening of Netanyahu. The distinguishing feature in Israel is the deep divide between Jews and Palestinians, the denial by one people of a homeland for another, which has sharpened this phenomenon to the nth degree.

In the deepening internal crisis of Israel, with sharp political divisions amongst the Zionist ruling class, Netanyahu has found himself more and more indebted to the far-right parties. 

Plans to resettle Gaza

That also explains why now, in Israel, there is talk of recommencing the settlement programme in Gaza, which was abandoned back in 2005. It is presented as the only way of guaranteeing ‘security’.

An article on the New Arab website, ‘In Israel, the resettlement of Gaza is no longer a fringe idea’, explains that: “In the absence of an official post-war plan, extremist ideas once reserved for the fringes of society are taking over policymaking in Israel.”

Source: Yairfridman2003, Wikimedia Commons

The article reports on a recent conference organised in Jerusalem that called for the resettlement of the Gaza Strip. This was no fringe gathering. Apparently, there were thousands in attendance. No less than 12 ministers from the Likud party were there, as well as 15 government coalition members. Israeli National Security Minister Itamar Ben Gvir was present, and this is what he said in his speech: “If we don’t want another October 7, we need to go back home and control [Gaza]. We need to find a legal way to voluntarily emigrate [Palestinians]”. The rabid, far-right Finance Minister Smotrich was also there, and he added that: “Without settlements [in Gaza], there is no security.”

These people are convinced that Gaza belongs to them. In the same way, they believe the West Bank is part of their ‘Promised Land’, and they plan to do to the Strip what they have done to the West Bank: put soldiers and settlers on the ground and gradually squeeze out the Palestinians.

The majority of Israelis do not support this position, but it is gaining momentum. As the article outlines: “A recent Israeli Channel 12 poll found 4 in 10 Israelis support reviving the settlements in Gaza.”

This is the mood that dominates the right wing. Netanyahu depends on these people, and that is why he has to keep them happy. The attack on Rafah that is being prepared is part of this policy.

And this brings us back to Rafah today. Almost three-quarters of the Palestinians of Gaza are amassed there. Part of Netanyahu’s thinking is clearly to push a significant section of this population out of the Gaza Strip. The only place they could go would be to Egypt. The Netanyahu government is hoping to achieve what happened in 1967, when over 400,000 were expelled from the West Bank and the Golan Heights, thus preparing the ground for the settlement programme.

This would mean a gradual, long-term rebalancing of the ethnic makeup of Gaza. Some would be expelled, while the number of settlers would increase systematically. This is perfectly in line with the long-term goals of the Zionist project from its very inception.

Moving to a wider escalation

This plan is an important factor in driving the present situation closer and closer to a wider escalation. So tense is the situation becoming that even the Egyptian regime of Al-Sisi is threatening that, should Israel provoke a humanitarian disaster in Rafah, the 1979 peace deal signed between Israel and Egypt may be at risk.

The Al-Sisi regime is no friend of the Egyptian people, nor the Palestinians for that matter. Nonetheless, even this reactionary regime can feel the pressure that is building up within the depths of Egyptian society. A new 2011-style Arab revolution is being prepared, and the plight of the Palestinians could prove to be the spark that sets the powder keg alight.

That explains the belligerent rhetoric of Al-Sisi. He has never done anything for the Palestinians. In fact, he has helped Israel keep the Gazans locked in an open-air prison for years. Even now, the Egyptian military is serving as Israel’s border guards, hemming the Palestinians into Gaza, with a tiny handful able to pass through the Rafah crossing in exchange for bribes of up to $10,000. 

But Al-Sisi has to be seen to be expressing opposition to Netanyahu’s plan to advance on Rafah. The pummeling of the people now massed in that city would displace hundreds of thousands, hugely increasing the possibility that they could overflow into the Sinai Peninsula just across the border.

An added factor in Al-Sisi’s thinking is that the displacement of at least several hundred thousand Gazans into refugee camps in the Sinai Peninsula would become a strong destabilising factor in future relations with Israel, even risking the outbreak of future wars between the two countries. He understands that such refugee camps – after the unprecedented number of Palestinians killed in this war – would be breeding grounds for the radicalisation of a new generation of Palestinian youth, determined to fight to regain their homeland, similar to the situation in Lebanon in the 1970s.

Source:  DFID, Wikimedia Commons

The Israeli government is betting on continued collaboration with Egypt. However, there is no certainty that Al-Sisi will be able to guarantee such collaboration. This is not because he cares for the Palestinians, but because he needs to be seen by the Egyptian masses as standing up to Israel as it massacres Palestinians just across the border.

That also explains why Egypt is putting pressure on the Hamas leaders to accept some kind of deal that can lead to a ceasefire. They desperately need to put out the flames. The problem is that the plans of the Zionists concerning Gaza leave very little room for such manoeuvres.

And if the flames are not put out in Gaza, they could spread from one regime to the next in a wave of mass uprisings that could bring down many of the reactionary despots in the region. The King of Jordan is also expressing concerns, sitting atop an equally explosive powder keg. 

The global crisis of capitalism has created social and economic conditions across the whole region, which prepare the ground for such a scenario.

This is the nightmare that the imperialists are staring at, and they have no real, long-lasting solution. The reason for that is that they are the main problem. They created this mess, and the only real solution is to bring them all down.

The best thing we as communists around the world can do for the Palestinian people is to fight in our own countries against our own ruling classes. That can only be achieved through revolutionary class struggle everywhere, which to be successful, requires a revolutionary communist leadership.

We are all disgusted and angered by the scenes we are observing in and around Rafah, on top of all the butchery in Gaza City, Khan Younis, and other towns and villages. But anger is not sufficient. Get organised, and join the communists in the battle to end this nightmare.