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Israel Orders Evacuation of Eastern Rafah, Begins Targeted Strikes
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Israel Orders Evacuation of Eastern Rafah, Begins Targeted Strikes

The weekend may have been a turning point in Israel’s war against Hamas.

Happy Tuesday! Orthodox Christians observed Easter over the weekend, and two churches in Vrontados, Greece, win the prize for Least Chill celebration: For more than a century, they’ve marked Jesus’ resurrection by launching homemade fireworks at each other during the service, with the goal of hitting the opposing church’s bell tower. 

Maybe there’s a lesson in there somewhere? Let us know if you find it. 

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories 

  • Israel on Monday began evacuating some 100,000 civilians from parts of Rafah, the southernmost city in Gaza, in what could be the beginning of the Israel Defense Forces’ (IDF) ground invasion of the city. Early this morning, the IDF reportedly seized the Palestinian side of the Rafah border crossing, which links Egypt with Gaza, as part of what Israeli officials are describing as a “very limited” operation aimed at ratcheting up pressure on Hamas. Further reports say the IDF launched targeted airstrikes against Hamas in the eastern region of the city. As the operation seemed imminent, Hamas announced yesterday they had approved a ceasefire agreement proposed by Egypt and Qatar that included terms to which Israel had previously objected. The Israeli War Cabinet met Monday night and decided the Rafah operation would go forward, but Israel would send a delegation to continue ceasefire talks today.
  • Russian authorities detained a U.S. soldier last Thursday on charges of alleged theft, U.S. National Security Council spokesman John Kirby said on Monday. The soldier, Staff Sgt. Gordon Black, was stationed in South Korea and traveled on personal business to Russia, where he was accused of stealing from a woman in the east coast city of Vladivostok, Russia, according to U.S. officials. Black’s mother said he was in Russia to visit his girlfriend. 
  • Jeffrey McConney—a former corporate controller at the Trump Organization—testified as a witness in former President Donald Trump’s New York criminal trial Monday. McConney told the court that nine of the 11 checks paid to lawyer Michael Cohen for the alleged hush-money payments to porn star Stormy Daniels came from Trump’s personal account. Meanwhile, the judge overseeing the trial held Trump in contempt of court for the second time after the former president again broke a gag order and publicly attacked the jury. Judge Juan Merchan told Trump on Monday that if he continued to violate the order he could be put in jail. “As much as I do not want to impose a jail sanction,” Merchan said, “I want you to understand that I will, if necessary and appropriate.”
  • The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) on Monday announced an investigation into whether Boeing’s production of its 787 Dreamliner aircraft was given proper inspection. According to the FAA, Boeing voluntarily told the agency last month that inspections for the aircraft—specifically of the bondings between the plane’s main body and its wings—may not have been fully completed. “The FAA is investigating whether Boeing completed the inspections and whether company employees may have falsified aircraft records,” the agency said in a statement.

Hostage Deal Deflection

An Israeli tank moves near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 2, 2024. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)
An Israeli tank moves near the border with the Gaza Strip on May 2, 2024. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

As people around the world burned yellow candles for Holocaust Remembrance Day on Monday, more than 130 people, most of them Israeli Jews, remained unaccounted for in captivity in Gaza.

Hamas terrorists abducted them—and more than 100 others—on October 7. That attack, which also saw Hamas kill some 1,200 people, marked the deadliest day for Jews since the Nazi genocide eight decades ago.

Israel’s war to eliminate Hamas—and bring home its hostages—is now in its 213th day, but the intensity of the fighting has lessened considerably in recent weeks. This weekend may have marked a turning point, though, as all eyes turn to the southern city of Rafah where the remaining Hamas brigades are located. Four Israeli soldiers were killed and 10 more injured on Sunday in a Hamas rocket attack on the Kerem Shalom aid crossing, underscoring the group’s continued strength in the southern part of the enclave. But as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) urged civilians to leave Rafah in preparation of an offensive, Hamas renewed its interest in the ceasefire-for-hostages talks that seemed to have stalled in recent days. 

Since the beginning of Israel’s war in Gaza, the IDF has pursued significant clearing operations across the Gaza Strip, moving slowly south with airstrikes and a ground invasion in an attempt to dismantle the approximately 24 battalions that enabled Hamas to perpetrate the horrific October 7 attack. The IDF says 266 Israeli soldiers have died in the war against Hamas, and that another 3,300 have been injured. A few weeks ago, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed the IDF had killed at least 13,000 Hamas terrorists since October 23, when the ground war officially began. While the number of civilian casualties in Gaza is difficult to know with precision—the Hamas-run Gaza health ministry does not distinguish civilian deaths from combatant deaths—thousands have likely been killed in the Strip since the war began and many, particularly in the north, are now struggling to find food. “There’s famine—full-blown famine—in the north and it’s moving its way south,” World Food Program Executive Director Cindy McCain said Sunday

Of the original two dozen Hamas battalions, the Israeli government claims around 19 have been dismantled. “Not every last fighter of them has been killed,” Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army reserves, told TMD. “It means that they’re no longer operating as an effective military unit.” 

But the IDF says that four of the battalions that remain are in Rafah, highlighted on Sunday by the aforementioned rocket attack near the aid crossing at Kerem Shalom—one of the few places between Gaza and Israel where humanitarian aid is flowing. Israel closed the crossing following the attack, though Netanyahu reportedly agreed to reopen it during a phone call with President Joe Biden on Monday. “While the IDF is facilitating humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza through the Kerem Shalom crossing, terrorists fire rockets into the same area,” an IDF spokesperson said Sunday. “Israel remains committed to providing life-saving aid while Hamas remains committed to destroying lives.” In retaliation, the IDF quickly launched an airstrike on the origin of the rockets and nearby Hamas “military structures.” 

Politico reported Monday that some U.S. officials are concerned the rocket attack may have shifted preparations for a ground invasion of Rafah into high gear. The Biden administration has said for months that it opposed Israel’s plans to take Rafah without a robust plan for the safety of the roughly 1.5 million Palestinian civilians who are living there, many of whom evacuated south from elsewhere in the enclave. Hamas has an extensive tunnel network in Rafah, and the leader of Hamas in Gaza has previously indicated that high civilian casualties in Rafah would give Hamas the edge by turning public opinion against Israel. 

Indeed, growing criticism of Israel’s war effort from progressives in recent weeks—most notably on college campuses—has coincided with increased scrutiny from Biden. Though the exact reason was unclear, Axios reported on Sunday that the U.S. had held up an ammunition shipment to Israel last week. And on Monday, reporting from the Wall Street Journal suggested the Biden administration was delaying the sale of precision weapons to Israel. 

Netanyahu has repeatedly signaled his intention to invade Rafah regardless of the outcome of ongoing ceasefire negotiations facilitated by the governments of Qatar and Egypt. And on Sunday evening at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem, Bibi struck a defiant tone. “If Israel is forced to stand alone, Israel will stand alone,” he said in English. “But we know we are not alone because countless decent people around the world support our just cause. And I say to you, we will defeat our genocidal enemies.”

“Never again is now!” he concluded, in reference to the Holocaust. 

The invasion has nevertheless been “looming” for months now, and the delay is multicausal. “It’s very clear that the Biden administration has put a lot of pressure on Netanyahu not to go forward,” Cohen told TMD. “And while Netanyahu makes statements to the contrary, Israel still does care about what the United States does and does not think about its operations. So that’s a significant source of leverage.” There are also practical military reasons—like rotating reserves, repairing equipment, and training recruits—to delay such an operation after six months of intense fighting. 

“Israel, I think, also wanted to see how the ceasefire negotiations play out,” Cohen said, by way of explanation for the weeks of delay in Rafah. “Just from a sort of practical and operational perspective, you stand a far greater likelihood of returning hostages safely home through negotiation than you do through a military option.”

But on Monday, Israel dropped leaflets, sent text messages, made mass phone calls, and tweeted in Arabic telling civilians living in the eastern part of Rafah, closest to the Israeli border, to leave the area and head north to Khan Younis and the Al-Mawasi humanitarian area in central Gaza, which Israeli officials said they had expanded. “This expanded humanitarian area includes field hospitals, tents and increased amounts of food, water, medication and additional supplies,” the IDF said Monday.

Later Monday, the IDF said it was carrying out “targeted strikes” in eastern Rafah. By Tuesday morning, tanks were rolling and the IDF said it had taken control of the Gaza side of the Rafah crossing between the enclave and Egypt. “IDF ground troops and IAF fighter jets struck and eliminated Hamas terror targets in the Rafah area, including military structures, underground infrastructure, and additional terrorist infrastructure from which Hamas operated in the Rafah area,” the IDF said in a statement early this morning. “Since the start of the operational activity, approximately 20 terrorists have been eliminated and three operational tunnel shafts have been located.”

The U.S. has been devoting significant effort to the ongoing ceasefire-for-hostages negotiations, dispatching CIA Director Bill Burns and Secretary of State Antony Blinken to advance discussions. The mood music around negotiations last week seemed positive, with momentum building toward a deal—which included significant Israeli concessions—until Sunday, when the negotiations faltered. Though it’s not clear what exactly threw the discussions into what the Israeli side called a “crisis,” Hamas delegates had repeatedly refused to release hostages absent a promise of permanent ceasefire—a condition entirely off the table for Israel.

As a renewed offensive in Rafah seemed imminent Monday, however, Hamas did an about-face, claiming to accept a ceasefire agreement—but not the one Israel put on the table. Instead, it approved a version of the deal proposed by Egypt and Qatar that Israel had already dismissed as unacceptable. “I think what Hamas is trying to do is a classic exercise in deception,” said Jonathan Conricus, a former IDF spokesperson and a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies. “They’re basically approving a proposal that wasn’t on the table to begin with. And then they’re aiming to achieve the headlines that say, ‘Hamas Approves Deal, Israel Doesn’t.’”

Despite the dizzying back-and-forth over a deal-no-deal that Israeli officials considered a “ploy” by Hamas, the War Cabinet nevertheless said it would send delegates back to the negotiating table even as the IDF presses its military advantage in Rafah. “Although the Hamas proposal is far from Israel’s necessary requirements, Israel will send a delegation of mediators to exhaust the possibility of reaching an agreement under conditions acceptable to Israel,” a statement from the prime minister’s office said Monday. 

Meanwhile in Jerusalem and in cities across the country, anti-government protesters and the families of the remaining hostages—yanked around by agonizing false hope in recent days—continued their calls for a ceasefire deal to bring the hostages home. In Tel Aviv, demonstrators blocked a major thoroughfare where, earlier that morning, cars had come to a stop as the Holocaust memorial siren rang out across the country—and inside the Gaza Strip

Elan Siegal, whose father Keith is among those still being held captive, stood with demonstrators in Paris Square in Jerusalem Monday evening. She told the crowd she was sure her father could “hear the noise and energy from the tunnels in Gaza.”

“He will surely return, they all will,” she said. “We won’t be silent until they return.” 

Worth Your Time

  • A Palestinian man living in the U.S. offers both grief for his family who have died in Israel’s war against Hamas and condemnation for the terrorist organization that sacrificed his homeland. “Thirty-one,” Ahmed Fouad Alkhatib wrote for The Times of London. “That’s how many of my extended family members have died in Gaza since October 7. … The past seven months have entailed endless sleepless nights, close calls, false alarms and frantic attempts to help locate missing family members.” But the pro-Palestianian, anti-Israel narrative in the West misses a key truth, he argued. “Many believe Gaza was this unbelievably awful place before October 7, an unrelenting prison with nothing in it worth living for. They then conclude that Hamas’s horrendous attack was a legitimate reaction to Israeli policies that made Gaza a concentration camp. But this perspective misses an important truth. It fails to recognise that even with Israel’s multifaceted blockade, which has been in place since 2007, Gaza was a beautiful place that meant so much to its residents and people. … Hamas needlessly and criminally threw all of this away as part of nefarious calculations by violent and homicidal leaders who have utter disregard and contempt for the average Palestinian citizen.”
  • As university administrators nationwide grapple with how to deal with anti-Israel encampments, former Nebraska senator and current University of Florida President Ben Sasse wrote in the Wall Street Journal of a model to follow. “At the University of Florida, we have repeatedly, patiently explained two things to protesters: We will always defend your rights to free speech and free assembly—but if you cross the line on clearly prohibited activities, you will be thrown off campus and suspended,” he wrote. “We said it. We meant it. We enforced it. We wish we didn’t have to, but the students weighed the costs, made their decisions, and will own the consequences as adults. We’re a university, not a daycare. We don’t coddle emotions, we wrestle with ideas. … For a lonely subset of the anxious generation, these protest camps can become a place to find a rare taste of community. This is their stage to role-play revolution. … Universities have an obligation to combat this ignorance with rigorous teaching. Life-changing education explores alternatives, teaches the messiness of history, and questions every truth claim. Knowledge depends on healthy self-doubt and a humble willingness to question self-certainties.”

Presented Without Comment 

Wall Street Journal: Columbia University Cancels Main Commencement Ceremony After Protests

Also Presented Without Comment

NBC News: Sen. [Tim] Scott Refuses To Say He Will Accept 2024 Election Results, Says Trump Will Win

NBC News’ Kristen Welker: Senator, will you commit to accepting the election results of 2024, bottom line? 

Sen. Tim Scott: At the end of the day, the 47th president of the U.S. will be Donald Trump, and I’m excited to get back to low inflation, low unemployment, and high enthusiasm.

Welker: Wait, wait Senator, yes or no, will you accept the election results of 2024 no matter who wins? 

Scott: That is my statement 

Welker: Yes or no, will you accept the election results of 2024 

Scott: I look forward to President Trump being the 47th president.

Also Also Presented Without Comment

ABC News: Ex-Fulton County Prosecutor Nathan Wade Speaks Out: ‘Workplace Romances Are As American As Apple Pie’

Nathan Wade, the former Fulton County special prosecutor involved in the Georgia election interference case against former President Donald Trump, spoke out for the first time Sunday since resigning from the case after a public disqualification battle over his relationship with District Attorney Fani Willis. 

… 

“Workplace romances are as American as apple pie,” Wade told ABC News’ Linsey Davis in an exclusive sit-down interview. “It happens to everyone. But it happened to the two of us.”

In the Zeitgeist 

On Sunday night, Netflix live-streamed “The Greatest Roast of All Time: Tom Brady,” a more than three-hour takedown of the all-time great quarterback that featured appearances from former teammates, coaches, and team owners—yes, including that coach and that owner

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! Steve will take the reins to discuss the news of the week with the team, and Politico’s Jonathan Martin will make a special guest appearance. Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin argued (🔒) that “The People” are a useless indicator of moral correctness, the Dispatch Politics crew reported on recent staff turnover at the Republican National Committee, and Nick made a reluctant case (🔒) for the most “conservative” pick in Trump’s veepstakes.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David are joined on Advisory Opinions by Judge Edmund Sargas to discuss originalism and various other theories of constitutional interpretation.
  • On the site: Chris reflects on his college experience in light of today’s campus protests.

Let Us Know

Was Israel right to move ahead with its long-planned offensive in Rafah?

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Mary Trimble

Mary Trimble is the editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, she interned at The Dispatch, in the political archives at the Paris Institute of Political Studies (Sciences Po), and at Voice of America, where she produced content for their French-language service to Africa. When not helping write The Morning Dispatch, she is probably watching classic movies, going on weekend road trips, or enjoying live music with friends.

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Grayson Logue

Grayson Logue is the deputy editor of The Morning Dispatch and is based in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he worked in political risk consulting, helping advise Fortune 50 companies. He was also an assistant editor at Providence Magazine and is a graduate student at the University of Edinburgh, pursuing a Master’s degree in history. When Grayson is not helping write The Morning Dispatch, he is probably working hard to reduce the number of balls he loses on the golf course.

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Peter Gattuso

Peter Gattuso is a reporter for The Morning Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2024, he interned at The Dispatch, National Review, the Cato Institute, and the Competitive Enterprise Institute. When Peter is not helping write TMD, he is probably watching baseball, listening to music on vinyl records, or discussing the Jones Act.