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Israel’s War Against Hamas Continues
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Israel’s War Against Hamas Continues

The IDF plans to take the tunnels under Rafah as the country grapples with the tunnel under UNRWA HQ.

Happy Tuesday! According to early Nielsen figures, a whopping 123.4 million viewers tuned into Sunday’s Super Bowl LVIII across networks and streaming platforms—making it the most-watched telecast in American history. Enjoy that record while it lasts, CBS—Dispatch Live starts tonight at 8 p.m. ET.

Quick Hits: Today’s Top Stories

  • The Senate voted 70-29 early Tuesday morning to pass a $95 billion aid package for Ukraine, Israel, and the Indo-Pacific with 22 Republicans joining most Democrats to advance the legislation after a proposal that would have paired such aid with border security measures fell apart in recent weeks. The package now heads to the House, but Speaker Mike Johnson said yesterday the lower chamber is unlikely to take the legislation up due to its lack of border security provisions.
  • Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin—who was diagnosed with prostate cancer late last year—is expected to return to “normal duties” Tuesday after he was hospitalized on Sunday for a “bladder issue,” according to a statement Monday from his doctors at Walter Reed Military Medical Center. Austin, who was just released on January 29 from a monthlong hospital stay, “underwent non-surgical procedures under general anesthesia,” the doctors said. “The current bladder issue is not expected to change his anticipated full recovery” from prostate cancer. As a result of the hospitalization, Austin canceled a trip to Brussels scheduled for later this week. He had planned to meet with other NATO defense ministers and the Ukraine Defense Contact Group. 
  • A Dutch court on Monday ordered the government of the Netherlands to stop exporting parts for F-35 jets to Israel, finding “a clear risk that Israel’s F-35 fighter jets might be used in the commission of serious violations of international humanitarian law,” referring to Israel’s war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. The Dutch government said it would enact the decision—which came during a visit to Israel by Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte—while also appealing it to the Dutch Supreme Court. “The government believes it is up to the State to [determine its] foreign policy,” the government said in a statement. “The government is lodging an appeal in cassation because it believes the Court of Appeal did not take sufficient account of this.” The decision is the result of a suit brought by three human rights organizations.
  • Former President Donald Trump on Monday asked the Supreme Court to pause last week’s unanimous decision from a three-judge panel of the D.C. Circuit Court that found he was not immune from prosecution for acts he undertook while president. The stay—requested as Trump appeals the decision—would in effect delay his trial for his attempts to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election. Rejecting the stay would send the matter back to the trial court, allowing Special Counsel Jack Smith’s case to proceed. 
  • Kelvin Kiptum, a Kenyan runner who held the men’s marathon world record, died Sunday in a car accident in western Kenya. In October, the 24-year-old athlete ran the Chicago marathon in two hours and 35 seconds, besting the record held by his fellow Kenyan, Eliud Kipchoge, by 34 seconds.

Israel vs. the Tunnels

A man writes “released and rescued” on a poster of missing Israeli, Louis Har on a wall at Hostages Square on February 12, 2024, in Tel Aviv, Israel. The Israeli military says it has rescued two hostages from captivity in Rafah, whilst two 21-year old IDF soldiers were killed in overnight fighting in the Gaza Strip. (Photo by Amir Levy/Getty Images)

On October 11, just days after Hamas’ deadly attack on Israel that sparked the war that’s been raging ever since, we wrote to you about global support for Israel—and how it was unlikely to last long. “The longer it goes on, the harder it will be for Israel to retain any kind of goodwill in the international community,” Greg Brew, an analyst at Eurasia Group, told TMD at the time. “Once images of dead and injured Palestinians replace images of dead and injured Israelis in the international media, the focus on public attention is going to shift and it is going to shift on the situation in Gaza as opposed to the situation in Israel.”

With the war now in its fifth month, that certainly seems to be the case. The Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) have been pushing the battle into new territory in recent days—Rafah, a city on Gaza’s southern border with Egypt and teeming with displaced Palestinians—but the U.S. and other allies are pressing for renewed negotiations between Israel and Hamas. Despite U.S. opposition and requests from Biden for a concrete plan to protect civilians still in the city, the IDF carried out airstrikes in Rafah early Monday morning as cover for a mission to rescue two hostages being held in the city. Israel sees the new campaign as central to its strategic mission: saving those still in Hamas’ captivity and eliminating the terrorist group once and for all.

Amid the ongoing conflict, Biden welcomed King Abdullah II of Jordan to the White House on Monday, where the two discussed ongoing negotiations for another hostage exchange and pause of the war in Gaza. Their conversation likely centered on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu—or “this guy,” as Biden has reportedly begun to disparagingly refer to the Israeli leader among his staff.

An increasingly impatient Biden has recently begun expressing his gripes with Netanyahu in more colorful terms, according to NBC News, reportedly referring to the Israeli prime minister as an “a—hole” on more than one occasion. The administration maintains that the relationship between the two men remains “respectful in public and private,” and though Biden yesterday restated his dedication to “seeing Hamas defeated and ensuring long-term security for Israel and its people,” his frustration with Israel’s war effort has begun to seep into his public comments. In an exchange with a reporter on Thursday, Biden said he believed the IDF’s military operations in Gaza have been “over the top.” (A “senior White House official” later walked the remark back and said it did not represent a change of approach by the administration.)

As his domestic political situation changes, the U.S. president does seem to be growing more antsy for a negotiated end to hostilities. “[Biden] made it clear pretty early in the war … that there was a clock that’s running down,” Enia Krivine, senior director of Foundation for Defense of Democracies’ Israel Program, told TMD. “His patience is wearing thin, the cost-benefit analysis is starting to look a little bit not beneficial to him anymore.”

The Biden administration continues to negotiate for a hostage release, with the president stating yesterday during the press conference with King Abdullah II that “key elements of the deal are on the table,” but adding that “gaps” remain. Nevertheless, Biden has begun to take more heavy-handed actions against Israel, signing an executive order on February 1, for example, that allowed for U.S. sanctions against Israeli settlers in the West Bank who attack Palestinians. 

Biden also expressed deep concern over Israel’s telegraphed plans to push into Rafah. On a phone call with Netanyahu on Sunday, Biden stressed—according to a White House readout—that “a military operation in Rafah should not proceed without a credible and executable plan for ensuring the safety of and support for the more than one million people sheltering there.” On Monday, a State Department spokesperson reiterated U.S. opposition to a ground offensive without concrete plans to help the Gazans who have relocated to the southern city. Nevertheless, the IDF proceeded into the city overnight on Monday. 

The mission in Rafah focused on rescuing two Israeli hostages—Fernando Marman and Louis Har—and involved shootouts with Hamas forces and sustained airstrikes in the city. The Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas, said that at least 67 Palestinians were killed during the strikes.

Despite U.S. objections, Rafah represents an important juncture in Israel’s war against Hamas. Raphael Cohen, a senior political scientist at the RAND Corporation and lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve, pointed to the volume of Hamas combat power in the city. “If they wanted to root out Hamas,” he told TMD, “they would need to go after it eventually.”

Perhaps even more important than Hamas’ combat presence in the city, however, is the network of tunnels that run underground. “It’s the corridor through which Hamas has armed itself over the past decade-and-a-half,” Krivine said. “[The tunnels] are even more intricate and strategically valuable in Rafah because they also run underneath the Egyptian border, which is how Hamas is assumed to have managed to bring in such an incredible quantity of munitions since 2007, when it took over the Strip, and is essentially why we are where we are today.”

Egypt has taken umbrage with Israel’s weekend siege of Rafah, though Egypt’s Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry clarified on Monday that Israel and Egypt’s 40-year peace treaty would continue to stand, rejecting prior reports that the agreement could be in danger should Israel proceed. The city—which contains the only crossing between the Israel-Egypt border, a critical passageway into the Sinai peninsula—could be overwhelmed with Gazan refugees in the event of an Israeli offensive. 

That’s an outcome Egypt would desperately like to avoid. “The idea of a flood of Palestinians coming in and overwhelming the peninsula—and the thousands of Hamas leaders hiding amongst those civilians—is the last thing Cairo wants,” Krivine said.

But the threat of an expanded humanitarian crisis isn’t the only concern for Egypt. “Cairo may also be a little bit concerned of what Israel is going to find when it goes into Rafah. Because we know that that is how Hamas has armed itself, but it was Cairo’s responsibility to protect the border on the Egyptian side,” Krivine continued. “So in theory, it would have been up to Cairo—the onus is not only upon the Israelis for allowing Hamas to get to where they are today. The onus is also on Cairo.”

Netanyahu’s government has begun drafting plans to safely relocate the Palestinians who have been pushed into Rafah since the start of the war. “The Israelis need to provide some sort of temporary shelter to the Palestinian civilian population, presumably in the north parts of Gaza, and dramatically up the inflow of humanitarian aid,” Cohen told TMD. “Both are easier said than done from a practical standpoint, but they are doable.”

One Israeli proposal, delivered recently to Egyptian officials, would establish roughly 15 tent cities of roughly 25,000 tents each and be funded by the U.S. and Arab allies. “I imagine that ultimately, there will be some path that is forged that allows everything to go forward,” said Krivine. “The civilians are tired, the civilians have been displaced for over 100 days, everyone understands that. But when you’re faced with the dilemma between fighting a complicated, urban-warfare combat battle in a densely populated civilian area, or first clearing the civilians of that area, you’ve got to go with option two.”

As Israel plans its next move in its mission to eradicate Hamas, the specter of the terrorist organization’s omnipresence in Gaza looms. The IDF revealed on Saturday that it had discovered a Hamas tunnel system underneath the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) headquarters, a controversial U.N. organization tasked with delivering aid to Palestinians in Gaza. The discovery of the tunnels—which contained a server farm and power banks—follows recent allegations that more than a dozen UNRWA staff members were involved in Hamas’ October 7 attack.

Cohen believes the UNRWA revelations emphasize just how entrenched Hamas is in Gaza. “The level of Hamas infrastructure is an order of magnitude larger and more sophisticated than we faced in Iraq,” he said. “And it underscores the difficulty of the military challenge the IDF is facing.” He does believe, however, that the IDF will be able to recover a significant amount of tactical intelligence from the servers.

Philippe Lazzarini, the commissioner-general of UNRWA, claimed that the organization was unaware of the tunnel system under its headquarters, tweeting that UNRWA “inspects inside its premises every quarter,” and that “the last inspection for the UNRWA Gaza premises was completed in September 2023.” Nine countries have temporarily suspended funding to UNRWA since January 27.

Though Israel and its allies have long suspected Hamas sympathies within UNRWA, the discovery of a data center under its headquarters represents how pervasive a threat Israel faces. And when the war does eventually end, Krivine believes UNRWA will no longer exist in its pre-October 7 form. “Finding the server farm underneath the UNRWA headquarters in Khan Younis was the final blow,” Krivine said. “There’s no going back. This organization has been so incredibly discredited.”

Worth Your Time

  • An immigration rule change that created an administrative backlog is threatening the immigration status of thousands of foreign-born Catholic priests and members of religious orders living in the U.S., according to reporting in The Pillar. “When Fr. Kenn Wandera came to the United States in 2015, he was a seminarian, hoping to become a priest for some of America’s most underserved Catholics,” the report reads. “In his native Kenya, Wandera had heard about the Glenmary Home Missioners, a group of priests and brothers dedicated to serving rural parishes across the United States. Members live by the evangelical counsels, make a lifelong commitment to the community, and when they’re ordained, are incardinated in it. Wherever they come from, they come for life. But Wandera is facing a problem. He came to the United States with a student visa. When he was ordained, he obtained a religious worker visa, called an R-1. From there, he planned to apply for permanent residency—a green card—as do thousands of other religious workers each year. Wandera’s R-1 visa expires at the end of 2024. But because of a backlog in federal processing, there’s no way he’ll have his permanent residency application approved by then. That means while his permanent residency application waits for review, the priest will need to leave the country for at least a year, before he can come back on a new R-1 visa, and continue his wait. ‘Many of our civil leaders are Catholics,’ Wandera said. ‘And finding a way to keep their priests in this country—that should be a priority for them. Our civil leaders should be able to address this—along with the people in the pews—because in this country, the power is with the people, right? My people should not have to go without the Mass. We can’t go without it.’” 
  • Patti Davis, former President Ronald Reagan’s daughter, argued her father would be concerned about the state of our union. “His eyes often welled with tears when ‘America the Beautiful’ was played, but it wasn’t just sentiment,” she wrote for the New York Times. “He knew how fragile democracy is, how easily it can be destroyed. He used to tell me about how Germany slid into dictatorship, the biggest form of government of all. I wish so deeply that I could ask him about the edge we are teetering on now, and how America might move out of its quagmire of anger, its explosions of hatred. How do we break the cycle of violence, both actual and verbal? How do we cross the muddy divides that separate us, overcome the partisan rancor that drives elected officials to heckle the president in his State of the Union address? When my father was shot, Tip O’Neill, then speaker of the House and always one of his most devoted political opponents, came into his hospital room and knelt down to pray with him, reciting the 23rd Psalm. Today a gesture like that seems impossible. So what would my father say about the decline of civility and the ominous future of our democracy? I don’t think he would address his party’s front-runner at all. I think he would focus on the people who cheer at that candidate’s rallies. He would point out to them that dictatorships aren’t created by one person; they’re created by all the people who fall in line and say yes.”

Presented Without Comment 

Wall Street Journal: Kamala Harris Says She Is Ready to Serve as Biden Faces Age Scrutiny

Also Presented Without Comment  

CNBC: Biden Campaign Debuts Official TikTok Account, but App is Still Banned on Most Government Devices

Also Also Presented Without Comment

CNN: Trump Endorses [Michael] Whatley as Next RNC Chair and Backs Daughter-in-Law Lara Trump as Co-Chair

Toeing the Company Line

  • It’s Tuesday, which means Dispatch Live (🔒) returns tonight at 8 p.m. ET/5 p.m. PT! The team will discuss the news of the week and, of course, take plenty of viewer questions. Keep an eye out for an email later today with information on how to tune in.
  • In the newsletters: Kevin panned (🔒) a recent book that purports to be about wolves but is not, in fact, about wolves, Drucker and Mike covered a potential shakeup at the RNC in Dispatch Politics, and Nick profiled (🔒) some congressional Republicans headed for the exits.
  • On the podcasts: Sarah and David devote the latest episode of Advisory Opinions to analyzing the legal standards and implications of the Hur Report on Biden’s handling of classified documents.
  • On the site today: John McCormack looks back at Senate Republicans’ acquittal of Trump in his second impeachment trial three years ago today, and Stirewalt previews the special election to fill George Santos’ seat in New York’s 3rd Congressional District.

Let Us Know

Do you think President Biden’s frustrations with Israel’s war effort are valid?

James Scimecca works on editorial partnerships for The Dispatch, and is based in Washington, D.C. Prior to joining the company in 2023, he served as the director of communications at the Empire Center for Public Policy. When James is not promoting the work of his Dispatch colleagues, he can usually be found running along the Potomac River, cooking up a new recipe, or rooting for a beleaguered New York sports team.

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.

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.