May 9, 2024

Israel begins Rafah invasion.

Palestinians living in makeshift tents along Egypt border. (Photo by Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images)
Palestinians living in makeshift tents along the Gaza Strip and Egypt border. (Photo by Hani Alshaer/Anadolu via Getty Images)

Plus, a reader question about the wealth tax proposal.

I’m Isaac Saul, and this is Tangle: an independent, nonpartisan, subscriber-supported politics newsletter that summarizes the best arguments from across the political spectrum on the news of the day — then “my take.”

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Today's read: 11 minutes.

Israel's military operation in Rafah is now underway. Plus, a reader question about the wealth tax.

The best argument that I'm wrong.

Last week, I started working on a piece making the case that I was wrong to call for a ceasefire in Gaza. My goal was to steelman the other side — to make the best possible argument I can that they are right and I am wrong. Shortly after starting the piece, news broke of a ceasefire deal, then Israel refuted the notion that a deal had been struck, and then the long-anticipated Rafah invasion began.

As many of you have seen me write already, and as you'll see in today's "My take," I believe a ceasefire is the best path forward for Israelis, Palestinians, and the Jews and Muslims across the globe who are invested in this conflict. But I want to be cognizant of and open to the fact that I could be wrong, which I'm going to explore tomorrow.

Quick hits.

  1. House Democrats joined Republicans to vote 359-43 to dismiss Marjorie Taylor Greene’s (R-GA) motion to oust House Speaker Mike Johnson (R-LA). (The vote)
  2. The Biden administration is preparing to publish a new rule that would more rapidly reject migrants at the border who arrive and claim asylum. (The rule) Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) is also considering bringing a bipartisan border deal back to the floor for a vote. (The bill)
  3. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. suffered from a series of health issues that involved a parasite that infected parts of his brain and caused memory loss, according to a report in The New York Times. (The story)
  4. Over the past day, Russia has launched over 70 missile and drone attacks on Ukrainian power plants across the country. (The strikes)
  5. Barron Trump, former President Donald Trump’s youngest son, was picked to be a Florida delegate at the Republican National Convention in July. Trump turned 18 in March. (The decision)

Today's topic.

The Rafah invasion. On Monday, Israeli forces began striking targets in Rafah, a city in southern Gaza. During the course of the war, over a million Gazan refugees fled to the Rafah region to shelter from Israel's incursion in the north. Several Hamas battalions have also fled south to Rafah and maintained a stronghold there, which Israel says it is aiming to dismantle with its latest push.

News of the Israeli operation in Rafah began after a flurry of breaking stories over the course of 24 hours. First, news broke that four Israeli soldiers had been killed by a Hamas mortar attack in southern Israel. Then, Israel warned over 110,000 Rafah residents to evacuate the city, airdropping pamphlets all across the region telling them that an invasion was forthcoming. Just hours later, news broke that Hamas had accepted a ceasefire deal, sending Gazans into the streets to celebrate.

However, Israel quickly said the deal was brokered by Qatar and Egypt without Israeli officials present, and did not meet their terms. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu claimed it was an attempt by Hamas to sabotage the Rafah invasion. Hours later, airstrikes began in Rafah, and then Israeli tanks rolled in.

The proposal Hamas agreed to outlined a phased release of Israeli hostages held in Gaza to be timed with a gradual withdrawal of Israeli troops from the entire enclave. It called for “sustainable calm,” or a permanent cessation of military operations. Israel has said it would not agree to a full withdrawal or a permanent ceasefire as part of any deal. Israel also objected because the first phase of the deal — which would last 42 days — involved the release of 33 hostages held in Gaza, including women, children, older adults, and those who are ill. However, Hamas wanted the terms of the deal to involve 33 living or dead hostages, and could not guarantee they would release living hostages in the exchange.

While ceasefire negotiations continue, Israel has ramped up its operation in Rafah. Israeli tanks are now stationed just hundreds of yards from the border with Egypt, and satellite imagery shows significant damage in the region. One Egyptian official described the scope of the operation as "limited" to the Associated Press, though reports of airstrikes have continued since Monday. Israel has also taken control of the Kerem Shalom border crossing between Egypt and Rafah, one of two corridors that has been used to import humanitarian aid into Gaza. The crossing was shut down for a few days before Israel announced it had reopened on Wednesday. Hamas had previously controlled the crossing, allowing it to manage incoming resources, which Israeli officials claim have included weapons being smuggled across the border.  

Meanwhile, the Biden administration delayed the transfer of thousands of precision weapons to Israel and said they would continue to do so if Israel continued the operation.. However, Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant said Tuesday the operation will go on "until we eliminate Hamas in the Rafah area and the entire Gaza Strip, or until the first hostage returns home."

Today, we're going to explore some arguments on Israel's decisions to pursue the Rafah invasion from the right and left, as well as some pieces from Israeli and Palestinian writers. Then, my take.

What the right is saying.

  • The right mostly supports the operation in Rafah, calling it a necessary step to fulfill Israel’s objectives in the war. 
  • A smaller faction worries that the move could have unintended consequences for Israel. 

In The New York Post, Jonathan Sweet and Mark Toth wrote “Israel is finally moving to end its war against Hamas by entering Rafah — count on it to succeed.”

“Hamas is clearly in trouble. Its last bastion of defense in Gaza is now squarely in the sights of the IDF. Despite President Biden’s repeated efforts to publicly deter Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from destroying Hamas in Rafah, Israel is not going to agree to any cease-fire that allows Hamas to survive to fight another day,” Sweet and Toth said. “Hamas, as a military threat to Israel, will be destroyed and Rafah ultimately seized by the IDF.”

“The IDF is likely to take a sector-by-sector ground and air approach in Rafah, replicating the divide-and-conquer strategy it has deployed since Oct. 7. By piecemealing its ground operations, Israel is likely attempting to temper or forestall any adverse Biden administration response, while systematically accomplishing its goals,” Sweet and Toth wrote. “Israel is determined to defeat Hamas with or without the White House’s support; it has no choice. Not just to wipe out the remaining Hamas cadres but because Rafah, which borders Egypt, is key to Hamas’ weapons-smuggling.”

In The Chicago Tribune, Daniel DePetris said “the implications of an Israeli assault on Rafah are horrible.”

“It’s hard to overstate just how dangerous this entire situation is. Rafah, the Gaza border city near Egypt, is now host to more than half of Gaza’s 2.4 million people. Most of them are crowded into tents, makeshift shelters and whatever apartments are left. The vast majority of the humanitarian aid shipped into Gaza also comes through the crossing point at Rafah. Hamas is fully ensconced in the city, a consequence in large part of the terrorist group having months to prepare its defenses,” DePetris wrote. “How to destroy Hamas while freeing the hostages has always been the ultimate question for Israeli policymakers, and it will remain top of mind during a prospective Rafah offensive.”

“The politics of the decision aside, we should be under no illusions about how momentous an assault on Rafah would be. The humanitarian implications could be disastrous… The diplomatic consequences would be no less explosive,” DePetris said. “Israel can forget about getting its hostages back because Hamas is unlikely to hand over its bargaining power at a time when its fighters are being hammered by Israeli bombs in the air and Israeli troops on the ground. From the very beginning, Netanyahu has insisted repeatedly that defeating Hamas militarily and freeing the hostages were compatible goals. A Rafah invasion will test this proposition like no other.”

What the left is saying.

  • The left opposes the incursion, arguing it would needlessly worsen the humanitarian crisis in Gaza. 
  • Most call on the Biden administration to attempt to halt the operation by any levers at its disposal. 

In The Chicago Sun-Times, Thaer Ahmad said Israel could create a “humanitarian 'apocalypse'” in Rafah.

“Allowing any ground operation in Rafah to expand undermines the urgent humanitarian needs and risks countless civilian lives. There can be no meaningful improvement under continued bombardment, destruction and displacement to the north toward famine,” Ahmad wrote. “If what I saw in Khan Younis in January as an American doctor from Chicago is any indication of what’s to come, an Israeli invasion of Rafah will be a bloodbath in the midst of a historic medical, humanitarian and infrastructure apocalypse.”

“Reality on the ground is different from what policymakers understand in war rooms, far from the constant sound of bombs and drones,” Ahmad added. Biden “needs to prevent a full-scale Rafah invasion with concrete policy actions: ending unconditional U.S. weapons and military aid assistance. A cease-fire deal crafted by Egypt, Qatar, and the U.S. had Palestinians in Gaza celebrating outside of their tents in hopes that it would bring an end to the suffering. An incursion in Rafah by the Israelis will deepen the humanitarian crisis and ensure a protracted war.”

In The New York Times, Nicholas Kristof wrote “the U.S. must keep the Rafah invasion from turning into a starvation crisis.”

“Israeli forces have entered Rafah, near the Egyptian border of the Gaza Strip, but we don’t yet fully understand whether this is the beginning of a full-scale ground invasion of the city or something more modest. What we do know is that the flow of desperately needed food aid into a territory that is already starving is severely impeded,” Kristof said. “Israel has the right to pursue Hamas fighters who attacked Israeli civilians in a brutal attack on Oct. 7 and to recover its hostages still kept in Gaza. But Israel does not have the right to starve civilians.”

“The United States, along with Israel and Hamas, bears a measure of responsibility for the crisis… The Biden administration is providing both food aid to Gazans and the bombs that fall on them,” Kristoff wrote. “When President Biden has applied leverage — by raising the possibility of cutting off the flow of offensive arms — Israel has announced measures to allow more food into Gaza. A central question this week is whether Biden will use his leverage to prevent the starvation in which the United States is complicit.”

What Israeli and Palestinian writers are saying.

  • Israeli writers are mixed on moving into Rafah, but many frame it as a sacrifice for Israel’s long-term safety.
  • Palestinian writers say Israel has already brought catastrophe on Gaza regardless of what it does next.

The Jerusalem Post editorial board argued Israel must “act now or suffer the consequences.”

“It is now time for Israel to tell Hamas in no uncertain terms that enough is enough. The longer the war drags on, the more soldiers will be killed, and the more time Israel gives Hamas to prevaricate in talks about a hostage deal, the worse the outcome will be for Israel on all fronts, both militarily and diplomatically,” the board wrote. “Entering Rafah will enable Israel to directly confront the terrorist infrastructure that poses an existential threat to its citizens… Israel would  be able to further degrade Hamas’s ability to launch attacks and disrupt its ability to operate with impunity.

“Gaining a foothold in Rafah will also send a powerful message to Hamas and other terrorist groups that Israel will not tolerate acts of aggression and will take decisive action to protect its citizens. Too often, Israel’s measured response to rocket attacks and other provocations has been interpreted by its enemies as weakness and has encouraged them to escalate violence further. By showing resolve, Israel can better deter future attacks and create a more secure environment for its people.”

In Al Jazeera, Ghada Ageel said Rafah is “past the point of no return.”

“If we listen to world leaders, we could be lulled into believing that Rafah has been a place of safety. But this city, nestled in the southern part of the Gaza Strip, has been on the threshold of terror since Israel launched its genocidal assault on October 7. The daily toll of genocide and destruction has been devastating even without a ground invasion,” Ageel wrote. “Israel’s slaughter from the air never subsided, even as it ordered more than a million people in the north of the Gaza Strip to evacuate south. Instead of safety, Palestinians who fled south found death once again raining on them. In a recent weekend, dozens were killed, most of them children.”

“My teacher Dr Akram Habeeb, an associate professor at the Islamic university in Gaza, which now lies in ruins after being targeted like all Gaza universities, by the Israeli Occupation Forces (IOF), penned a prayer born of desperation,” which “echo[es] the collective anguish of 2.2 million Palestinians experiencing genocide. Some 1.5 million of them are in Rafah with nowhere else to go,” Ageel said. “The need for an end to the genocide, accountability, and meaningful change has never been more pressing.”

My take.

Reminder: "My take" is a section where I give myself space to share my own personal opinion. If you have feedback, criticism, or compliments, don't unsubscribe. Write in by replying to this email, or leave a comment.

  • I’m horrified at the prospect of a military invasion of a city where over a million civilians are sheltering.
  • Gazans sheltering in the south don’t have any clear place to go and are now facing the prospect of losing already limited humanitarian aid and shelter.
  • It’s clear Hamas is hoping to stop the invasion, which is one very good reason for Israel to push forward.

At this point, I feel like a broken record. I've argued it before and will say it again: I think invading Rafah is a mistake. I concede that a big part of that is my inability to stomach the horrors of war, but I also think it is a dangerous military strategy to push forward.

My sense from the best military analysts (even those who support a Rafah incursion) is that this mission is going to be extremely dangerous for Israeli soldiers and has the potential for a very high cost to civilians in southern Gaza. Also, Israel does not seem to have a clear plan for getting the remaining living hostages home safely in concert with an invasion.

In broad terms, I believe that for every civilian who ends up dead in this conflict Israel risks radicalizing a whole community of Palestinians who were friends and family of someone they’ll see as a victim of an unjust war. I think Israel needs to do more to win the battle against the ideas Hamas promotes, not just the physical militants they are fighting. For seven months, Gazans have been experiencing the horror and madness of war, and the million-plus who are sheltering in the Rafah region are there because Israel told them to go there. Now, they are once again on the front lines. Who would ever feel that was fair?

The Wall Street Journal shared a vivid story capturing the situation on the ground for Gazans in Rafah. It described people pouring out into the streets when news of a ceasefire deal broke, cheering and celebrating, with some making plans to begin heading back north to see what was left of their homes. Then hours later, they hear bombing and see tanks, or are told they must pack up and evacuate once again.

“We can’t plan for anything,” Zahra Shweikhi, a 54-year-old mother of four, told the Journal. “We keep hearing news that the talks are on and off, going well and then going south. Although we are very desperate and exhausted, anything can give us hope, even fake news that the deal is close.” 

For civilians who have done everything they've been told by the Israeli military to avoid the war, a Rafah incursion creates some impossible decisions. While some are already fleeing by car, by foot or on donkey, others believe staying put might be safer. Because of power blackouts and inconsistent telecommunications, many struggle to stay up-to-date on the latest information. And because Rafah has become a central location for humanitarian aid, some are deciding to risk being close to the fighting rather than leave for areas where they may not be able to get food, water, or medical treatment.

Khan Younis, for instance, is one of the closest major cities to Rafah. But one man who had been there as recently as a month ago told the Journal he wouldn't evacuate back in that direction because the city is "unlivable," with no water or food and too few standing buildings. 

Maybe the best justification for pushing forward on the invasion has been Hamas's actions this week. When this war started, I argued that Israel gave Hamas exactly what it wanted by entering Gaza for a fight. I still believe this to be true. But Hamas's attempt to suddenly embrace a ceasefire deal is a signal that they did not want Israel to enter Rafah, which — for an Israeli military determined to destroy Hamas — is a good reason to push forward. Advancing makes military sense, too, given that Hamas fighters have regrouped in Rafah and will have nowhere to go as Israel closes in on the city.

I mentioned this at the top of today's newsletter, but I've been thinking a lot about my blind spots on this issue and I'm going to use tomorrow's subscribers-only Friday edition to argue against myself — to make the case that I’m wrong. That this invasion is the right decision for Israel and Palestinians, could bring long-term stability and peace, and that a ceasefire has more downsides than a lot of people want to concede. But for now, I feel a lot like I did on October 8th — horrified by the violence we've already witnessed, and fearful of what's to come.

Take the survey: What military action do you think Israel should pursue in Gaza? Let us know!

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Your questions, answered.

Q: The proposed wealth tax is a percentage of wealth and not income. So how will a billionaire pay the tax? They would have to sell assets. Wouldn't this hurt stock prices which would hurt everyone who has a 401k? Personally, my wealth has increased because of all the rich people building wealth through the stock market.

— Mike from Harrodsburg, KY

Tangle: When we covered the global wealth tax, I said the plan had too many unanswered questions. First of all, I don’t know who would be collecting the tax. I also don’t know how that group would be enforcing collection, or allocating the funds, or deciding on how to allocate the funds. Those are foundational questions to me that I thought I would need to know the answers to before even having an opinion.

I never even got to this important question: Would a global wealth tax be worth the unintended consequences? Because you’re right, if we impose a tax on wealth instead of income — meaning stocks, bonds, real estate, art or other precious items, or even just savings accounts — billionaires would need to sell off some assets to pay the tax. I’m not about to cry a river for all the billionaires who would be forced to sell off their stocks, but at the same time I understand what the consequence of flooding the market with assets would be: Supply would go up, prices would go down, and millions of other people would be negatively impacted.

That’s why taxing wealth is so tricky. Personally, I prefer simple solutions like raising the long-term capital gains tax and closing inheritance loopholes. Reforming our current system, which can function more as a wealth subsidy to people who already have assets, makes more sense to me than creating a new one.

But I’m not an economist, and through learning and discussing economics for this job I’ve learned that there’s always some controversy or hidden factor that I’m missing. So even though the unintended consequences that I can think of concern me, I’m sure there are other factors at play that I haven’t thought of.

Want to have a question answered in the newsletter? You can reply to this email (it goes straight to my inbox) or fill out this form.

Under the radar.

Corporate bankruptcies are spiking as confidence in impending interest rate cuts disappears. S&P Global reported that 66 companies filed for bankruptcy in April, the highest total of any month this year and an 88% increase over January's 35 filings. The year opened with expectations that the Fed would cut rates at some point in 2024, but those expectations have mostly begun to fade. For corporations struggling to handle sustained high interest rates, one option has been to simply throw in the towel. Business Insider has the story.


  • 250,000. The approximate population of Rafah before the start of the war between Israel and Hamas.
  • 1,400,000. The estimated number of displaced Palestinians currently in Rafah.
  • 2,300,000. The estimated number of displaced Palestinians since the start of the war.
  • 56%. The percentage of Jewish Israelis who say they prioritize reaching a hostage deal with Hamas over invading Rafah, according to a new poll by the Israel Democracy Institute.
  • 89%. The percentage of Arab Israelis who prefer a hostage deal to a ground incursion in Rafah. 
  • 47%. The percentage of Jewish Israelis who said the return of the hostages should be Israel’s primary goal in the war in January 2024.
  • 69%. The percentage of Arab Israelis who said the return of the hostages should be Israel’s primary goal in the war in January 2024.

The extras.

We asked the same question in January, and you can compare the results below.

Have a nice day.

Ella was born prematurely in May 2021, in need of intensive medical care including several blood transfusions. Whenever NICU nurse Taylor Deras had downtime during her shift, she would snuggle Ella and read to her. Her husband Drew, another NICU nurse who also had a soft spot for the baby, did the same. Ella’s mother began to visit her less regularly, leading to her being deemed a ward of the state and eligible for foster care upon release. However, after seeing the connection the two nurses had with Ella, her mother decided to ask them to adopt. Today, Taylor, Drew, and Ella are a happy family. The Washington Post has the story.

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Isaac Saul
I'm a politics reporter who grew up in Bucks County, PA — one of the most politically divided counties in America. I'm trying to fix the way we consume political news.