The Israeli decision to withdraw its forces from Khan Younes on Sunday raises questions, especially in light of recent American pressures. Is it a prelude to a lasting ceasefire or a mere delay before a powerful comeback towards Rafah?

The Israeli military announced on Sunday the near-complete withdrawal of its forces from southern Gaza. This significant move is driven by a complex interplay of political factors, likely compelling Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to act accordingly.

So far, Netanyahu has been advocating for a hardline policy, which was expected to culminate in a full-scale offensive on Rafah. He notably stated on March 27th that Israel had “no other option” but to step into Rafah, as “the very existence of the country is at stake.” He argued that an offensive against this southern Gaza city was crucial to “eliminate Hamas,” with which Israel has been at war since October 7, 2023.

American Turnaround

The main factor believed to have played a role in this withdrawal is the shift in the stance of the US administration towards Netanyahu. Faced with the extensive damage caused by the Israeli military in the enclave, especially the heavy human toll compounded by the deaths of humanitarian workers from the US-based NGO World Central Kitchen (WCK), President Joe Biden is no longer withholding his frustration with the Israeli Prime Minister’s approach.

However, the Israeli military has denied this hypothesis, arguing that the decision to withdraw stems from the depletion of all intelligence and combat operations in the region.

According to CNN, during their latest phone call on Thursday, April 4, Joe Biden reportedly issued serious warnings to Benjamin Netanyahu, threatening substantial consequences if the Israeli Prime Minister did not change his Gaza policy. One of the key warnings from Biden was the possibility of suspending American military aid to Israel.

This potential decision would, furthermore, echo the United Nations Human Rights Council’s resolution on Friday, which called for a halt to all arms sales to Israel. In fact, Israel has received $124 billion in military aid from Washington ever since it was established.

In the years leading up to the war, the annual amount averaged 3.8 billion. Since then, this number has significantly increased, as evidenced by the recent American decision to deliver fighter jets and ammunition to Tel Aviv on March 29th.

Towards a Temporary Ceasefire?

The Israeli decision to pull out could be perceived as a potential prelude to a ceasefire — even a temporary one — in the Palestinian enclave. This move comes as Egypt gears up to host a fresh round of talks aimed at brokering a truce and securing the release of hostages still held by Hamas, in exchange for Palestinian prisoners.

These negotiations, which are expected to begin in Cairo on Sunday, will be overseen by key figures, including CIA Director Bill Burns, his Israeli counterpart Mossad Chief David Barnea, as well as Egyptian and Qatari officials.

On Saturday, Hamas stated that it “will not yield” on its demands for a ceasefire with Israel while also announcing its intention to send a delegation to the upcoming discussions in the Egyptian capital. Earlier on, Biden had urged for an immediate ceasefire in the enclave, aligning with UN Security Council Resolution 2728, adopted on March 25th.

Netanyahu Cornered

Another factor that may have influenced the current Israeli Prime Minister is related to the evolving political situation in Israel, where opposition to Benjamin Netanyahu’s policies is growing. In recent days, the national unity initially displayed at the beginning of the conflict is breaking down.

On one hand, anti-Netanyahu protests are increasing both in number and intensity. On the other hand, a growing number of political rivals to the PM, including Benny Gantz, its main political rival and a member of the Israeli war cabinet, are advocating for early elections.

Another alarming development for Netanyahu was the weekend visit to Washington by the other centrist opposition figure, Yair Lapid. By granting him such credibility, the American administration also hints at its readiness for a post-Netanyahu era, at a time when the Israeli Prime Minister is fighting for his political survival.

The Importance of Stalling

The withdrawal of the majority of Israeli forces does not, however, signal the end of the conflict in the Gaza Strip. To begin with, the Israeli military clarified that this maneuver only pertains to the southern part of the enclave.

Furthermore, Israel announced the decision to maintain a brigade in the area, consisting of an average unit of between 2,000 and 5,000 troops, was also announced by Tel Aviv. While such a force does not allow for large-scale offensive action, it is sufficient to demonstrate the presence of the Hebrew state locally.

This ongoing presence, along with that of other units further north and ongoing airstrikes, suggests that Israel remains committed to its operations in Gaza. This commitment was emphasized by comments from an Israeli military official, who stated that the army “will continue to perform on the ground as required by operational needs.”