(Bloomberg) -- Israel is determined to push ahead with a goal to move a million or more civilians from Rafah before an attack on the Hamas-held city in Gaza, even though officials acknowledge in private they have no precise strategy for how to do it, how long it will take or where the people will go.

“I ordered a plan, they’re preparing it and are going to present it in the near future,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a brief phone interview with Bloomberg on Wednesday, referring to the Israeli military.

Desperate Gazans have sought refuge in Rafah, and many are now living in tents and on streets, facing hunger and illness. Forcing them to return to devastated areas is expected to add to a death toll that has already exceeded 29,000 in Gaza since war erupted, according to the Hamas-run Health Ministry.

Israeli leaders see this as an inflection point, however. They believe they are getting close to dismantling the military structure of Hamas, considered a terrorist organization by the US and European Union, and finding around 100 remaining hostages. Meeting these goals can only be accomplished in Rafah, they say, where officials think between 5,000 and 8,000 fighters and Hamas leaders are hiding, mostly in tunnels, along with the hostages.

The US and other allies have pushed for a cease-fire. But Israeli officials say the conditions Hamas recently laid out for a deal to release the hostages in exchange for freeing Palestinians in Israeli jails were so extreme that talks became futile.

US-led efforts to reach an agreement are ongoing in Cairo, although Israel pulled out its delegates last week and hasn’t sent any back. Israel has offered a weeks-long pause in fighting for hostages, which Hamas has so far rejected. Officials say ending the war is now Hamas’ singular goal — and it’s something Israel will not do. 

In addition to the threat to civilians, a Rafah attack could provoke violence from Palestinians in the West Bank and Iran-backed militias in Lebanon, Iraq, Yemen and Syria, and create even greater geopolitical tumult. Israel’s full-scale response to Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack, which killed more than 1,200 people and saw the group take 240 hostages, has become a source of consternation to many governments, particularly in the global South.

South Africa has accused Israel of genocide before the International Court of Justice, and leaders of the G-20 summit in Brazil are considering limiting the scope of that forum because participants are so split over the war in Gaza. 

Read More: Why Gaza is the Epicenter of the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Allies worry that the longer the war continues, the likelier it is that Israel will lose whatever support it once had among Arab states. Israel has said it will launch a ground offensive in Rafah unless the hostages are released by Ramadan — the Muslim holy month expected to begin on March 10.

Western officials are increasingly alarmed at the humanitarian situation in Gaza, and the US and its allies have been pressing Israel for details on how it plans to move the civilian population north of Rafah, which sits near the Egyptian border in the south of the Palestinian territory. While officials believe that Israel will conduct its military operation in Rafah no matter what, according to people familiar with the matter, there is concern about the Ramadan deadline and the broader humanitarian situation.

Netanyahu made his position clear at a press conference last Saturday.

“Those who want to prevent us from operating in Rafah are essentially telling us: ‘Lose the war,’” he said. “I won’t let that happen. We won’t capitulate to any pressure.”

Polls show he has public support for this view.

Israeli officials say Ramadan will not get in the way of their military operations. They assert the sooner they can declare victory over Hamas, the sooner citizens will begin to feel secure again, and discussions of regional security strategies can begin.

“If there is no hostage deal, we will also operate during Ramadan,” Benny Gantz, an opposition leader and member of the war cabinet, said at a press conference on Wednesday. 

Of Hamas’ five fighting brigades, two based in and around Gaza City in the north and a third near the southern city of Khan Younis have essentially been broken, the military says. The fourth and fifth remaining forces have largely consolidated in Rafah. 

“We are coming to the end of the beginning,” said Yaakov Amidror, a former national security adviser. “Completing Khan Younis will take another week. In March, we will move our forces into Rafah where the fighting will take till the end of April. We can then move to a configuration of smaller forces like we have in the north.”

He predicted that low-level fighting would go on for the rest of the year.

Amidror and the officials say Israel’s intelligence on Hamas has grown significantly following raids and confessions taken from hundreds of militants captured during weeks of fighting in Khan Younis.

Israel says that of the 40,000 armed fighters in Hamas and the smaller Islamic Jihad, it has killed 10,500 in the war. That’s in addition to the roughly 1,300 that died during the Hamas attack on Oct. 7. Some 2,000 have been captured and an estimated 10,000 wounded. That leaves about 15,000 combatants.

There has also been a huge reduction in the number of rockets and missiles fired at Israel in recent weeks. An Israeli officer speaking from Gaza said that most rocket launchers have been removed.

Read More: What is Hamas, the Militant Group at War With Israel?

While the operation in Khan Younis has taken twice as long as expected, it has gone better than early fighting in Gaza City, the officer added. That city’s military infrastructure was far more extensive than Israel realized, and Israelis forces needed time to learn how to operate certain kinds of drones in Gaza’s elaborate network of tunnels.

There has also been progress toward achieving other goals, officials say. One official said Israeli forces recently raided a hideout in Khan Younis used by Hamas leader Yahya Sinwar, who appeared to have left in a hurry shortly before soldiers arrived. Millions of dollars in cash were found in US and Israeli currency. 

When Israel does end its war, it will then have to deal with the contentious question of what happens next. The US, European allies and the Arab world all want Israel to commit to the creation of a Palestinian state to run Gaza. But Netanyahu has rejected this, saying such a move would be tantamount to rewarding Hamas for the Oct. 7 attacks. 

On Wednesday, the Israeli parliament easily passed a resolution rejecting an imposition of a Palestinian state on Israel, again suggesting that Netanyahu has plenty of support for his stance. In his call with Bloomberg, he called it a “historic day” because of the overwhelming vote, which got through the Knesset 99-9.

“This shows there is a tremendous price for terrorism and peace can only be achieved by direct negotiations” with the Palestinians, he said.

Officials also say there’s no point in looking for new leaders in Gaza before Hamas is destroyed, as much of the population continues to live in fear of the organization, making it unlikely potential candidates will step forward. 

These differences speak to an even larger ideological divide: While many governments have called for a solution that grants Palestinians dignity and political autonomy, Israelis tend to view the latter prospect, in light of the October massacre, as an existential threat. If Israel doesn’t control the territory around it, this argument goes, those areas will turn into staging grounds for the country’s enemies.

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