The United States and Israel are set to hold a high-level virtual meeting on Thursday to discuss a possible Israeli operation in Rafah, according to two U.S. officials. The meeting comes amid heightened tensions between Israel and Iran, following an unprecedented attack by the latter last weekend. The Biden administration remains concerned that an Israeli invasion of Rafah could lead to massive civilian casualties, the officials said.

The virtual meeting, which is the second such discussion in recent weeks, will be led by White House national security adviser Jake Sullivan on the U.S. side and minister for strategic affairs Ron Dermer and national security adviser Tzachi Hanegbi on the Israeli side. An in-person meeting scheduled to take place in Washington this week was postponed due to the Iranian attack.

Over the past few weeks, several lower-level working groups have met virtually to discuss the Israel Defense Forces' (IDF) operational plans for Rafah and humanitarian proposals. A U.S. official said the plans presented by the IDF in these working groups included a gradual, slow operation in specific neighborhoods of Rafah that would be evacuated in advance, rather than an all-out invasion of the entire city.

Despite the ongoing discussions, the U.S. officials flatly denied reports that the Biden administration had given a green light for an operation in Rafah if Israel declines to strike Iran in retaliation for last weekend's attack. The White House declined to comment on the matter.

Meanwhile, a report from the Qatari newspaper The New Arab claims that the U.S. has approved a potential Israeli Rafah operation in exchange for Israel not conducting counterstrikes on Iran. A senior official told the newspaper that "Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu managed to obtain American approval for a military operation in Rafah, in exchange for [Israel] refraining from carrying out a wide military operation against Iran in response to its recent attack."

The report also noted that Egypt is demonstrating "full readiness and preparedness of [its] forces stationed in northern Sinai, along the 14-kilometer border strip with the Gaza Strip, as part of a plan to deal with the scenario of a ground invasion in Rafah." Egyptian law professor Dr. Ayman Salama stated that any modification in the military situation requires Egypt's approval, and Israel will not be able to establish buffer zones on the Egyptian-Israeli border or modify the security annex of the peace treaty between the two countries under the pretext of urgent security needs in cases of direct threats.

Egypt holds a critical position amid the ongoing war in Gaza, as it shares borders with the southern Gazan city of Rafah as well as a large border with Israel. Egyptian military officials have previously claimed that they are "ready for all scenarios" and that Israel needs to properly evacuate the city of Rafah's civilian population before any border crossings are closed.

A U.S. official said there has been a significant improvement in the humanitarian situation in Gaza since President Biden issued his stark warning to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu two weeks ago. "The Israelis haven't reached all the goals set by the president yet, but there is big improvement," the official said.