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I built some frame and panel drawer fronts of that height but about 22 inches wide and with 1.5 inch wide rails and stiles of oak. I used 1/4 inch plywood for the panel and it is working just fine. I would expect the 1/2 inch to be more than enough. Since it should work out that the back of the false front is flush it will be even better. There really should not be any pulling stress on the front at all since, as you said, the pull will actually attach directly to the drawer box.

I will mention though that I used a 1/2 inch deep groove to hold the panel and did 1 inch deep mortise and tenon joints to join the rails and stiles. Probably overkill for what it was.
 
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