We must attack Iran if it strikes Israel

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 11 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

An attack on Israel by Iran seems imminent. President Biden says his support is ‘ironclad’ and that the US would do all it can to protect Israel. Britain too has a clear responsibility to stand alongside Washington and Jerusalem if Iran launches a significant attack. That means Lord Cameron’s words, ‘We stand up for Israel’s right to self-defence’, need to become more than mere platitudes and the UK should be ready to take direct military action against Iran.

Why should we get involved? The conflict in the Middle East is Iran’s war. Its proxies in Gaza, Lebanon, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and the West Bank have all been targeting Israel since October 7. Tehran has only been able to bring that about as a result of US and British weakness. Trump’s maximum pressure policy to contain Iranian aggression was displaced by Biden’s knee-bending appeasement from the moment he took office.

Desperate to coax the ayatollahs back to Obama’s fundamentally flawed nuclear deal that Trump had abrogated, the White House did little to curb Iranian violence and instead unfroze billions of dollars in assets that could be used to fund terrorist proxies and the nuclear programme. On top of that, Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan, failure to adequately support Ukraine in the face of Russian invasion and his ideological show of distancing himself from the Netanyahu government made it clear to Khamanei that America would be unlikely to stand up for its allies.

It amounted to a red rag to a bull. Where was Britain in all this? Waving our own red rag right beside Washington’s. And as Tehran repeatedly disrespected the nuclear deal, we, as one of the remaining parties to the agreement, failed to punish it. We happily maintained diplomatic relations with Tehran and have still refused to proscribe the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps despite the previous Home Secretary labelling it last year as the biggest threat to the UK.

This strategic ineptitude by the US and Britain, as well as other Western countries, has contributed a great deal to the violence engulfing Israel today. It’s important to understand that the latest threats from Iran follow the IDF’s entirely legitimate air strike against an IRGC headquarters in Damascus that killed Iranian military commanders.

Iran has several options for retaliation, including bombing Israeli embassies, launching missile and drone strikes from Lebanon deeper into Israel and unleashing a direct attack from Iranian territory. To counter that the IDF has a highly capable air defence system. This may be enhanced by additional US assets in the region.

Despite that, here in Israel, where I’m currently staying, the population is demonstrably apprehensive, especially given the possibility that precision strikes either from Lebanon or Iran could inflict far more significant casualties than have been sustained from the huge number of rockets they have faced so far.

Israel’s defence minister, Yoav Gallant, says that any strike will be followed by a strong response on the territory of the attacker. That is of course absolutely vital. Timidity and restraint may feel more comfortable in the short term but failure to meet violence with even greater violence always encourages the aggressor, as we have seen repeatedly from Iran’s actions in the Middle East and beyond over many years.

The endless hand-wringing and unjustified harsh rebukes against Jerusalem in recent weeks and days from both Washington and London serve only to embolden and even provoke Iran and Israel’s other enemies. Standing aside now, while our ally in the Middle East becomes increasingly isolated and embattled is against not just Israel’s interests but our own as well.

It leaves the Arab countries that also fear Iran feeling exposed and vulnerable, ready to look elsewhere for protection. That means to Russia and China, both of which are watching how we respond in the Middle East with an eye on their territorial ambitions elsewhere. As well as our own culpability here, that is why, if Iran does attack Israel, both US and British forces should do whatever is needed to help them fight back.

Image: FCDO/Flickr