Fighting the Blight of Durban

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 29 July 2021. © Richard Kemp

This week, Ronald S. Lauder, former US ambassador to Austria and currently president of the World Jewish Congress, sent an open letter to US President Joe Biden setting out his concerns about rising antisemitism. ‘Recently, American Jews have witnessed something we never thought we would see in this country,’ he wrote; ‘…a Jewish man wearing a yarmulke cannot walk down an American street without fear of violence. Jews have been attacked by pro-Palestinian mobs in Los Angeles, New York and other cities. Antisemitic incidents have more than doubled in the past year. Hate crimes against Jews in America are twice as high as crimes against any other religious group.’

In Britain, the Community Security Trust, a charity that monitors antisemitism and provides security for the Jewish community, reports that racist attacks against Jews in May this year ‘surpassed anything we have seen before’, with more antisemitic incidents than in any single month since records began in 1986. In London, a convoy of vehicles drove through Jewish areas brandishing Palestinian flags and screaming at passers-by to kill Jews and rape their daughters. According to the UK charity Campaign Against Antisemitism, recent examples of hostility include physical beatings and vandalism, chants and placards at rallies, social media abuse and threats to Jewish children at schools and universities.

Similar antisemitic attacks have been on the increase around the world from Buenos Aires to Brussels. In a speech this week Israel’s Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said: ‘Antisemitism has reached a peak that has not been seen since World War II.’

This recent spike in aggression against Jews was fuelled by intensive antisemitic propaganda during the May 2021 Gaza conflict initiated by Iran-backed Hamas, a proscribed terrorist group that fired around 4,500 rockets, mortars and anti-tank missiles at Israel in 11 days. (For comparison, the average daily rate of fire was four times that Continue reading

ISRAEL’S OPERATION BLUE SOUTH: DECEPTION AND MEDIA IN WAR

Article published in the July 2021 Newsletter of the Pen & Sword Club. © Richard Kemp

Indignation from Israeli and international media followed allegations that the Israel Defence Forces deliberately misled journalists during Operation Guardian of the Walls, the recent 11-day conflict with Hamas in Gaza.

The IDF was accused of posting an ambiguous tweet and sending text messages to journalists, interpreted as meaning Israeli forces had entered the Gaza Strip when in fact they had not, and Lieutenant Colonel Jonathan Conricus, IDF international media spokesman, was alleged to have personally confirmed to journalists that a ground incursion was in progress.

Conricus denies he deliberately misled the media, claiming an honest mistake. The tweet, however, was enigmatically worded, saying the IDF was ‘attacking in the Gaza Strip’. Israeli tanks and artillery were indeed firing at Hamas targets inside Gaza, but from the Israeli side of the border. The IDF had massed forces along the fence-line to deceive Hamas that a ground offensive was imminent.

Hamas took the bait and sent dozens of fighters underground into the ‘Metro’, a vast tunnel network constructed since the last Gaza conflict in 2014, to outflank, ambush and abduct IDF troops. Once the fighters were inside, the Israel Air Force unleashed Operation Blue South, attacking the tunnels with 160 combat planes in just 40 minutes.

Leaving Conricus’s personal role aside, it appears possible the IDF did seek to manipulate the media into inadvertently supporting their deception operation with its tweet and text messages. Reading the media outrage, you would be forgiven for thinking the IDF in 2021 had invented this kind of manipulation. So often, IDF operations are viewed in isolation and their tactics painted as outside the norms of Continue reading

Trumpets and Tank Engines: A Turning Point in Gaza?

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 16 May 2021. © Richard Kemp

During an operation in Gaza last week, the Israel Defence Forces attacked a Hamas tunnel complex with 12 squadrons of 160 combat planes striking over 150 targets with hundreds of bunker-busting JDAMs (Joint Direct Attack Munitions) in less than an hour. Although the battle damage assessment is still underway, the raid destroyed perhaps the most critical element of Hamas infrastructure, wiping out vast stocks of munitions and likely killing dozens if not hundreds of fighters. This was a hammer blow to Hamas and may prove to be a turning point in the conflict. It also sent a powerful message to Iran and Hizballah, foretelling the consequences of an assault on Israel with their arsenal of tens of thousands of missiles in southern Lebanon.

The IDF operation was a carefully coordinated combination of intelligence, surveillance, knowledge of enemy tactics, deception, surprise and precisely targeted, overwhelming force. Of all these, deception and surprise were key. Surprise is a principle of war in the American, British and many other forces, defined in the US Army Field Manual as ‘striking the enemy at a time or place or in a manner for which he is unprepared’. The manual goes on to say: ‘Deception can aid the probability of achieving surprise.’ Throughout the history of warfare, surprise achieved through deception has led to many stunning military victories — often against the odds.

The IDF’s deception operation was reminiscent of the biblical Israelite leader Gideon’s famous stratagem against the Midianites. He had his men blow trumpets, light torches and yell battle cries, simulating a much larger force and causing the vastly superior enemy army to flee the field.

Last Thursday, the IDF massed tanks, artillery and infantry combat vehicles on the Gaza border, engines roaring like Gideon’s trumpets. The build-up was observed by Hamas and widely reported in international media as an imminent ground invasion. Like the Midianites, hundreds of Hamas fighters rushed to take shelter inside the “metro” tunnel network. Built by Hamas after the 2014 conflict to house command facilities, store weapons and facilitate protected movement, these tunnels covered dozens of kilometres beneath the Gaza Strip. There the fighters were trapped as JDAM after JDAM thundered in from above. Emerging to fight the invasion that never came, the surviving anti-tank teams and mortar squads were then also hit from the air.

This masterpiece of tactical synchronisation, with all its complex elements, symbolises the IDF’s precision attacks during this Continue reading

The PM must legislate to end disgraceful trials of former soldiers

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 5 May 2021. © Richard Kemp

What is going on in the Northern Ireland Public Prosecution Service? Just four days in, the trial of two veterans accused of murdering IRA serial killer Joe McCann collapsed for lack of evidence against them. Senior detectives responsible for the Historical Enquiries Team investigation warned prosecutors the case was going to fail. The former deputy director of the team wrote of the intention to prosecute: ‘In over 40 years of investigative experience, I can honestly say I have never encountered such an appalling injustice.’

Yet, relying on legally inadmissible military statements from half a century ago – ‘dressed up and with a new 2010 cover’ as the judge put it – the PPS carried on regardless in what can only be described as a parody of justice. The costs of their bungling have been high. For more than a decade of investigations, the two distinguished former soldiers – both in their seventies – have been put through hell, their lives on hold, their future liberty uncertain. Meanwhile Joe McCann’s family has been strung along, given false hope that their perceptions of injustice would be remedied in court. And the British taxpayer has footed a hefty bill – with trial costs alone estimated at £5 million.

Can the PPS with its army of highly trained lawyers, including 50 public prosecutors in Belfast alone, really have been so incompetent as to allow all of this, or is there a more sinister explanation? Convicted terrorist murderers have been let out of jail early and pardoned, and suspects who have evaded justice so far handed ‘comfort letters’ preventing their future trials. In this context, many politicians, lawyers and military officers have long believed that prosecutions of former members of the security forces who confronted these killers are politically motivated, intended to appease Sinn Fein. The outcome of this trial can only reinforce that view.

The Police Service of Northern Ireland, MI5 and the Garda, the Irish Continue reading

Biden’s Withdrawal from Afghanistan Undermines His Own Global Strategy

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 2 May 2021. © Richard Kemp

US President Joe Biden’s unconditional withdrawal of US forces from Afghanistan by September this year has potentially grave and dangerous consequences far wider than that embattled country and is set to undermine the national security strategy he proudly unveiled only days before announcing his pull-out.

In 1982, Admiral Sir Henry Leach, head of the Royal Navy, told Margaret Thatcher that if Britain didn’t retake the Falkland Islands when Argentina invaded, ‘in another few months we shall be living in another country whose word counts for little’. He knew that failure to resist a dictator who seized sovereign territory by force would be a green light to such aggression everywhere. The same calculation underpinned President George H. W. Bush’s decision to unleash one of the most powerful armies in history following Saddam Hussein’s 1990 invasion of Kuwait.

Far worse than failing to intervene is intervening to fail. The withdrawal from Afghanistan is just that. Biden did not order US forces there in 2001, but as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee at the time, he strongly supported it. Later he said: ‘History will judge us harshly if we allow the hope of a liberated Afghanistan to evaporate because we failed to stay the course.’

It will not be history alone that judges Biden’s failure to stay the course now, but America’s allies, enemies and competitors around the world. His March 2021 National Security Strategic Guidance says:

‘Authoritarianism is on the global march, and we must join with likeminded allies and partners to revitalize democracy the world over. We will work alongside fellow democracies across the globe to deter and defend against aggression from hostile adversaries. We will stand with our allies and partners to combat new threats aimed Continue reading

Veterans deserve better than being treated as a political football

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 22 April 2021. © Richard Kemp

On Monday two elderly former soldiers will appear in court accused of murdering IRA leader Joe McCann in Belfast half a century ago. This is the first time British soldiers have been tried for killing a terrorist during the bloody 30 year campaign. The death was investigated at the time by the Royal Ulster Constabulary and judged to be lawful.

In 2019 Boris Johnson signed the Veterans Pledge, which included ‘new legislation to end repeated and vexatious investigations into historical allegations against our servicemen and women — including in Northern Ireland’. This week Conservative MP Johnny Mercer was forced to resign as Veterans Minister, amid his protest that there was no prospect of such legislation under this government.

Responding, the prime minister said: ‘We are committed to doing more over the coming months, including for those who have served in Northern Ireland.’ Can we believe this? During the 2019 election campaign he promised to maintain the size of the Army. Last month he announced a cut of 10,000. In 2011 David Cameron declared he would enshrine in law the Armed Forces Covenant — intended to ensure fair treatment for all military personnel, veterans and their families, especially in healthcare, education, housing and employment. Ten years later this had still not been done, although in January, introducing the Armed Forces Bill, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace told parliament: ‘For the first time ever we are putting into law the Armed Forces Covenant.’

When it comes to the forces talk is cheap. Throw-away lines during election campaigns may win a few votes but ministers know that failing to follow-through will not cost them the next election. Only a tiny fraction of the community was involved in Northern Ireland, Afghanistan or Iraq or knew anyone that was. Our dwindling armed forces of less than 200,000 regulars and reserves represents under 0.3% of the population. Unlike the police, they touch very few people’s lives and, with so many other pressures, not many are likely to have an understanding or interest in defence issues unless confronted by an existential threat.

That is why government ministers have a special responsibility not just to ensure effective defence even when it doesn’t win votes or affect the next news cycle, but also to look after the men and women that serve. Aside from duty of care, morale means everything to fighting troops. As Napoleon famously said, ‘the moral is to the physical as three is to one’, i.e. morale is three times as important as everything else combined. In battle, commanders understand how vital it is that soldiers know they will be given immediate treatment if Continue reading

A British soldier in Sangin

Our Afghan retreat is a surrender to Iran

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 April 2021. © Richard Kemp

Over 50 per cent of Afghanistan is now controlled or violently contested by the Taliban, down from about three quarters before US-led forces threw them out of power after 9/11. Despite the country’s army and police being strengthened by two decades of international training and investment, it is hard to see how the Islamist militants can be prevented from regaining their 2001 position now that Joe Biden has announced the withdrawal of all US forces by September this year.

The Trump administration planned to pull out all US forces four months earlier, subject to conditions including a significant reduction of violence, meaningful negotiations between the Taliban and the Afghan government, the breaking of Taliban relations with Al-Qaida and an undertaking not to allow Afghanistan to be used as a base to attack the West. Predictably, none have been met. But that will not affect Biden’s plan which is based not on conditions but an arbitrary date.

We should now be prepared for a civil war even bloodier than anything witnessed so far and the downfall of the democratic government in Kabul. As well as an incessant campaign of violence against women, girls’ schools and anyone transgressing strict sharia laws in the distant provinces, the Taliban have been waging a vicious purge in Kabul and other cities against leaders of the more progressive civil society that has emerged since 2001. Targets for assassination include politicians, judges, lawyers, human rights worker, teachers, university lecturers and journalists: anyone who might lead or influence opposition to a return to fundamentalist rule.

More than 450 British troops have been killed and thousands more maimed in Afghanistan since 2001. As well as fighting the Taliban and other insurgents, our soldiers have been heavily engaged in supporting the Afghan security forces. More than 70,000 of their number have been killed, including nearly 10,000 since the ‘agreement for bringing peace’ was signed between the US and the Continue reading

Putin’s threat

Article published in The Daily Express, 14 April 2021. © Richard Kemp

It is not clear whether President Putin’s mobilisation towards Ukraine was motivated by a desire to warn President Biden against sanctions, to frighten the EU from backing them, rally flagging support at home in the face of dire economic conditions, or all three.

Whatever his rationale, it could lead to a conflict he didn’t intend.

Biden cannot afford to show anything other than strength towards Russia at this stage of his leadership, especially given his frequent suggestions of Trump-Russia collusion.

US sanctions that Putin hoped to deter look like they’re on the way. The EU – usually to be relied on to vacillate and buckle in the face of pressure – has shown uncharacteristic strength in its support for the Ukraine under Russian threats, backed by NATO.

Equally, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy has stood more firmly than Putin expected.

One thing is clear: having decided to threaten Ukraine, Putin cannot show the weakness that would be exploited by his rivals were he to back down. He has to do something aggressive rather than just pretend he was conducting military manoeuvres.

That would be immensely damaging at home. He will not want to order a major invasion which would have much wider and potentially catastrophic consequences for Russia.

There are various tactical factors, including weather and a current lack of some necessary military assets on the ground.

More likely would be infiltration by deniable forces, such as the ‘little green men’ that took over the Crimea in 2014 or peacekeeping troops to protect the Russian speakers in Donbas that never get around to leaving.

Can We Win in the ‘Grey Zone’?

Article published by the Gatestone Institute, 10 April 2021. © Richard Kemp

In March, US President Joe Biden issued his Interim National Security Strategic Guidance. Across the Atlantic, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson presented the Integrated Review of Security, Defence, Development and Foreign Policy to parliament. Both leaders expressed concern over the increasing challenges in the grey zone and promised measures to respond more effectively.

The grey zone is the space between peace and war involving coercive actions that fall outside normal geopolitical competition between states but do not reach the level of armed conflict. Actions in the grey zone are conducted by states often using proxies including terrorists, and also by terrorist organizations in their own right. Grey zone actions are aggressive and often ambiguous, deniable and opaque. They are intended to damage, coerce or influence, to destabilise target states or undermine the international status quo. They usually seek to avoid a significant military response, though are often designed to intimidate and deter a target state by threatening further escalation.

Grey zone actions are not new and have long been the prevalent form of conflict across the world. But as America and Britain both recognise, globalisation and technology are increasing the frequency and efficacy of such activities, and the speed at which they unfold. More actors are becoming involved, using increasingly powerful means of ‘grey warfare’, including cyber, space, internet, social media, digital propaganda and drones.

Grey zone techniques can include terrorist attacks, sabotage, assassination, blackmail, hostage-taking, espionage, subversion (such as funding and manipulation of political groups in a target country), cyber attacks, political warfare including lawfare, disinformation, propaganda, electoral influence and economic coercion. They sometimes involve military intimidation and conventional and unconventional military operations. Continue reading

Face future threats but keep troops

Article published in The Daily Mirror, 16 March 2021. © Richard Kemp

The Government is right to focus major funding on new threats like cyber and new capabilities like AI and unmanned systems.

But defence planners, rightly eager to avoid the traditional British sickness of ‘fighting the last war’, often become dazzled by the new at the expense of the old.

The reality is that not all future enemies will fight in the so-called grey zone.

It is a mistake to cut large numbers of troops, combat planes and warships.

Our major enemies such as Russia, China and Iran watch how we respond to lesser threats and take advantage of any weakness of capability or political will.

As Boris Johnson said yesterday, the US remains our major ally.

When trouble hits, boots on the ground are always the top of their shopping list.

Security – Defence – Intelligence – Counter Terrorism