The West is about to hand victory to Hamas

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 20 February 2024. © Richard Kemp

Just a few short months ago, the West claimed to stand united with Israel as it launched a war of self-defence after the atrocities of October 7. Now even Jerusalem’s closest allies seem to want to stop the conflict in Gaza before the Israel Defence Forces have achieved its objectives of the destruction of Hamas and the release of the hostages taken by the terrorists.

The West has developed a defeatist tendency in recent years of pursuing negotiated settlements that never really lead to peace, only to running sores that inevitably flare up again and again, or indeed to the victory of our enemies. Iraq and Afghanistan are both cases in point. The US’s new draft United Nations Security Council resolution on the war in Gaza could well be set to become another.

The text says that a major Israeli ground offensive into Rafah should not proceed ‘under current circumstances’ – that is, with a heavy concentration of refugees from elsewhere in Gaza on top of the existing residents. The US is also calling for a temporary’ ceasefire ‘as soon as practicable’.

It is what the resolution doesn’t demand that is perhaps most telling. The US appears to have little interest in practical solutions consistent with both safeguarding the civilians of Gaza and permitting Israel to achieve victory over Hamas.

The obvious place for refugees to go temporarily is across the border into Egypt, where there are vast empty spaces and infrastructure for the United Nations and Egyptian authorities to provide shelter, aid and medical assistance. But the US draft resolution seems to exclude this possibility altogether.

Egypt is understandably fearful of Hamas terrorists and their supporters entering its territory; it already has enough of a threat from like-minded Muslim Brotherhood extremists and the plethora of terrorist gangs that share Hamas’s jihadist ideology.

But the terrain in northern Sinai should allow for measures to mitigate dangers such as these, especially given Egypt’s powerful security forces. Surely, if it were truly standing behind Israel, the US would have found a way to encourage Cairo to play a role here?

It is hard to escape the conclusion that, instead, Joe Biden is no longer committed to Israel finishing Hamas off, largely because of domestic political considerations. And the danger is that what he really wants is not a ‘temporary’ cessation to the fighting, but to impose a ‘peace’ deal that would leave Hamas’s terrorist organisation partially intact and end up solving nothing.

What President Biden and his ilk seem incapable of recognising is that the Israeli people can accept no ‘solution’ to the current conflict that leaves the country in a weaker position to the one that it occupied on October 6. Continue reading

David Cameron’s patronising advice would doom Israel to defeat

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 14 February 2024. © Richard Kemp

David Cameron has virtually called on Israel to surrender to Hamas as it prepares to destroy the terrorist group in Rafah. For that is surely the meaning of his words on Monday: ‘What we want is an immediate pause in the fighting and we want that pause to lead to a ceasefire.’ That’s also exactly what Hamas want, and has demanded from Israel — an end to the war that it is catastrophically losing.

Would Cameron have called for a ceasefire as Allied troops were poised to cross the Rhine in March 1945? By that time millions of German civilians had been killed in the fighting and it was a certainty that many more would die as the war proceeded towards unconditional German surrender.

Of course Israel cannot halt its offensive now any more than the Allies could then, and Cameron must know that – just as Blinken knows it. In reality their words of caution to Israel amount to virtue signalling aimed at the Israel-sceptical elements of their electorates. Like a schoolmaster lecturing a recalcitrant schoolboy, Cameron has told Israel to ‘stop and think very seriously before it takes any further action’.

Who does he think he’s talking down to? Does he seriously believe the Israeli war cabinet and general staff have not been working round the clock for months, ‘thinking seriously’ about every action they take in this war? Meanwhile Blinken has told Israel to come up with a plan to minimise civilian casualties before they launch the campaign against Hamas in Rafah. In other words, exactly what they are already doing and have been doing with considerable success since this war began.

So far the IDF has wreaked devastation on Hamas. It appears the terror army is no longer able to function as a coherent entity, with reports that senior leaders are unable to communicate with their combat units. The IDF says the Hamas fighters that remain in Rafah must now be dealt with, along with the terrorist leadership there.

As well as that there is a high probability that many of the surviving Israeli hostages are in the city; indeed two of them were rescued in a Continue reading

Biden and Cameron are falling into Hamas’s trap

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 8 February 2024. © Richard Kemp

When one side in a negotiation offers terms it knows the opposite side can’t possibly accept, it means they are not interested in a deal. This is precisely what Hamas has just done in the latest negotiations over a ceasefire in return for release of Israeli hostages. They are effectively asking Israel to end the war and leave what remains of the terrorist organisation to fight another day.

On the face of it, this demand makes little sense. According to Israeli Defence Minister Yoav Gallant, more than 50% of Hamas’s overall fighting strength has been taken out, either killed or seriously wounded and 18 out of 24 major terrorist units ‘dismantled’. According to him, the top level command structure of Hamas in Gaza is breaking down, with terrorist leader Yahya Sinwar no longer leading the campaign but instead focusing on personal survival.

Surely in these circumstances it would be logical for Hamas to grasp at almost any deal – perhaps including a ceasefire for even a few days – to give some respite and the possibility of either regrouping or making their escape.

What is unclear at present is the extent to which the leaders outside Gaza who are doing the negotiating are in agreement on the issue with their beleaguered henchmen in the tunnels. Perhaps the externals, in their luxury penthouses in Doha and Istanbul, know the game is up and would prefer to see their compatriots in the Strip go down in a show of defiance while at the same time buying themselves some breathing space to evade the long arm of Mossad.

More likely, they and their masters in Iran are counting on the US to ride to the rescue. That’s what the Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, the Iranian proxy attacks on Americans in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, and the rumblings of war in Lebanon are all about. In Tehran and Doha, they’ve been watching the inadequacy of US and British attacks on the Houthis as well as the highly-telegraphed and, so far, underwhelming US response to the killing of three of its troops in Jordan.

They know that in an election year the last thing President Biden wants is to allow US forces to get dragged directly into another serious conflict in the Middle East. So rather than permit the Houthis’ Continue reading

Freeloading Ireland is already a danger to Britain’s security

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 5 February 2024. © Richard Kemp

The deputy leader of Sinn Fein, Michelle O’Neill, is now First Minister of Northern Ireland. There is every prospect that the party leader, Mary Lou McDonald, will become Taoiseach in the Republic after the next election. These developments present a profound danger for the UK, Europe and Nato.

The strategic position of Ireland was of fundamental importance during the Cold War. Britain’s determination to hold on to Northern Ireland was partly motivated by fear of a United Ireland, remaining resolutely outside of the Nato alliance, emerging as a sort of European Cuba.

Only when the threat from Russia dissipated was Peter Brooke, then secretary of state for Northern Ireland, able to say that Britain had ‘no selfish strategic or economic interest’ in the province.

His words were intended to encourage peace, but his assertion was wrong then and it is certainly wrong now. In a new report from Policy Exchange, the threat to European and transatlantic security arising from the Republic of Ireland is fully spelt out.

The Republic is plugged in to transatlantic digital and economic systems but excludes itself from multilateral security frameworks, making Ireland a soft target for subversive Russian, Chinese and Iranian activities.

Meanwhile, freeloading on Nato members, especially the UK, has left the Republic lacking any significant capability to resist attacks by Russia against the underseas infrastructure on which much of Europe, including the Republic, depends.

Russia has been fast developing capabilities to target this vulnerability. In the absence of any prospect of Ireland enhancing its defensive capabilities, Britain will need to do even more of the heavy lifting as this threat increases. That will require re-establishing air and naval bases in Northern Ireland. Continue reading

Iran is starting a war it knows could destroy it

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 18 January 2024. © Richard Kemp

The Iranian strikes in Iraq, Syria and even Pakistan are signs of weakness. In recent days the US has assassinated an Iranian proxy terrorist leader in Baghdad and the Israelis have killed Hamas and Hezbollah leaders in Lebanon. Iranian state media said the recent strikes in Erbil, supposedly against Israeli ‘spy bases’, were in retaliation for such killings. Hitting targets in Iraq and Syria of course elicited no military response from Iran’s client governments there, but striking inside Pakistan was an altogether different prospect which was met by a retaliatory attack into Iranian territory.

Why on earth would Tehran provoke a conflict with a nuclear state with a massive, well-equipped army that could, if it wanted to, overrun the regime? In order to send messages of deterrence to the US and of strength to its proxies in the face of what looks like a dangerous turnaround in the ayatollahs’ fortunes.

For many years Iran has been building what has been called a ‘ring of fire’ around Israel, comprising proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria and Jordan, with more distant flames in Iraq and Yemen. The purpose is to strangle the Jewish state, because the ayatollahs deplore its very existence and see it as an outpost of American power, opposition to which has been a cornerstone of the revolution since it began.

But following the 7 October attacks that all seems to be going wrong. Israel is steadily taking apart Iranian proxies Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza, killing their fighters in large numbers and destroying painstakingly constructed terrorist infrastructure. In Lebanon, Hezbollah seems to be faced with the prospect either of a hugely destructive war or a humiliating withdrawal north of the Litani River. In Yemen, the Houthis’ attempted missile strikes on Israel have all been blunted and the US and UK have unexpectedly switched from defensive to offensive operations to thwart their attacks on Red Sea shipping.

The provocation of Pakistan, however, with the inevitable retaliation, and perhaps further escalation, may go even deeper. The ayatollahs are pondering a much greater threat than their ring of fire Continue reading

Britain is now at war with Iran. We should act like it

Article published in The Sunday Telegraph, 12 January 2024. © Richard Kemp

The airstrikes by the US and UK against the Houthis in Yemen mean we are now effectively at war with Iran. The terrorist group is an Iranian proxy, funded, armed and equipped by the Islamic Republic. While the Houthis also work to their own agenda inside Yemen, Iran will have given the orders to fire missiles and drones at southern Israel shortly after the Hamas massacre on October 7. It will have instructed the Houthis to target Israeli-linked cargo in the Red Sea, later widening the campaign to include ships with no connections to Israel and, in the past few days, US, British and French warships.

Like Islamic Jihad in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Houthis are effectively controlled by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC), a key element of the Iranian state with responsibility for supporting, training and directing proxy terror groups.

The grim consequences of directly confronting Iranian aggression with military force explain why Joe Biden has waited so long before dealing with this enormous threat to international trade. The US president has been adopting a strategy of appeasing Tehran, bending over backwards to try to revive Obama’s flawed nuclear deal after Trump ripped it up. Behind the scenes, Britain has been concerned about Iran’s role in the region and the growing danger of the nuclear programme, but has reluctantly gone along with the US agenda.

The hope is that a significant blow at the Houthis will deter both them and Iran. But Thursday night’s Tomahawk cruise missile and combat plane strikes against launch sites, radars, drone production centres and munitions warehouses have not defanged the Houthis. If this first round of deterrent action doesn’t work – and the Houthis weren’t deterred by years of Saudi airstrikes against them – then they will have to be hit again and again. John Kirby, US national security adviser, speaks of “defeating” the Houthi threat and Biden has now promised repeated military action in Yemen if necessary.

Having so far restrained his military from properly responding to more than 120 attacks on US forces in Syria and Iraq since October, has the US president finally found the steel to properly take on this broader Iranian-directed threat? Continue reading

Tired Zelensky looks too weak to achieve victory

Article published in The Sunday Telegraph, 6 January 2024. © Richard Kemp

Today Volodymyr Zelensky faces the greatest test of his leadership, greater even than the days almost two years ago when Russian invasion forces rolled across the border. Back then, when he was offered a ride to safety by the West and asked for ammunition instead, he led a country united in a fight for its life.

That’s not so much the case now. There are growing public divisions between Zelensky and other political leaders, such as former President Petro Poroshenko and Kyiv Mayor Vitali Klitschko, as a blame game builds over failures in the war so far. Worse still, Zelensky and the Commander-in-Chief, General Valerii Zaluzhnyi, also seem to be in conflict. When Zaluzhnyi admitted that the war had reached a stalemate, Zelensky publicly rebuked him.

Apart from the overriding need for national unity in war, this suggests that Ukraine lacks a clear strategy for the future prosecution of the conflict. Zelensky continues to insist that Ukraine will regain all its territory taken by Russia; although, after apparently over-promising on the summer offensive, he no longer seems to talk of timelines. Demoralised by the failure of that counter move, some are now talking in terms of some kind of peace accords. It has even been suggested that a potential peace agreement could be put to a referendum.

When I was last in Kyiv, there was certainly discussion among some political leaders about the idea of a peace deal in which Russia would accept Ukrainian membership of Nato in exchange for guarantees that there would be no Ukrainian efforts to re-take occupied territory. Such talk might well be mere exasperation, but it is mana from heaven for Biden and many European leaders who want nothing more than such a peace agreement and as soon as possible.

Any serious consideration of peace talks pretty much guarantees Ukraine’s defeat. Putting aside domestic politics in the US and EU that have, for the time being at least, essentially stifled further military aid, Biden and the Europeans have refused so far to equip Ukraine to win the war. Continue reading

The morality of IDF maneuvers in Gaza

Article published by Jewish News Syndicate,  5 January 2024. © Richard Kemp

Other than hardened anti-Israel zealots and supporters of Hamas, few have questioned the need for Israel to take military action to defend its citizens after the depredations of October 7. But the Israel Defense Forces have come under intense criticism about the way it is conducting the war in the Gaza Strip, with allegations of excessive force and even indiscriminate attacks. Some former Western military officers have joined the chorus of condemnation, suggesting the IDF should adopt the tactics of coalition forces in places like Afghanistan and Iraq. Given the outcomes of both campaigns, perhaps neither provides the ideal template for how jihadists can be defeated.

Amid this growing reproof from afar, I have not yet heard one single realistic proposal for an alternative way of operating that would reduce civilian harm while still achieving the necessary objectives. That tells me that the IDF has no choice but to prosecute this conflict along current lines, despite the terrible loss of civilian life. But given the ill-informed accusations and wide-ranging misunderstanding of how the IDF is actually operating in Gaza, it is worth a closer look at what the IDF has been doing to mitigate harm to civilians.

I have been in Israel since the start of this war in the immediate aftermath of the slaughter, rape, torture and kidnapping spree three months ago. During that time, I have been extensively briefed on the conduct of operations by IDF commanders and staff and visited a wide range of IDF air and ground combat units, including inside the Gaza Strip, on a number of occasions, when I have been able to observe military operations firsthand.

During Operation Swords of Iron, the IDF has faced and continues to face one of the most difficult and complex combat environments any armed forces have ever had to deal with. Hamas and its fellow Gaza terrorists has, over several years, been preparing the territory with weapons and ammo caches, booby traps, mines, kill zones, and ambush and sniper positions.

They have an armory that includes sophisticated ground combat systems including thermobaric anti-armor missiles, explosively Continue reading

Iran gets a taste of its own medicine in deadly blast

Article published by Ynetnews.com,  4 January 2024. © Richard Kemp

The greatest terrorist regime in the world got on Wednesday what may seem like a taste of its own violent medicine with the most deadly attack inside Iran for 42 years. But it may be more complex than that. Dozens were killed and about twice that number wounded, some seriously, by two explosions, 15 minutes apart, on the fourth anniversary of the assassination of master terrorist Qasem Soleimani.

The day before, leaders of one of Iran’s terrorist proxies, Hamas, perished in a drone strike in Beirut that is widely viewed as Israel’s work although Jerusalem has not commented. Some have suggested that Jerusalem may also have been responsible for the twin bombings in Kerman, close to Soleimani’s tomb.

Although Israel is currently under assault from Iranian proxies in Gaza, the West Bank, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Yemen, this kind of attack is not in its playbook. Israeli operations inside Iran have focused on targeted killings of key individuals associated with the nuclear weapons program as well as cyberattacks and sabotage at nuclear facilities.

Like the assassinations of the Hamas leaders in Lebanon, these are all legitimate defensive operations. The Kerman bombings, on the other hand, were acts of terrorism, and, unlike Iran, Israel is not a terrorist state.

So who could be responsible? So far ISIS has claimed responsibility but no hard evidence has come to light, so we can only speculate. Potential culprits include a range of opposition groups in Iran, including the Mujahadin-e Khalq which has carried out terrorist attacks inside the country in the past, although these have generally been more targeted operations, not the kind of indiscriminate attack we saw at Kerman. Another possibility is the Islamic State or other Sunni extremist groups opposed to Shi’ite Iran, none of whom would balk at such mass carnage.

Then there is Ukraine. Iran is a major weapons supplier to Russia and many Ukrainian cities as well as military forces have been attacked using Iranian-supplied suicide drones. Kyiv has every reason for striking at the regime in Tehran; but, like Israel, is hardly likely to launch an act of indiscriminate terrorism rather than a carefully targeted attack against military objectives.

Counterintuitively, many Iranians are blaming the Tehran regime itself. Certainly, such acts of terrorism against their own people are not beyond the ayatollahs. In this context, it is interesting to note it has been reported that, surprisingly, none of Soleimani’s children were present at the Kerman memorial event that was hit, nor were any top IRGC commanders.

Of course, this attack is a huge embarrassment for the regime, and also potentially encourages opposition groups. We might therefore think they would not do it to themselves. But it is not us doing the thinking and the ayatollahs might calculate things differently. Continue reading

Ukraine is losing, but the UK must stand by it

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 28 December 2023. © Richard Kemp

As we look back at 2023, despite all of the problems we have faced, such as economic trauma and a spiralling immigration crisis, Britain can take at least some satisfaction in our role in the two most significant conflicts this decade and perhaps of this century so far: Ukraine and Gaza. But much greater challenges lie ahead.

In Ukraine, Putin’s leading propagandist just gave a back-handed compliment to the UK, blaming us for the latest blow to Russia’s Black Sea fleet with the claim that it was a British-supplied Storm Shadow missile that struck the Novocherkassk landing ship in the Crimean port of Feodosia on Boxing Day. Devastating though that attack was, however, the prospects for Ukraine in this war remain bleak.

Kyiv’s long-fought counteroffensive has failed. At tremendous cost and despite heroic fighting, it has taken little ground and there is no immediate prospect of further advances. The opposite, in fact. While defending against Ukrainian efforts to break through their lines, Moscow has also been on the offensive and on Christmas Day its forces appear to have captured the town of Marinka in eastern Donbas. This would be the greatest battlefield success on either side since Russia captured Bakhmut in May. It provides a pivot point to allow Moscow’s forces to attack Ukrainian defences further south.

But it has even greater strategic significance; it is yet another body blow to Ukraine’s international support, which has been flagging for months, with worse to come. The US has hit a political wall, with the delicate bipartisan support breaking down. It will be difficult for presidential candidates, in an election year, to justify spending more billions on Ukraine while Americans suffer from the legacy of a year of high inflation.

The EU has also hit a wall. Yes, it can work around Hungary’s Viktor Orban by funding trusts with all member states bar one. But across Europe, nationalist parties that need to gain electoral traction by focusing on their own people are now on the rise as the liberal international order is increasingly brought into question. As with the Continue reading