All posts by jmb82BBp

Civilian casualties occur in fog of war as in killing of WCK staff

Article published by,  3 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

The deaths of seven World Central Kitchen aid workers were a terrible tragedy. We can only admire the courage and humanity of these men and women, and others like them who work to alleviate the suffering of the civilian population, while knowing they could be killed or seriously wounded in a war zone where by definition nowhere can be safe. While combatants on both sides have an absolute duty to adhere to the laws of war and where possible avoid killing uninvolved civilians, the ultimate responsibility for all killings in this war — including the WCK workers — lies with Hamas.

The IDF has accepted direct responsibility for these deaths and initiated an independent investigation by the Fact Finding Assessment Mechanism. Until that investigation is complete we won’t know exactly how these strikes came about. However, knowing the ethos of the IDF and its strict adherence to the laws of war, it is unthinkable that the action was deliberately intended to kill aid workers.

Some have suggested, however, that was, in fact, the purpose of the strikes. But setting aside morality and legality, what would have been the gain in purposely killing aid workers? The understandably harsh global condemnation would have been entirely predictable by anyone contemplating such an evil plan.

Those who do say the strikes were obviously intended to kill the WCK workers because of the prominent vehicle markings have presumably never observed drone optics at night. Indeed the IDF Chief of Staff, Herzi Halevy, has said that a preliminary assessment shows the incident occurred as a result of ‘misidentification’.

The implication of that is whoever ordered and conducted the strikes believed the vehicles that were hit contained terrorists, suggesting incorrect intelligence or failure of surveillance, possibly compounded by human error. There are many variables. We don’t yet know whether those who conducted the strikes were acting according to IDF rules of engagement or were negligent. Sometimes soldiers and commanders behave recklessly or irresponsibly in all armies including the IDF.

Nor do we know whether accurate information on their movements was passed by the WCK staff or whether it was correctly understood by the IDF or shared with the strike commander. We do, however, know that differentiating between enemy forces and uninvolved civilians is made much more challenging by Hamas terrorists’ use of human shields, always moving and fighting in civilian clothes and sometimes using civilian vehicles such as ambulances and aid trucks.

Unfortunately, nightmares like this occur frequently in the fog of war, with its confusion, chaos, danger, death, destruction, mental overload, human pressure, and technical failure. For example, during President Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan in August 2021, a Continue reading

What happens if Israel does not go into Rafah? Look at Afghanistan

Article published in The Jewish Chronicle, 3 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

There is no doubting Israel’s spectacular military success so far in Gaza. I have been on the ground inside the Strip several times since the war began, and have seen first hand the remarkable combat actions of the IDF.

They have all but taken apart Hamas as a coherent fighting organisation, while doing everything in their power to minimise civilian casualties and working round the clock to get humanitarian aid to the Gazan population, which I have also witnessed.

Despite all this, the IDF has not yet accomplished its mission in Gaza: to destroy Hamas’s ability to threaten Israel and govern the Gaza Strip and to rescue the hostages. To achieve that, the IDF must launch a major offensive against the four Hamas battalions in Rafah. Focused now on its own survival, Hamas is determined to prevent that from happening and increasingly the international community seems intent on helping them.

That was underlined this week when the UN Security Council demanded a ceasefire in Gaza, which Britain supported and the US failed to veto. That historically shameful resolution was the culmination of a decades-long propaganda campaign under which Israel is an illegitimate entity. As the narrative goes, whatever is done to Israel, including the October 7 massacre, it had it coming; and whatever Israel does in its own defence, including finishing off Hamas in Rafah, it is wrong and uniquely evil.

Many supposed military experts say Israel should not mount an offensive in Rafah. I have not heard any of them put forward a single viable alternative. The White House is apparently recommending a strategy based on pinpoint, clinical strikes into the city, targeting Hamas leaders. Their template seems to be US special forces operations in Afghanistan, and we all know how that ultimately worked out. The Taliban survived, gained strength and eventually re-conquered the country. Under Taliban rule, Isis in Afghanistan has launched multiple global terrorist attacks including last week’s massacre in Moscow, according to US intelligence. A salutary lesson for those who think Israel does not need to finish off Hamas in Gaza.

In any case, in a heavily defended area like Rafah, no military operations can be ‘clinical’. In February, Operation Golden Hand showed us the necessity for overwhelming violence to enable special forces to extricate a single Israeli hostage from Rafah. The rescue mission had to be backed up by air strikes which reportedly killed dozens of people to enable the withdrawal of the hostage and the rescuers. Left intact, the Hamas battalions in Rafah will fight furiously against any ‘pinpoint’ raids, which will not achieve the level of surprise of Operation Golden Hand if they become part of a series of such operations.

Only once they have destroyed the fighting integrity of those four battalions will the IDF be in a position to exercise decisive control over the city and ultimately eliminate Hamas. The way this might Continue reading

Iran is at war with the West, but only Israel is fighting back

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 2 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

Tehran claims that the air strikes which killed Iranian military commanders in Damascus on Monday were ‘Israel’s latest war crime against a foreign mission with diplomatic immunity’. They were nothing of the sort.

The target was, in fact, widely reported to have been an Iranian command centre coordinating military action against Israel, adjacent to the Iranian consulate. This would not, then, make the strikes a breach of the Vienna Convention, as those ever eager to condemn Jerusalem have suggested. Israel is perfectly entitled to hit military facilities in another country that is engaged in active hostilities.

Nor was this a major escalation by Israel, however, as many others have argued. It was merely the latest move in a war that Tehran itself has launched against Israel and the West.

Indeed, it may well turn out to be the most significant strategic setback for Iran since the US took out Qasem Soleimani, the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) Quds Force commander, in 2020. The main target of Monday’s attack, IRGC brigadier general Mohammad Reza Zahedi, was believed to be the principal interlocutor between Syria, Tehran and its terrorist proxy Hezbollah. With decades of experience in this clandestine world, he will not be easily replaced.

The flow of arms to Hezbollah could well now be further impeded. Since October 7, that terror group has launched regular missile strikes against Israelis near the Lebanese border, as a consequence of which nearly 100,000 civilians have been evacuated. Do Jerusalem’s critics really expect it to sit back and let those attacks continue?

But the real question is why it only seems to be the Israelis who are taking the Iranian threat seriously. It’s not as if Iran has only been targeting Israel. Iranian proxies have attacked international shipping in the Red Sea and Iranian-backed militias have launched more than Continue reading

It’s disgraceful to allow soldiers to grow beards

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 29 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

I’m a dinosaur, of course, because I vehemently disagree with the British Army’s new policy of allowing beards. After years of harrumphing from a deep leather armchair in my club, I’ve just been getting used to the armed forces’ wokeist advances such as bandying about preferred pronouns and even the RAF doing away with gendered ranks like ‘airman’ and ‘airwoman’, now replaced by ‘aviator’, something the Chief of the General Staff seems keen to replicate in the Army.

So with all these exciting steps forward, why is the Army now leaping backwards to the 19th century when military beards were commonplace, a habit inspired by the French of all people. Surely this retrograde move will only serve to heighten the distinction between male and female servicepersons which the Army has been so eager to suppress. Or will women be allowed to grow beards too?

Perhaps the next move will be to make moustaches compulsory again, as they were for about 60 years until 1916, with some soldiers who couldn’t grow one drawing a fake on their upper lips. That regulation was cancelled because facial hair interfered with the seal of newly-issued gas masks. Indeed, when I was serving a few years later we were told that beards were not allowed for the same reason.

Back then we wore respirators frequently, albeit reluctantly, training for a war in which we expected the Soviets to fire chemical weapons at us. Although that threat has been largely absent for several decades now, Putin’s recent aggression in Europe has brought it worryingly back to life, which has presumably revived the need to train extensively for the chemical battlefield. Perhaps it doesn’t matter if a respirator doesn’t seal in training, although if the priority is still to train under realistic battlefield conditions there will be a lot of shaving and re-growing. Those with beards might also find the mandatory respirator tests in a CS gas chamber even more painful than before.

In the 1980s, my battalion was based in northern Germany, not far from a Dutch Army brigade. I subsequently served on operations with the Dutch and do not question their fighting prowess. But back then they were a laughing-stock among us Britons, with their hippy-style hair and beards.

They appeared ill-disciplined and many of our soldiers felt they would not want to be fighting alongside them. As that suggests, appearance does matter. Otherwise why bother pressing uniforms and polishing boots? Why not facial tattoos and nose-rings? Allies as well as enemies need to take our forces seriously. That’s also true on operations, especially when there is interaction with the civilian population who often have to obey instructions from soldiers who need therefore to be seen as authority figures, and not just because they’re carrying a gun.

Speaking about the Army’s manning crisis, the Defence Secretary, Grant Shapps, described the beard ban as ‘ludicrous’. But are there really large numbers of young men out there who would sign up if only they could have a beard? Or indeed large numbers of serving soldiers who would not sign off if they could sport a smattering of facial hair?

Does the same apply to long hair, which is increasingly making a comeback among the youth of this country? With the Army apparently succumbing to the dictates of fashion, why shouldn’t that be next?

Call me an old fogey, but I suspect there are much bigger problems in both recruitment and retention than the issue of facial hair. It will be interesting to see how the new policy does actually impact on manning levels, but those who persuaded the Defence Secretary that this is a major issue can take comfort from the fact that he is unlikely to still be in post when the figures emerge.

Irrespective of any of this, the military life is not for everyone, and service demands discipline, conformity and subordinating oneself to the needs of the team. Willingness to get a haircut and a shave may well indicate readiness to make even greater sacrifices when they are called for. Despite the ever-prevailing lures of fashion, surely Britain’s soldiers can wait to grow a beard in older age, when it’s white and stern.

Image: Flickr

UK threat to withhold Israel arms sales is a show of Western weakness

Article published by,  24 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

British Foreign Secretary David Cameron’s recent threats will not directly harm or constrain Israel but they will undoubtedly strengthen Hamas. He has been striking a distinctly belligerent stance towards Israel since he came into office in November, in contrast to his predecessor James Cleverly and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

Now he seems to be on the verge of making a grand gesture by cutting off weapons supplies in the midst of war as well as supporting an arms embargo across Europe. He justifies his threatened betrayal of one of Britain’s most important allies by the demand that Israel should allow the ICRC access to captured Hamas terrorists which he claims is required under International Humanitarian Law (IHL). That may well be his opinion, but it is far from clear cut; international legal opinions vary and Israel claims exemption to such visits on security grounds.

Cameron now seems to be bolstering his case by the claim in a recent letter to the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Committee that Israel is deliberately and unnecessarily holding up humanitarian aid deliveries into Gaza. This is patent nonsense. I recently visited the Kerem Shalom Crossing and witnessed a highly efficient operation in which staff were working round the clock to get aid into the Strip.

That of course is only one part of the picture. But multiple reports, first-hand accounts and video evidence show that the blockage is not on the Israeli side but lies with an inadequate UN distribution system as well as extensive hijacking by Hamas strong-men who divert much of the aid for their own use and sell the rest of it off at inflated prices.

Cameron’s insinuations that Israel is breaching IHL are also contradicted by his own government. On Wednesday the prime minister’s spokesman confirmed that No 10 continues to assess that Israel’s actions conform with international law. It’s difficult to fathom exactly what’s happening with these conflicting messages. Continue reading

Only by backing our allies will we be safe

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 24 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

The terrorist attack in Moscow is a devastating reminder that the threat from global Islamic jihadism never went away. US intelligence believes the Crocus City Hall massacre was the work of Islamic State Khorasan Province, or ISKP. Only a few days before they had warned of terrorist attacks in Moscow, intelligence perhaps from the same source as the warning to Iran before the ISKP suicide bomb attack at Kerman in January that killed nearly 100.

Don’t think IS have forgotten about Europe either. Only last summer it emerged that Iraqi security services had passed intelligence to MI6 that IS was planning a major assault in the UK, also against a large public gathering. And just a few days ago, German police arrested two ISKP terrorists plotting a gun attack on the Swedish parliament.

The West is unwilling to confront this growing threat head-on, just as it has wavered so badly in dealing with aggression from Russia in Ukraine and from Iran both in the Middle East and here in Europe where Tehran also continues to plot violent terrorist attacks and is on the verge of acquiring nuclear weapons. Thankfully, recent IS attack plans in Britain and Sweden, as with hundreds of other jihadist plots against us, have so far been frustrated by intelligence penetration. But Moscow shows that intelligence alone cannot stop attacks, a hard lesson we have learned many times before.

ISKP has been based in Afghanistan since 2014. It was badly degraded by Coalition forces until their withdrawal in 2021, since when the number of attacks and attack plans worldwide has predictably increased as a result of greatly reduced US capabilities to collect intelligence and take direct military action. That withdrawal endangered our citizens and emboldened jihadists as well as our other enemies such as Putin who no doubt saw Western weakness as a green light to devour Ukraine.

We have seen the results of our failure to stand up properly to that invasion, frightened by Putin’s nuclear sabre-rattling into denying Ukraine adequate means to win. Now we are doing the same in the Middle East where Israel is battling jihadists in Gaza. Hamas is not Continue reading

It’s hard to admit, but Macron is beating Britain on Ukraine

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 6 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

In his remarkable speech in Prague, Emmanuel Macron displayed the kind of leadership every Western country has failed to deliver since Russia invaded Ukraine two years ago. From the start Nato governments fell over themselves to reassure Putin that they posed no threat to Russia while he repeatedly threatened to escalate even to the point of nuclear sabre rattling.

Terrified of provoking the bear, US and European leaders half-heartedly sanctioned Moscow and supplied only enough weaponry to allow Ukraine to stay fighting but insufficient to give it a real chance of driving Russia back. Every long range weapon that was provided was accompanied by strict caveats against their use on sovereign Russian territory while Moscow freely launched assaults wherever it wanted against Ukraine.

That policy was bare-facedly verified in the phone conversation by German Luftwaffe generals revealed this week when they made clear that Taurus long range missiles would not be provided in sufficient numbers to change the trajectory of the hostilities.

Above all, until Macron’s course correction, every leader made it clear that there would be no Nato boots on the ground in Ukraine despite Russian boots trampling wherever they could. In other words they left Putin in no doubt that he had a free run and need not factor in unexpected military intervention from the West.

Even the most junior officer cadet at Sandhurst could tell you that is no way to fight a war and certainly no way to impose deterrence. And deterrence is one of Nato’s most critical functions. Well, it failed in that from the outset, especially after handing victory in Afghanistan to the Taliban in 2021, which flashed a green light to Putin to do as he pleased.

It then ensured the green light stayed shining bright by repeatedly telling Putin what it would not do rather than hinting at what it might do or at least leaving him guessing. Continue reading

It was delusional to think that Germany had changed

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 4 March 2024. © Richard Kemp

It comes to something when the German Chancellor appears to betray a Nato ally to help get out of a hole he dug himself.

That is exactly what Olaf Scholz did last week when he claimed that British troops are deployed in Ukraine to assist targeting of Storm Shadow missiles against the Russians. Britain’s exact role in the war beyond supply of weaponry has been kept deliberately shrouded for obvious reasons. That Scholz publicly revealed military secrets at a time when he needs to justify Germany’s refusal so far to send in the desperately needed and even more capable Taurus long range missile system may be purely coincidental. But it was followed up with an assertion that Germany could not follow the UK’s practice as it would make it a ‘participant in the war’, perhaps an attempt to shield his country from Putin’s wrath while happily throwing Britain under the bus.

Then, this week Moscow made public a call between Lieutenant General Ingo Gerhartz, chief of the Luftwaffe, and other senior officers that they had intercepted. Their conversation also alleged the presence of British military personnel on the ground and suggested that if Germany deployed Taurus they could ask British troops to take over the same ground role with their missiles as they supposedly fulfil with Storm Shadow to avoid implicating Germany in the conflict. On top of that Gerhartz said that Berlin would not send all of the Taurus missiles in one batch, but penny packet them to ensure they ‘won’t change the course of the hostilities’.

How terrified Berlin must be of Vladimir Putin that they will go to such lengths to avoid any suggestion that they are doing more than the bare minimum in this conflict. Even worse: to actually supply the missiles, if they ever decide to do so, in a way deliberately calculated to minimise their battlefield effect. This faint-heartedness is no doubt accompanied by an eye to financial advantage given that Germany has the greatest commercial interests in Russia of all European countries.

None of that is any great surprise. Germany has been hesitant about supplying weapons to Ukraine from the start. And it was only after Continue reading

Europe has lost the next world war before it has even begun

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 24 February 2024. © Richard Kemp

Even in the face of Russia’s aggression against Georgia in 2008 and Ukraine in 2014, European governments failed to take seriously the possibility that, one day, war on the continent might affect them directly. Since the fall of the Soviet Union, they have blithely redistributed the so-called peace dividend to other areas of spending while slashing their armed forces. The wake-up call came two years ago this weekend when Vladimir Putin invaded Ukraine, but it doesn’t seem like the alarm was loud enough. Has Europe lost the next world war before it has even begun?

Despite Ukraine’s First and Second World War-style battlefields, which remind us of the continuing need for ground forces on a large scale, the British Government has continued to reduce the size of our army. Not long after the war began, Germany said that it would increase defence spending to achieve the Nato minimum 2 per cent of GDP, but that still hasn’t been achieved and the ambition is, in any case, pathetic compared to the scale of the threat. Similar stories abound throughout Europe, with one of the few exceptions being Poland, which is increasing defence spending to 4 per cent of GDP.

Then there is Europe’s atrophied armaments industry. The EU promised a year ago to supply a million artillery shells to Ukraine by next month. It has delivered less than half that number so far. European manufacturers barely have the production capacity to prevent Ukrainian forces from collapsing entirely, let alone permit their own militaries to fight a war. Meanwhile, Russia has massively increased its long range missile and artillery shell output, is churning out 100 tanks a month, and is rapidly increasing defence spending. It has supplemented its own armaments production with an estimated 1 million artillery shells from North Korea and thousands of attack drones from Iran.

Even now, some Europeans seem to believe that this does not matter very much, that their complacency will have no practical cost because America will ride to their rescue. Well, that may no longer be such a safe bet. Successive presidents have complained about American taxpayers having to subsidise European under-spending, and none more so than Donald Trump. European leaders need to start making real plans to fight for themselves should Putin decide to flex his muscles in the direction of Nato.

But there is perhaps an even greater threat to European defence dependency than a disgruntled US president. That is China. If President Xi Jinping launches an invasion, or even a blockade, against Taiwan, the US military would likely become heavily committed in supporting its ally. There is every reason to believe that would be the moment for Putin to make a move against an Eastern European Nato member state, calculating that America would be overstretched and unable to deploy rapid reinforcements even if it wanted to.

Then add Iran into the equation. Tehran is on the cusp of gaining nuclear capability and has an extensive network of terrorist proxies Continue reading

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