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Israel at war

Article published in The Daily Express, 16 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

After the largest mobilisation in Israel’s history, IDF troops are now ready on the Gaza border, waiting for the order to go in. When that will be depends on the progress of the air war and perhaps also on the weather. Rain is forecast to continue for a couple more days and given the importance of precision air support for ground troops, commanders might wait for optimum visibility.

An even greater factor is what happens across the border in Lebanon. The last few days have seen the most intensive attacks by Hizballah since the Second Lebanon War in 2006. I was in the border area today when terrorists fired anti-tank missiles, rockets and small arms into Israel, answered by IDF airstrikes. One Israeli was killed and three wounded by anti-tank fire at the village of Shtula. The situation in the north is tense — many civilians have left, fearing all-out missile fire and even the possibility that Hizballah terrorists might cross the border and attack their communities.

Some Middle East experts say Hizballah is deterred from a full-blown war with Israel by fear of their own destruction. But many experts said the same of Hamas even days before the terrorist massacre a week ago. Iran, which has been threatening revenge against Israel if attacks on Gaza don’t cease, will be ready to push Hizballah into action when it judges the time is right.

If that happens Israel will be facing a two-front war. The IDF has prepared for that, but nevertheless it would be hugely challenging. If the IDF assess an onslaught from Lebanon is likely, it might choose a major pre-emptive strike to seize the initiative, possibly even delaying the ground offensive into Gaza.

Across the Golan Heights in Syria, Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps forces are reported to have moved closer to the border and rockets were fired at Israel on Saturday. The IDF responded with strikes against Aleppo airport. If major Israeli action becomes necessary there could even be a risk of direct confrontation with Russian forces in the country.

If sustained attacks are launched from either Lebanon or Syria, Israel might well decide to take military action against the hand that controls the terrorists in both countries and so it is not inconceivable we could see strikes launched against Iran. If that happens it is unlikely to lead to an even wider regional conflagration, as most Arab countries are certainly no friends of Iran and fear its growing regional dominance. Behind closed doors their governments, deeply concerned about the rise of Islamist radicalism at home, would also like to see the quick eradication of Hamas, also proxies of Iran.

Iran is main mover behind this war – when Israel removes Hamas that won’t be the end

Article published in The Daily Mirror, 14 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

I’m writing this from an Israeli defensive position on the northern border with Lebanon. The world’s eyes are on Gaza but Israel must have guns everywhere.

Just before I arrived a group of Hezbollah terrorists attempted to infiltrate into Israel and were wiped out from the air. Then they attacked with rockets. The Iranian-backed terrorist group have 150,000 missiles pointing at Israel.

They might well join this fight in earnest, perhaps as the Israel Defence Force (IDF) gets entrenched into the battle in Gaza. The US Navy has entered the eastern Mediterranean to deter exactly that. Earlier on Gaza’s border I met with troops preparing to enter the Strip. They were apprehensive yet determined to do what is needed to protect family, friends and countrymen from Hamas rockets.

They are also ready to put their lives on the line to make sure these bloodthirsty terrorists can never again commit the atrocities we saw last weekend. The only way to do that is by destroying every shred of Hamas’s capability.

Much of the destruction of Hamas can be done from the air but a ground offensive may be needed to finish the job. On Friday the IDF launched lightning raids into Gaza and then withdrew.

If they need to enter Gaza in force the men I spoke to will be in for a tough fight over land sewn with booby traps, snipers and ambush teams. But they are trained and there is no doubt they will prevail.

Conforming with the laws of war, IDF air commanders have been careful to minimise civilian casualties. But that can’t be avoided altogether when fighting an enemy that hides behind its own civilian population. The more blunt weapon of an infantry assault could lead to an even greater civilian casualty rate.

Hamas’s main stronghold is around Gaza City, and before intensifying attacks there the IDF have instructed civilians to head south. Absurdly, some commentators suggested this is against international law when it is the precise opposite.

Lebanon is likely to be dragged into this war if Hezbollah intensify their attacks. Iran might also push its forces and proxies in Syria to join the assault.

When Israel has removed Hamas that will not be the end. Hamas is the government of Gaza and Israel will have no choice than to take over control as the population emerges from war.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Remain steadfast Washington: Don’t restrain Israel as it crushes Hamas

Article published by,  13 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

Sderot Mayor Alon Davidi showed me the rubble of his city’s police station, where just a few days ago 25 police officers were brutally murdered. He reckoned around 200 of his citizens had been butchered by Hamas terrorists as they rampaged through the streets last weekend, gunning down men, women, children and babies. The grizzly remnants of this 21st-century pogrom were all over Sderot, including crashed and bullet-riddled cars with smashed windows and blood smears inside and out.

Next to the police station a couple of bloated terrorist corpses lay with cloths thrown over their faces. Someone had clearly offered respect to the dead, but I found it hard to feel anything but contempt even for the cadavers of savages who had wrought such hell on the innocent people of a city I have visited many times in the past. Today, Sderot is not much more than a ghost town: most of its surviving citizens have sought safe haven elsewhere.

The mayor asked me to relay a message to the British people, and by extension, everyone in the civilized world: ‘Let the IDF get on with it; don’t attempt to pressure us into stopping before the terrorists are attacked so hard they can’t raise a finger against us ever again.’

After another rocket slammed into a Sderot house, wounding a resident and sending a pillar of black smoke into the sky, I moved closer to the Gaza border and spent time in a field base, chatting to young infantrymen of the Givati Brigade, some of whom were at pains to point out that theirs is the best unit in the whole of the IDF.

I’ve spent most of my life with soldiers like that, fiercely proud of their own regiment, joshing each other and joking around, even on the eve of what they expect to be a violent assault into enemy territory. Knowing the perils they face when they are sent into a world of lethal booby traps, hidden bombs, landmines, snipers, ambushes, Continue reading

Dispatch from the Gaza border

Article published in The Daily Express, 13 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

Speaking from the border yesterday IDF Chief of Staff Herzi Halevi made clear that armed terrorist gangs would be totally removed from the Gaza Strip. That is the objective of Israel’s Operation Iron Swords, launched in response to the mass slaughter, rape and abduction of Israeli civilians and soldiers last weekend by Hamas terrorists.

Over the last few days the crash of explosions has been almost incessant and I have watched pillars of smoke rising up from Gaza as Israel launched strike after strike against terrorist targets, using combat planes, guided missiles and artillery. These attacks are not going to end any time soon as Israel progressively works its way through pre-prepared target lists that include terrorist leaders, command posts, communications infrastructure, arms dumps and rocket launchers.

Israel has mobilised more than 300,000 soldiers for this fight and there is every likelihood that in the coming days Halevi will send troops and tanks in on the ground as well to complete the process of eliminating Hamas as a viable terrorist entity. I have spoken to IDF soldiers deployed around Gaza, preparing and training for exactly that.

They will face immense dangers as they advance across ground that Hamas has prepared with remote controlled explosives, ambushes and anti-armour teams. There is an underground city beneath Gaza to enable Hamas fighters to take IDF soldiers by surprise and outflank attacking formations. The IDF has trained for exactly this form of combat and will prevail on the ground, although they could well take heavy casualties. Towns and cities are the most dangerous places and it is likely that where possible IDF troops will remain in open areas from where they can control the main above-ground routes through the Strip. Continue reading

Israel’s only option is overwhelming force

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 10 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

Israel must use whatever force it can bear to strangle the terrorist groups who massacred, brutalised and kidnapped its citizens and are willing to do the same again. That may sound like callous warmongering, but it is not. When a country faces a vicious enemy that is intent on the murder of its people, a responsible government has no choice other than to stop it in any way it can. And please don’t say that, in Israel’s case, it can only be resolved with a political solution – because there won’t be one in the foreseeable future.

Hamas doesn’t want peace and prosperity for its people. It doesn’t want a two-state solution. What it does want is the annihilation of the Jewish state from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea – in other words, all of it. Read its founding document, where this is spelt out in black and white; the events of the last few days show conclusively that the Hamas charter isn’t just hyperbole.

Like Islamic State, which the group resembles in both method and ideology, Hamas is not susceptible to any form of political bargaining, compromise or negotiation. That much has been proved time and again in previous rounds of violence, when it was handed political concessions only to unleash terror again once it had rebuilt its military capabilities.

Thus Hamas can only be stopped by being defeated. That means crushing its will to resist, something which is only attainable by eliminating fighters in large numbers and destroying combat capability through devastating military force. If Israel fails to do that, it can only result in interminable conflict in which many more people on both sides will die.

The consequences of such an outcome go well beyond this immediate conflict. We saw how the West’s humiliating withdrawal from Afghanistan in 2021 emboldened Vladimir Putin to launch an invasion in Ukraine six months later. Now we risk emboldening terrible actors in the Middle East, who seek not just to strike but permanently destroy our allies.

The US and the rest of Nato wield the greatest military capability in the world by a huge margin, and Israel has one of the most powerful armed forces in the Middle East. But power is made up not just of tanks, guns, combat planes and warships. It is underpinned by the political will to use them.

Israel is surrounded by a ring of fire, just waiting to be ignited. In the north, in Lebanon, there is Hizbollah, also funded by Iran, with huge stockpiles of missiles primed and ready to be fired into the civilian population the length and breadth of Israel. In the east there is Syria, with Iran working hard to replicate a similar base of attack to the one it has so painstakingly developed in Lebanon. The West Bank, Continue reading

Leo Varadkar’s Ireland has washed its hands of Ukraine

Article published in The Sunday Telegraph, 7 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

Who does Mr Varadkar think he’s kidding? When he says Britain is ‘disengaging from the world, he’s talking about the Britain that has led the world in responding to the worst military crisis to hit Europe since the Second World War. Varadkar’s own country, and many other European nations, were paralysed by fear as the Russian invasion unfolded, hoping it would all just go away. Meanwhile Britain was ahead of the pack in sending arms to Kyiv and immediately played an active role in encouraging others to do the same.

Boris Johnson’s leadership helped stiffen US resolve, reminiscent of Margaret Thatcher’s exhortation to President George HW Bush when Saddam Hussein invaded Kuwait in 1990: ‘This is no time to go wobbly.’

Since then Britain has been providing weapons, military training, financial assistance, vital intelligence and taking in large numbers of refugees fleeing Putin’s aggression. We have enthusiastically sent in long range missiles and tanks, shaming others to follow suit. Hardly the actions of a nation that is retiring from the world stage.

So what has Varadkar been doing to help the war effort? In the words of President Zelensky, Ireland ‘almost stands with us’. Like the UK, Ireland has commendably taken in Ukrainian refugees, but beyond that it has only provided a handful of trainers as part of an EU mission and sent body armour, field rations and some de-mining equipment. Admittedly Ireland is a small country, but for example, it has stockpiles of modern anti-armour weaponry gathering dust, including Javelin missiles which Britain and America supplied to devastating effect against Putin’s tanks.

Ireland’s excuse for this failure to help a European neighbour in distress is supposedly that it is militarily but not politically neutral. Continue reading

Ukraine is being starved by Joe Biden’s strategic idiocy

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 2 October 2023. © Richard Kemp

The US suspension of additional funding for Ukraine is a totemic moment in this conflict. Even if agreement is reached by Congress to extend financial assistance beyond mid-November, the political manoeuvring that saw Biden’s bid for a $24 million aid package slashed by three-quarters and then ditched altogether expose the immense difficulties the White House will have pushing future tranches through Congress.

That some Republicans were willing to shut down the US government over support for Ukraine is a very bad sign: even if they don’t win the presidency they will likely take control of the Senate next year. Their machinations were being driven by domestic political objectives in the midst of an election campaign rather than purposeful abandonment of the Ukrainian cause. But they must still be seen against the backdrop of the distinct lack of public support for continued backing of Ukraine’s war, with an opinion poll in August showing only 45 per cent of Americans ready to provide additional funding.

The mood against continuing support is significantly stronger among Republican voters who have traditionally been more bullish on foreign policy and use of force, and this shift in perspective is largely down to Donald Trump’s stance on the war. But the blame for imperilling Ukraine as Congress has falls squarely on Biden’s own shoulders. Had he not dragged his heels at every turn, refusing since the beginning to supply essential combat equipment in time or in sufficient numbers, the impact of Congressional recalcitrance would have been blunted.

His fear of antagonising Putin means that the critical long-range missiles have still not arrived, and there is no likelihood of seeing F16s in the skies anytime soon. These and other war-winning assets could easily have been sent in before popular support began to fall away and ahead of electoral politics taking centre stage. Both of these potential hazards were predictable, but rather than acting Continue reading

Ukraine must now take the war into Russia

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 24 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

After more than a year of procrastination, President Joe Biden has reportedly told President Volodymyr Zelensky that ATACMS ballistic missiles will be sent to Ukraine. I experienced ATACMS fire missions against high value Iraqi targets in 1991 during Operation Desert Storm. They are powerful and precise, capable of wreaking destruction on enemy forces up to 190 miles away.

These missiles are badly needed by Ukraine, outnumbered against Russian defences with air superiority and a 10:1 advantage in artillery. But formidable as they are, they will not be a game-changer. According to reports from Washington only ‘a small number’ are to be supplied and it may be many more months before they actually come into action.

Unnecessary delays in supplying vital combat capabilities, including tanks and F16s, cost lives and handicap Kyiv’s efforts to drive the Russians out. Behind this is a fear of provoking Putin and triggering escalation. That fear is unfounded: Moscow is already throwing everything it’s got into this war and the last thing it can afford is a direct fight with Nato. Nor would Putin dare hit the nuclear button, despite his earlier bluster, now muted. Every one of his red lines crossed so far by Ukraine or the West has been met with the same bluster. True to sabre-rattling form, the day after the ATACMS decision was made public, Sergey Lavrov, the foreign minister, again trotted out the familiar line that the West is ‘directly at war’ with Russia.

Another consequence of Washington’s unfounded fear of escalation is that when ATACMS eventually arrive, they will come with a red flag banning their use against targets on Russian sovereign territory. That irrational restriction applies to all Western-supplied weapons, so while Russia is free to strike any target it can get to in Ukraine, Kyiv has one hand tied behind its back. Untying that hand could prove pivotal in this war, enabling Ukraine to strike Russian military headquarters, air bases, munitions factories, and supply lines. Continue reading

Biden needs Netanyahu for a foreign policy success

Article published by, 21 September 2023. © Richard Kemp

Finally, a full nine months into Benjamin Netanyahu’s latest government, US President Joe Biden deigned to allow him into his presence. Historically, American presidents have invited newly installed Israeli prime ministers to the White House shortly after taking office. Even this meeting on Wednesday however was not in Washington but in New York, on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.

Such pointed lack of respect is not the way to treat one of America’s most valuable allies, and perhaps the staunchest of them all. It is all about petty political point-scoring and interfering in Israel’s internal democratic processes.

But despite his short-sighted rebuke to the State of Israel and its prime minister, Biden actually needs at least as much from Netanyahu as Netanyahu needs from him. With the 2024 election looming, Biden is desperate for a foreign policy success among a sea of abject failures, perhaps unprecedented in the tenure of any US president.

The catastrophic retreat from Afghanistan was symbolically worse than when the US pulled out of Vietnam. Strategically it was an even bigger disaster, signaling US and NATO weakness to friends and enemies alike, not least Russia, China, Iran and North Korea.

The Afghanistan debacle led directly to a second Biden foreign policy failure, as he pretty much flashed a green light to Putin’s invasion of Ukraine just six months later. As the saying goes: ‘Strength deters, weakness provokes.’

Since then, Biden’s ill-judged fear of Putin escalating the war has led to procrastination and heel-dragging over military aid that today sees Kyiv’s forces bogged down in an underpowered counteroffensive that is hobbled by inadequate combat hardware, while also Continue reading