Category Archives: Articles

The UK has set an example to our ‘tight-fisted’ NATO allies with one move

Article published in The Daily Express, 24 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

Grant Shapps has achieved something no Defence Secretary has managed since the end of the Cold War, a historic increase in defence spending to 2.5% of GDP.

Many will argue that, given the increasingly dangerous world, even this is not enough. But realists understand that, with so many demands on the public purse, it was the best that could reasonably have been hoped for.

It is particularly striking at this range from a general election, with defence never traditionally seen as a vote winner in peace time.

Some will complain that part of the increased budget will be spent on support for Ukraine. But helping defend Ukraine is also helping defend the UK, by enabling Kyiv to fight against a despot that, as part of the Russia-China-Iran axis, threatens the whole of the Western world.

After decades of hollowing-out by successive governments, our armed forces are in dire need of this uplift. We have a wide range of military capabilities, many highly sophisticated, but in almost every category, we simply don’t have enough – not enough tanks, artillery, planes, ships, missiles.

A key focus should be on expanding existing forces as well as developing new weapons. Recent defence thinking has leaned towards technology over hard fighting power. That was always mistaken, and has been demonstrated recently by the World War 2 style battles in Afghanistan and bitter street by street warfare in Gaza.

The truth is you need both, and that is very expensive.

We also don’t have enough manpower to fly our planes or crew our ships, while the Army has been leaching its soldiers and is unable to recruit enough replacements.

Some of the money needs to be spent on better pay and improved conditions for our troops. Continue reading

Israel’s strike has exposed Iran’s fatal weakness

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 19 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

Israel’s presumed counterstrike against Iran has proved Joe Biden and David Cameron wrong in their insistence that Israel should just ‘take the win’. Instead, it fought back – and yesterday Iran was trying to pretend that nothing had happened.

This was a profound humiliation for the ayatollahs who just days ago were saying they would deliver punishing retaliation for even the slightest Israeli strike; now they seem to be saying they will do nothing. We don’t yet know what happened at the targets. To save face, the Iranians are unlikely to admit there was any damage. For strategic reasons, Israel has not accepted responsibility and therefore has not made known its damage assessment.

The main target seems to have been Iran’s third city, Isfahan. The Hastam Shikari airforce base is there: it was involved in the April 14 drone and missile attack against Israel. There are drone production factories at Isfahan.

Of perhaps greater significance, the city is at the heart of Iran’s nuclear programme with a research site as well as a processing facility, including stockpiles of highly enriched uranium. Although the International Atomic Energy Agency has made clear that no damage was caused to the nuclear site, Israel’s apparent ability to penetrate Iran’s most heavily defended sites will have triggered enormous concern in Tehran as it gets ever closer to obtaining a nuclear weapons capability.

It is possible there may be a pause in the nuclear programme so as not to provoke further attacks until defences can be significantly enhanced. Perhaps Iran may be deterred from launching further direct strikes against Israel as it realises the extent of its vulnerability.

It was vital for Israel to launch a response to Iran’s aggression quickly to avoid an impression of weakness in a region where strength is everything. But among Israel’s calculations on how to calibrate its response will have been the need to build on the international defensive coalition that formed so quickly last week. This is of strategic importance given the range of threats in the Middle East, foremost of which is the array of 150,000 or more missiles in Lebanon, pointing at Israel.

These have been supplied to Hezbollah by the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps to deter or retaliate against an Israeli attack on Iran. Benjamin Netanyahu will not have wanted to do anything to shake the West’s new resolve against Iran, with the G7 announcing sanctions this week.

In its Gaza campaign, the IDF is getting ready to mount a major assault in Rafah to deal with Hamas’s remaining stronghold and to rescue the hostages being held there. That is Israel’s number one priority at the moment and it does not want to have its military efforts diverted by an escalation with Iran. Continue reading

Suicide drones threaten to bankrupt Western militaries

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 16 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

Yesterday marked one year since the war in Sudan started. There, Iranian manufactured drones fielded in the last few months have been turning things round for the army against the Rapid Security Force militias. Drones have also been used extensively by Tehran’s Houthi proxies in Yemen, attacking international shipping in the Red Sea.

In Ukraine, Shahed drones have been used in their thousands by Putin’s forces, especially to target civilian population centres and critical infrastructure. Many people have been killed and huge damage inflicted on Ukraine’s food and energy sectors by attacking grain silos and power plants. In 2019, drones were used by Iran or one of its proxies to attack Saudi oil installations. They have also been used in multiple attacks against US forces in Iraq and Syria.

Combat drones have been with us now for several years, but the remarkable increase in Iranian production and export over the last two years is altering the impact of asymmetric warfare by giving far greater potency than previously imagined to a much wider range of state and non-state actors. They are highly flexible and can be launched from a wide range of platforms including trucks, shipping containers and vessels. They can be readily disassembled and re-assembled and easily transported and concealed. As the Russians have frequently done in Ukraine, drones can be deployed in swarms to overwhelm air defences.

The most dramatic attack to date using Iranian drones came, of course, this weekend. Repelling that bombardment is estimated to have cost up to 1.5 billion dollars, a significant amount of which must have been expended on downing the drones. This illustrates one of the most pressing problems facing our national defences today.

Both attack and reconnaissance drones, which also endanger deployed forces as shown in Sudan, can be very cheap, as little as $2,000. Even the Shahed drones which have been used extensively in Ukraine and in the attack against Israel, can deliver large explosive charges with great precision at ranges of around 2,000 miles, at a cost of only $20,000-$50,000. Some of the missiles that have been used to intercept these drones can cost upwards of a million dollars a shot and sometimes much more. In broad terms, the earlier on the flight path they can be knocked out of the sky, the better the chances of preventing them from hitting the target, but the higher the price tag.

Iran’s drone production and export, as well as Russia’s use of drones and other missiles in Ukraine has given a long overdue wake-up call to Western countries who are now applying greater focus and resources to counter-drone technology as well as missile defence. Israel, under the most immediate threat for many years, has long been leading the way. It expects to field Iron Beam, a laser interceptor for drones and missiles, in the near future. It is the first Continue reading

Israel needs the unequivocal backing of its allies after Iran’s despicable attack

Article published in The Express, 14 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

On Saturday night I witnessed the most intensive aerial assault I have seen against Israel. To the soundtrack of thunderous explosions, the sky over Jerusalem was lit up with Star Wars-like air defence projectiles colliding with Iranian missiles. But Iran’s historically unprecedented attack was a total failure, with the overwhelming majority of killer drones, ballistic missiles and cruise missiles knocked out of the sky before even entering Israeli territory. As well as 300 air weapons fired from Iran, projectiles were launched by Tehran’s proxies in Yemen, Iraq and Lebanon, again without success. The total effect of this massive bombardment was the severe wounding of a child and only minor damage to an IDF air base. Nevertheless it is important to recognise this was not a symbolic attack designed to fail. That would have been done with far fewer missiles and drones. The response to this strike should be commensurate with Iran’s clear intent: to hit hundreds of targets and kill hundreds of people.

Yet President Biden has told Prime Minister Netanyahu that he should consider this ‘a win’. In other words: take it on the chin. Did Biden pressure Ukraine not to respond to Russian missile strikes on it territory? No he did not and such a call to Israel now is preposterous. It is exactly this approach from the start of Biden’s presidency that has led us to where we are today — consistently appeasing Iran and responding with abject feebleness to repeated attacks against US forces.

Of course the ayatollahs ignored Biden’s hollow warnings in recent days not to attack Israel and of course they have now directly threatened the US not to get involved in any Israeli retaliation. Lining up with Biden’s timorous message Iran’s military mission to the UN has said that, with its strike on Israel, ‘the matter can be deemed concluded’. But it is far from concluded. Iran has repeatedly confirmed its intent to annihilate the Jewish state and has constructed a ‘ring of fire’ of proxies surrounding Israel to achieve that. Hamas’s massacre of Israelis on 7th October was part of this monstrous design. As are the daily rocket attacks against Israel since Continue reading

The world stands on the brink of all-out war

Article published in The Daily Telegraph, 13 April 2024. © Richard Kemp

I’m writing from Israel where the country is tonight braced for a wave of drone attacks from Iran.

The Israel Defense Force (IDF) warned at around 11pm that at least 100 drones had been launched. This was followed by an announcement from Iran’s state-run news agency that ballistic missiles have also been launched.

Israel has been expecting Iranian strikes since conducting an air strike on April 1 that killed Iranian Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps commanders in Damascus.

Since then there has been some apprehension on the streets, but daily life has continued pretty much as normal, although tonight the IDF updated instructions for the population on the precautions they need to take.

Meanwhile, the IDF has been stepping up its air defences over the last 10 days, including calling up specialist reservists. Israel has the best anti-missile defences in the world, and they will do their best to down most or all weapons before reaching Israeli airspace. However that will not be easy to achieve, with large swarms of drones either preceded or followed up by missiles.

The commander of US forces in the Middle East has been in Israel in the last few days, coordinating with the IDF, and US forces will assist Israel in intercepting the drones, including by providing airborne early-warning systems. Israel’s other allies may also provide support, and the Israeli prime minister specifically thanked Great Britain and France for their support.

There is also a significant threat from Lebanon, where the Iranian proxy Hezbollah has an estimated 150,000 rockets and missiles pointing at Israel. They have been firing rockets and drones into the Israeli border area almost daily since the Hamas attack on Oct 7. It is possible that Hezbollah might launch an intensive barrage to coincide with the arrival of the weapons from Iran, in an attempt to overwhelm air defences.

Israel will have no choice other than to respond to this Iranian attack, as every country would. The IDF has of course been preparing for that as well, perhaps by striking military targets inside Iran and other countries from which any missiles or drones are launched.

As the US sought to prevent Iran from attacking Israel by intensive diplomatic efforts, the Biden administration will likely try to pressure Israel to limit its retaliation, in other words to de-escalate. However, even if limited damage is inflicted in this attack, Israel should strike back hard – perhaps with even greater strength – to deter further attacks.

While hostilities directly with Iran are unlikely to expand beyond air attacks and possibly naval conflict, a major attack by Hezbollah Continue reading

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 Continue reading

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