Article published in The Times, Monday 12 February 2018. © Richard Kemp
At 4.25am on Saturday the Israel Defence Forces shot down an Iranian drone in Israeli airspace, then destroyed its command post and attacked 12 Iranian and Syrian air defence targets in the largest offensive launched by the country in Syrian territory since the 1982 Lebanon war.
All this for a drone? Although a serious act of aggression by Iran, the drone is the tip of the spear. Iranian leaders have long made clear that they intend to annihilate the Jewish state. As I have seen on the ground in the region last year, and during years studying secret intelligence on Iran, they put their money where their mouth is, financing and directing Palestinian terrorist groups in Gaza and the West Bank, building an arsenal of 150,000 missiles in southern Lebanon and funding terrorist attacks against Israeli and Jewish targets around the world. According to Israeli intelligence Iran has 82,000 fighters under its control in Syria. It is building a permanent military presence there to establish a corridor via Iraq to Israel’s borders.
This is part of a wider Iranian plan not just to besiege Israel but also to achieve ascendancy over the Sunnis, including de facto control of Lebanon, increased dominance in Iraq, the destabilisation of Yemen, attacks on Saudi Arabia and aggression against international navies in the Gulf. Iran’s project has been largely facilitated by President Obama’s Middle Eastern policies, including his nuclear deal, which emboldened the ayatollahs and released billions of dollars to fund their aggression while paving the way to a nuclear-armed state.
Iran’s latest aggression against Israel could well lead to another conflagration. The IDF is braced for retaliation, mobilising forces and reinforcing air defences along the Syrian and Lebanese borders. Israel is not looking to escalate but Iran could be and a mistake or misreading by either side could trigger open war.
For years Israel has warned of the consequences of Tehran’s aggression, which could result in civilian deaths on a huge scale. Although President Trump is holding Iran to account, Israel’s warnings have been largely ignored by the West and the United Nations. Britain and the European Union could play an effective role in containing Iranian aggression but their answer is appeasement. Instead of sanctioning Iran and supporting Israel they mouth platitudes about restraint by both sides, which further emboldens Tehran. They prioritise saving the flawed nuclear deal that provides cover for their unprincipled trade links with Iran over saving the lives of innocent people.