Hanit is the Hebrew word meaning spearhead. That word explains why Israel is a vital strategic asset not just to Great Britain, but to the West as a whole. Hanita is also the name of a settlement established in the western Galilee in March 21, 1938. Geographically, Hanita is literally the spearhead of Israel, hard up against the front line with Lebanon. It lies about 15 kilometres northeast of Nahariya.
The story of Hanita encapsulates Britain’s longstanding and too often dishonourable relationship with the Jews of Palestine and the state of Israel. When the establishment of Hanita was proposed, the British administration vetoed it and then did everything in their power to prevent it going ahead.
Despite many obstacles thrown into their path, the Jews persisted and the tower and stockade village was eventually built. This was during the Arab Revolt in Palestine (1936-1939), and on their very first night at Hanita the young pioneers had to fight off wave after wave of savage attacks by hundreds of Bedouin raiders intent on their massacre.
Two years later, in 1940, the very same British authorities that had forbidden the settlement came to Hanita for help. Britain planned to invade Syria to prevent the Vichy French government there from allowing a German army to build up and threaten the Mosul oilfields and the Suez Canal.
An Australian force was to enter Lebanon from Palestine, using the forbidden Hanita as a base, and from there to advance into Syria.
Bridges over the Litani River were vital for the operation, and because of their familiarity with the wild and unchartered border country, the Jews were asked to capture and hold those bridges to prevent their destruction by the Vichy forces.
Having suffered over fifty percent casualties, fifty young Jewish farmers from Hanita held the bridges for seven hours and repulsed ten mass attacks before the Australian regular troops eventually arrived. In the final onslaught, the Jews fought off their heavily armed attackers with knives, bricks, crow bars, revolvers, and when out of bullets, with their bare hands. This was the operation in which Moshe Dayan, later Chief of Staff, Defence Minister and Foreign Minister of Israel, lost his left eye.
On a different level we saw a similarly duplicitous game played out again only at the end of last year. In a speech in London last December, British Prime Minister Theresa May strongly asserted the value that Israel has to Britain. She said:
Israel will be crucial to us as we exit the EU.
We have common values; we work together, on health, counter-terrorism, cyber security, technology; and we can help each other achieve our aims.
When we work together on our mutual security at the highest level, it makes the world safer.1
But then just a few days after making her speech, Theresa May’s government supported an unprecedented and devastatingly anti-Israel resolution in the UN Security Council, of December 23, 2016, which gave heart to Israel’s enemies and strengthened the hand of the BDS movement that wants to destroy her.2 Unfortunately this perfidious attitude has been the consistent approach by Britain, first to the Jewish settlers in Palestine during the Mandate and later to the Jewish state.
But in the operation launched from the settlement of Hanita, these pioneers of the State of Israel had proved to be a vital strategic asset to Great Britain, as had their own forerunners twenty-five years earlier when in 1915 so many Palestinian Jews played a significant role in the Gallipoli campaign fighting with the Zion Mule Corps, and two years later when the Jewish Legion of the British Army, the first formed Jewish fighting force since the Maccabees, helped defeat the Ottoman Empire at the Battle of Megiddo in 1918. So had the Jews of Nili which provided vital intelligence to General Allenby’s forces during his First World War Palestine campaign, in some cases at the cost of their lives.
After the war, the Chief of British Military Intelligence, Major-General George MacDonough, said of Nili:
Allenby knew with certainty… all the preparations and all the movements of his enemy. All the cards of his enemy were revealed to him, and so he could play his hand with complete confidence. Under these conditions, victory was certain before he began.3
After the role Hanita played in securing crucial territory for the British, other Jews also went on to play a vital strategic role in the war against Rommel’s army, a role that still goes largely unrecognized today. The British Eighth Army included 30,000 Jewish volunteers, many of whom carried out extraordinary acts of heroism and devotion to duty in the face of horrific adversity.
The British army was supported by 200,000 Palestinian industrial workers and farmers and thousands more doctors, dentists and nurses. 7,000 factories and vast acres of agricultural land were placed at the disposal of British Empire Forces. This was the product of the Zionism encouraged by the Balfour Declaration and the British Empire’s subsequent conquest of the land of Palestine.
In the words of Prime Minister David Lloyd George, the real hand behind Balfour, at the Zionist Federation Dinner in 1931:
Zionism has brought to an old land, a renowned but a ruined old land, new wealth, new energy, new purpose, new initiative, new intelligence, a new devotion and a new hope. Zionism has not finished its task, far from it, but it has already accomplished so much as to demonstrate that the land flowing with milk and honey was no baseless legend.4
This land of milk and honey supplied the British Army with virtually every kind of food, materiel and equipment that an army needed.
And critically it did not have to be transported through the dangerous seas with submarine wolf-packs lurking beneath.
There is no question that the Jews of Palestine were a vital strategic asset for General Montgomery and Britain in the North Africa campaign, which had a decisive effect on the progress and eventual outcome of the war. Yet, despicably, as the Jews stood shoulder to shoulder with the British during the dark days of that war, Britain continued to restrict immigration into Palestine. Immigration that could have saved so many of their brothers and sisters from extermination at the hands of the Nazis.
Even after the British rejected the United Nations’ decision to create a Jewish State and provided a British general to lead the Arab Legion in the invasion of Israel at its birth, the Palestinian Jews remained staunch and steadfast allies and friends.
If anything, Israel’s strategic value to Great Britain and the world has increased dramatically from the early days of 1917 to the very present. But three major events influenced a growing dependency on Israel.
First, 9/11, when the Islamic terror threat became a reality for many Western nations and caused several states to become involved militarily in various Middle Eastern and South Asian contingencies against terrorist insurgencies. Second, the financial crisis of 2008, which led Western governments to cut their defence and security budgets, often hollowing out their military and intelligence services.
Among the consequences of this was a reduction in attention to what was happening in the Middle East, a misappreciation of the so-called Arab Spring and a failure to anticipate the expansion of radical Islamism in the region. Third, the rise of the Islamic State and an explosion of immigration into European countries, together bringing to the cities of France, Germany and Belgium the same kind of terrorist savagery that Israel had been experiencing for decades.
As a consequence Western nations found themselves increasingly dependent on Israel’s vast operational and counterterrorism experience, incomparable intelligence resources and highly developed technological sophistication. All of this was achieved precisely because Israel itself is at the Hanit, the spear point, of this fight. Israel has proved to be a vital asset not in these areas alone, but also – crucially – in the courage her leaders have frequently exhibited in taking decisive action, even in the face of concerted international opposition.
In 2007 the Israeli Air Force launched Operation Orchard to destroy the Syrian nuclear reactor in the Deir ez-Zor region, preventing the Assad regime from acquiring atomic weapons. Not only did this remove a game-changing weapon from the hands of a murderous despot, but also denied the possibility of nuclear material being transferred to Hizballah and Iran, or even acquisition of such material by jihadist groups such as the Islamic State.
This followed Operation Opera, an Israeli strike in 1981 that destroyed the Iraqi nuclear reactor under construction southeast of Baghdad. Despite global condemnation of Israel, this attack was later recognised as being an important factor in enabling the US-led coalition to remove Iraqi forces from Kuwait; and, as with the Syria operation, prevented nuclear material falling into the hands of terrorists.
More recently, Israel has taken military action to prevent Hizballah and other radical groups operating in the civil war in Syria from acquiring chemical weaponry located in Assad’s arsenals and military research centres. Israel has also acted to prevent long-range missiles reaching Hizballah and other terrorists, thus potentially threatening both Israelis and citizens elsewhere in the world.
For many years Western nations have depended heavily on Israeli intelligence, and the civil war in Syria and the rise of the Islamic State have even further increased the West’s reliance on Israeli intelligence.
Israel has acted as a barrier against the further territorial expansion of the Islamic State and other Islamic terrorists in the region, including the protection of Jordan and Egypt. Israel’s actions to control IS expansion has also acted as a barrier against even greater waves of immigration into Europe from the eastern Mediterranean, critical to a continent reeling from uncontrolled immigration set in motion by instability across the Middle East, Africa and South Asia.
Most Western countries depend heavily on Israeli military technology which includes electronic warfare systems, sensors, robotics, vehicle defensive systems and counter IED equipment [Improvised Explosive Devices, such as roadside bombs]. Israel’s edge in cyber warfare is illustrated by the successful US-Israel joint venture, Operation Olympic Games, which developed the Stuxnet computer worm that damaged and delayed the Iranian nuclear programme.
Of a far more sensitive and of course highly classified nature, Israel makes a major contribution to Western nuclear defences.
On the homeland security front few Europeans are aware that Israeli technology safeguards such iconic symbols as Buckingham Palace, Heathrow Airport, the Eiffel Tower, and the Vatican.
But as we who have worked in the intelligence world know, action is premised on more than capability. Israel is not a vital strategic asset because of capability alone. Intent is equally important.
Why did the farmers and scouts of Hanita take such risks and make such sacrifices for the British in 1940? Neither they nor their fellow Jews who sustained and fought for the Eighth Army were under any obligation to do so. But nevertheless in the 1940s the Jews of Palestine contributed much more to the Allied war effort than all of the Arab nations combined who between them had over 50 times the resources of the Jews.
In the Middle East only the Jews, without flinching, stood side by side with Englishmen, Australians and South Africans facing the fearful odds presented by Rommel’s overwhelming superiority. At the same time, the Arabs yearned to stab Britain in the back and then join the victorious Nazis in a Middle Eastern holocaust.
Of course many Western countries also provide Israel with vital support. We are not talking about a one-way street. But there is one aspect of the relationship that is a one-way street. While the West is too often happy to criticise and frustrate the Jewish state savagely and unjustly whenever it wishes, Israel’s spirit of cooperation with the West today is the same as the spirit of the Palestinian Jews toward Britain in the 1940s and usually includes unequivocal public backing of its allies.
If anything this attitude is even worse among other European countries, who are equally dependant on Israel.
One example illustrates this.
In 2009 Italian Admiral Giampaolo Di Paolo, the Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee, visited Israel to study IDF tactics to apply to NATO operations in Afghanistan. He was particularly interested in Israeli tactics for fighting terror in civilian-populated areas.
This visit came just weeks after the publication of the infamous Goldstone Report – which alleged that Israel had committed war crimes by deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza.5
The contrast was striking: within weeks of the European Parliament endorsing the report, the European Chairman of NATO’s Military Committee was visiting Israel, for the third time in four years, to study ethical methods for dealing with terrorist insurgencies without causing undue harm to civilians.
Why do European countries exploit Israel’s capabilities with one hand and stab her in the back with the other?
One word sums it up: appeasement.
Every European country has a large and growing Muslim population and an increasing fear of Islamic terrorism.
Political leaders believe that a harsh approach toward Israel will give electoral advantage in respect of their Muslim populations and also discourage Islamic terrorists from attacking at home.
A much longer-standing target of their appeasement is the Arab world itself and concern about the negative impact that their dealings with Israel will have on their relations with other countries in the Middle East.
But the balance has been shifting and European diplomacy has struggled to keep up.
For many years Israel has had close strategic relations with two of its main Arab neighbours.
And today in the face of a growing fear of Iran and the rise of radical jihadism, other Arab countries are increasingly, if cautiously and quietly, looking toward Israel for protection and assistance.
The Arab world will not suddenly fall in love with the Jewish State, but the sands are shifting and in their own security interests, Western states also now need to re-evaluate their relationships with Israel and appreciate what is the balance of cost and benefit to them.
Perhaps the time has come for a new Balfour Declaration.
President Trump has called for an overhaul of NATO which he rightly considers obsolete.
The key to making NATO relevant in the modern world is re-focusing its efforts primarily against the central strategic issue of our time, global jihad.
There has been increasing cooperation in recent years between NATO and Israel, and even today there is a NATO parliamentary delegation here in Jerusalem.
The Balfour Declaration symbolised the British government’s recognition of the strategic value of the Jews of Palestine in the global struggle that was then in progress.
A modern day Balfour Declaration could be recognition of the strategic value of the Jewish state in today’s global struggle in the form of full membership of a reformed NATO, which would benefit all of our strategic interests and serve also to undermine international efforts to isolate Israel.
- See: ‘Prime Minister Theresa May CFI Annual Business Lunch full speech,’ Conservative Friends of Israel, December 13, 2016, https://cfoi.co.uk/prime-minister-theresa-may-cfi-annual-business-lunch-full-speech/
- United Nations Security Council Resolution 2334 was adopted on 23 December 2016. It concerns the Israeli settlements in ‘Palestinian territories occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem’. The resolution passed in a 14–0 vote by members of the U.N. Security Council (UNSC).
- Anita Engle, The Nili Spies (London: Routledge, 2013), 101.
- See: Richard Kemp, ‘Balfour Declaration‘
- See: ‘Richard Goldstone: the judge who ‘regrets’ his Gaza report,’ The Guardian, 5 April 2011, https://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/apr/05/richard-goldstone-judge-gaza-report