Don’t imagine this is just an unprovoked, brutal attack by a bunch of terrorists from Gaza. It is much more than that. The hands that pushed these killers forward are in Moscow. US President Joe Biden and European leaders have long feared an escalation of the Ukraine war and that is what they’ve now got. Unwilling to take the fight directly to NATO, instead, Putin has been fomenting conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia, Serbia and Kosovo, in West Africa and now in Israel.
The instability created in these places is intended to pull US attention, as well as resources, away from the war in Ukraine. Let us not forget that the US recently withdrew large stocks of munitions stored in Israel and transferred them to Ukraine. If this war escalates further, which it may well do, they will have to be replaced by stocks that might otherwise be earmarked for Ukraine to use against Russia.
Just as Russia used Iran to supply large numbers of drones to attack Ukrainian civilians, it is now using Iran to encourage and enable these attacks in Israel. Iran is of course a more than willing partner whose leaders have repeatedly sworn death to Israel and America; as are its proxies in Gaza and also in Lebanon. Iran has long been directing, training, funding and supplying weapons to Hamas and Islamic Jihad in Gaza as well as in Judea and Samaria, or the West Bank. Moscow too has maintained and developed connections with Palestinian terrorist groups and individual extremists, going back to Soviet days, when Putin himself as a KGB officer was dealing with Middle East terrorists including during his time in Dresden.
Hamas leaders, including terrorist boss Ismail Haniyah, have made a number of visits to Moscow since the Ukraine war began, meeting with senior government officials including Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov. A delegation from their Gaza terrorist bedfellows, Islamic Jihad, led by its chief, Ziyad al-Nakhalah, also visited Moscow in March. Likewise, leaders of another Iranian proxy, Lebanese Hezbollah, have been welcome guests in Moscow. Hezbollah terrorists fought side by side with Russian troops in Syria and have since been involved in helping Moscow evade sanctions and, according to the US Treasury Department, may have received weapons in return.
Iran, with its critical role in this attack, has been emboldened by White House appeasement that recently saw $6 billion worth of frozen assets handed to Tehran. These funds, which can be used for whatever terrorist purposes Iran sees fit, were released on Biden’s orders, even as the ayatollahs continued to build their nuclear weapons program, fomented violence across the Middle East and beyond, and at the same time supported Russia in its war crimes against the Ukrainian people.
If this attack in Israel is not enough to wake Biden up to the deadly dangers of pandering to Iran then nothing will. Both Iran and Russia, too, have been encouraged in their aggression against Israel by Biden deliberately distancing himself from the Israeli government over many months. His strong statement yesterday in support of Israel is of course welcome, but too little, too late.
This is a failure of Israeli deterrence
That these horrific developments resulted from an intelligence failure is self-evident but it is also a failure of deterrence. The Israeli government will now be giving serious consideration to the balance between deterrence and pre-emptive action. Today, Gaza terrorists are not fighting alone, but with the backing of two powerful states, both motivated by renewed aggression against the US arising from the war in Ukraine, and that should change the strategic calculus.
Up until now, the IDF has been constrained in striking first against potential threats by international pressure, including from the United Nations, world governments and the media, which has never been known to miss an opportunity to condemn Israel for defending itself against actual attacks – never mind pre-emptively hitting at its enemies before they strike. This attack has surely changed all of that. Israel will have no choice other than to deal decisively with the terrorist groups in Gaza, in a manner that it has so far refrained from doing. That will mean unprecedented violence against terrorist targets in Gaza and there will inevitably be civilian casualties, given the extremists’ practice of using human shields.
Such action is essential for the defense of the Israeli population. It is therefore necessary for political leaders around the world to steel themselves to give their sustained support for whatever action Israel needs to take – and not just in the short term. They must now accept a responsibility they have previously shirked: giving sufficient leadership to overcome the cacophony of anti-Israel voices in the media, so-called human rights groups and their fellow travelers in universities and elsewhere, which will inevitably flow from Israeli defensive military operations.
Arab countries in the region depend on Israel's strength
Whether or not that happens, and I am not confident it will, Israel cannot afford to show any weakness in this dire situation. Aside from the overriding need to protect its own people, other countries in the region including Jordan, Egypt and the UAE, depend on Israeli strength. That is the main reason Saudi Arabia has been negotiating for normalization with Israel. It may well be that recent developments in that process have helped prompt both Iran’s and Russia’s aggressive use of their terrorist proxies in this attack.
Seeking greater regional instability and war, the last thing either country wants is a stable partnership between Israel and Saudi Arabia. Given Russia’s and Iran’s suspected role in this attack, Israel will also have to review its current strategies in relation to both countries.
Following its invasion of Ukraine, Russia is today recognized as the enemy of Western democracy. It is time for the West also to view Moscow’s Iranian ally and its terrorist proxies in the same light. If they are unwilling to confront these threats themselves, then the least they should do is to give all possible support to Israel, which has no choice but to do the job for them.
- Colonel Richard Kemp is a former UK Armed Forces commander
First published: 09:04, 10.08.23