This week the UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon mooted the idea of bombing Islamic State (IS) targets inside Syria as well as Iraq. The suggestion came after the massacre of 30 British tourists on a beach in Tunisia. The British government is said to be waiting for final confirmation that there was a link between the terrorist in Tunisia and IS. Should that be proved, they appear willing to take action.
But modern warfare is increasingly a matter not just of those who take part but of the widest possible constituency. Military experts often talk of the worrying ‘long screwdriver’ approach to military force today, where a General, a minister or sometimes even a Prime Minister is required to approve and sign off every conceivable target. Anyone who can stand back from the detail can consider how much operational effectiveness suffers from this kind of passing of the buck upwards.
It also means that any mistakes are able to go right to the top of government. This – and many related subjects – were centres of the discussion which HJS initiated in Westminster several times this week. In separate events with journalists, Parliamentarians and the British public this week we played host to two of America’s top military experts. Major General Michael Jones and Professor Geoffrey Corn recently took part in a survey of Israeli responses during last year’s Gaza war. The in-depth study brought out many fascinating and important details about a widely misunderstood conflict.
But among the most important aspects of their presentation was confirmation of what we have often said in this place – that the high standard which the Israeli military and the air force in particular exercise has begun to concern Israel’s allies.
As the General and Professor showed, it seems highly unlikely that Britain, the USA or any other ally is going to take the time to text people to warn them of a strike nearby, or send leaflets to warn of a strike in advance or to use a non-lethal munition on the roof of a house as a final warning to exit the building. All of these Israeli tactics significantly minimize civilian suffering during conflict. But they also considerably, necessarily hamper operational effectiveness. Will any other country, in any other conflict, take this sort of care? It seems unlikely.
As Britain considers airstrikes inside Syria, we will have an advantage that the Israelis do not enjoy. Whenever Israel carries out an operation in the Gaza, the entirety of the world’s media not only focuses on the action but focuses on it from inside the war-zone, often deliberately or accidentally working as the propaganda tools of the Hamas government. Because of the way in which IS operates it is highly unlikely that any remotely impartial outside force will be present to observe where the British missiles hit or what collateral damage they cause. Decent people may rue this fact or they may quietly be thankful for it. But it is a curious fact that the one thing none of them will be able to publicly admit is that their aim will be to behave as well as the Israelis.
FROM THE DIRECTOR’S DESK
You wouldn’t know it given the glorious sunshine that most of the continent is basking in, but Europe faces an epic crisis this weekend in the form of the Greek referendum on economic reform. With the polls too close to call, it is anyone’s guess which way the Greek people will choose to jump. Their choice has not been made any easier by the way this crucial debate has fallen foul of both local and pan-EU politics.
Firstly to the Greeks themselves. For all the well-documented disasters of their economy and taxation system, there would have been a perfectly obvious way for the Greeks to have had both a lifting of the extremities of austerity as well as an EU bailout. Fellow Euro members are desperate to keep Greece inside the Euro for political purposes – the Euro being a political rather than economic construct as on the latter terms several members would have now been ejected. Greece, in its turn, has made huge strides in achieving a primary surplus on its balance of payments. It should not have been beyond the wit of wisdom of man to have come up with a face saving proposal that would allow for some symbolic measures to please the Greek electorate while also continuing the work of paring back the deficit.
But while the Eurocrats seemed keen to tango, Alexis Tsipras of Greece’s extreme left-wing Syriza government did not. Tsipras not only made a mockery of the negotiation process with his hasty referendum gambit, but also doomed the possibility of that compromise emerging by taking the decision out of the arena in which it could have been constructed.
Moreover, the indecipherable way in which the referendum question has been structured and the controversial way ‘No’ has been placed above ‘Yes’ in the ballot has been designed to lead the Greeks into a cul de sac from which there is no escape. For Tsipras’ claim that Greece can reject what is now on offer and still stay in the Euro is an extraordinary one to make. And should it prove that voting ‘No’ leads to Greece’s exit, then all of the attendant economic misfortunes that will follow – and which will make Greece’s current crisis seem tame in comparison – will be on his head.
Of course, Eurozone countries deserve their share of the blame too. If Greece was an irresponsible borrower originally, then they were irresponsible lenders. The high-handed way Eurocrats conduct negotiations seems calculated to enrage rather than calm spirits. And the recriminations that have followed the referendum announcement may well lead to a nationalist backlash from Greeks should the worst happen and Greece leave the Euro in disgrace. Let us not forget that the neo-Nazi Golden Dawn party is a major force already in Greek politics.
Of course, sanity may yet prevail and the Greeks could vote ‘Yes’. It won’t be the best deal Greece could have got, but through the actions of their Prime Minister, it is the only sensible one they are left with. If so, then the resignation he has promised as a consequence of such a vote would be a fitting political epitaph for someone who has gambled so recklessly with his country’s future.
Dr Alan Mendoza is Executive Director of The Henry Jackson Society
Follow Alan on Twitter: @AlanMendoza