For the Jewish News, November 1 2019
The former British army chief of staff, General Lord Dannatt, has predicted that “the British media will go bananas” if Israel were forced to defend itself against attacks mounted from southern Lebanon. But, he added: “It is clear to me that Israel would have no alternative”.
Lord Dannatt was the guest of honour on Thursday at the Zionist Federation’s annual Balfour lecture, marking the 102nd year since the Balfour Declaration supporting the idea of a Jewish homeland was given by the British government to the English Zionist movement.
Lord Dannatt is on intimate and familiar terms with his counterparts in the Israel Defence Forces, and, as he told his interviewer, Davis Lewin, he has visited the country many times, often with IDF officers as he learned about strategic plans for manning Israel’s borders.
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But asked specifically about threats from Hezbollah, the general, who retired as chief of staff in 2006, said: “It was shocking to find in northern Israel the extent to which Hezbollah has amassed somewhere between 100,000 and 150,000 missiles and rockets of varying capabilities and range, which they have embedded extensively within the civilian population”.
He said the weapons store, combined with a network of tunnels in the area, “leads to a huge threat to the security of the length and breadth of Israel from southern Lebanon”.
After extensive briefings from the IDF officers on the ground, the Defence Ministry and the chief legal officer of the IDF, Lord Dannatt said he was left with “a clear understanding that should an offensive, either by design or by accident, be launched from southern Lebanon, Israel has no alternative but to mount a counter-offensive, just to maintain its own survival.”
But he warned: “That counter-offensive will be very difficult to sell internationally — because the Israeli air force will have to take the fight deep into southern Lebanon, and probably against Iranian-backed targets in Syria. I think it’s absolutely necessary to be done to ensure the survival of the state of Israel against a very sophisticated and determined threat, and it is important to say that. If it ever happens, the British media will go bananas in criticising Israel — but it is quite clear to me and the other members of the [British] high level military group that Israel would have no alternative but to act in that way. It needs voices to speak out and to be quite clear that this is not something which Israel wishes; any country would like to live within its own borders, become prosperous and seek peace, but if there are others still committed, as there are, to the eradication of the Israeli state, then Israel has no alternative but to provide for its own defence”.
Lord Dannatt also revealed for the first time that the co-operation between the two countries extended to Israel supporting British operations in Iraq with the provision of anti-mortar and missile technology, which was a predecessor of Iron Dome.
Mark Regev, Israel’s ambassador to the United Kingdom, speaking during the ZF’s annual Balfour lecture. (Credit: Steve Winston)
Earlier, Israel’s ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, reminded the audience that October 31 marked the anniversary of the 1917 taking of the southern town of Beersheva by British forces commanded by General Allenby. He said the battle against Turkish forces, and the help given to Britain by a well-connected Jewish spy network, had laid the foundation for co-operation between Israel and British defence which “is still growing today.
A small group of supporters of Na’amod, the organisation opposed to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories, demonstrated outside the hotel where the event took place, but did not disrupt the evening, which was hosted by the ZF chairman, Paul Charney.