ANDREW NEIL: If 300 missiles and drones hit Britain, would we be sitting on our hands? Israel has a right to retaliate… and loose talk about World War III is designed to intimidate it into doing nothing

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Within hours of Iran’s mass missile and drone attack on Israel overnight on Saturday, the consensus of the global commentariat forming in newspapers and TV channels was that Israel should refrain from retaliation.

Many political leaders, especially those always quick to tell Israel what it should do when attacked, echoed the need for restraint. It is quite remarkable advice for a country which has just been the target of more than 150 Iranian drones armed with explosives, around 30 cruise missiles and about 120 ballistic missiles.

If so many weapons of destruction had rained down on Britain, would we be listening to those urging caution, nodding thoughtfully at such sage advice and agreeing that it would probably be best for all concerned if we just sat on our hands? I suggest that any UK government which went along with that would quickly be driven from power.

As we saw with the Argentinian invasion of the Falklands all those years ago, there would be an overwhelming national demand for a robust response to show we cannot be attacked with impunity — and that those who think they can should pay a terrible price. We’d expect our allies to stand alongside us, offering every possible assistance. So nobody should be surprised if that’s also the mood today in Israel.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a phone call to US President Joe Biden after the drone attacks

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu making a phone call to US President Joe Biden after the drone attacks 

Rocket trails in the sky above the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Israel

Rocket trails in the sky above the Al-Aqsa Mosque compound in Jerusalem, Israel 

Yes, the Iranian attack was limited, it seems, to Israeli military targets and, despite its massive scale, looks like it has done little damage, with no loss of life. But that is only thanks to the excellence of Israel’s missile-defence systems: not just its fabled Iron Dome, which has done such sterling work taking out short-range rockets fired by Hamas from Gaza and Hezbollah from southern Lebanon, but, more important in this latest attack, its newer Arrow 3, a top-tier system that can destroy incoming ballistic missiles.

Israel has developed this with America’s Boeing corporation and it proved its worth on Saturday night. Germany is buying a version in a $3.5 billion (£2.8 billion) deal to improve its own security (we should consider doing the same). That’s what saved Israel at the weekend. It’s clear that Iran, by sending so many drones and missiles at once, hoped to overwhelm Israel’s defences. That it failed should not be a factor in determining Israel’s response.

The Israelis are more likely to focus on Iranian intent rather than the (thankfully) pathetic outcome of its efforts. You do not launch 300 missiles and drones on another country unless you’re aiming to cause a lot of death and destruction.

It is being said that the attack was only in response to Israel’s bombing of an Iranian ‘diplomatic mission’ in the Syrian capital of Damascus, which housed an important command centre of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Seven commanders and military personnel, including the most senior general, were killed in the attack.

Tehran says it ‘deems’ its assault on Israel to be over. One of its top generals says it has ‘no intention to continue the operation’, which he claimed had been a ‘full success’ (and which makes you wonder what failure would look like). So Israel should just move on.

But should it? For a start, this was the first attack on Israel launched from Iranian soil. That alone represents a major escalation of hostilities. Hitherto, Iran has worked through its regional proxies to undermine Israel and spread misery across the Middle East. Now, it has attacked Israel directly from its own territory. That is reason enough why Israel can hardly look the other way.

Moreover, the command centre that Israel hit in Damascus was a major base for the IRGC’s Quds Force, which arms, trains and finances Iran’s proxy militia across the region, including Hamas and Hezbollah, which have brought so much misery to Israel.

The general killed was a pivotal link with the proxies. So it was a legitimate target.

It is important to understand the wider picture. The Islamic Republic of Iran aims to be the superpower of the Middle East but it is a Persian-speaking, Shiite nation in an overwhelmingly Sunni part of the Muslim Arab world. So it has sought to establish its suzerainty by, first, taking the most extreme positions against Israel and the West; and, second, by extending its power and influence through a variety of proxy militia that share its nihilistic approach to the democracies.

Many years ago I spoke privately to the then Crown Prince of Jordan (he is now the king). He said it was the aim of Iran to create an ‘Arc of Political Islam’ from its borders across the north of the Middle East, through Iraq, into Syria and on to the shores of the Mediterranean through Lebanon. From that arc, it would dominate the region. Iran has been depressingly successful in realising this vision.

READ MORE: Israel vows more ‘offensive and defensive action’ after Iran launched 350-missile attack and G7 leaders including Rishi Sunak ‘stand ready to take further measures’ – but the US WON’T join any retaliation after Biden urged Netanyahu to ‘take the win’

It can now count on five Shiite militia groups in Iraq, with 170,000 armed men. It has a friendly government in power in Baghdad.

It has bankrolled and fostered Hamas and Palestine Islamic Jihad in Gaza (who until recently had a combined 55,000 men under arms); another 30,000 militia in four groups in Syria (where it props up the evil Assad regime with massive loans); Hezbollah in Lebanon, with 45,000 under arms and 150,000 missiles aimed at Israel; and 30,000 Houthi in Yemen (as an added bonus to the south of the Arc).

The extent to which Iran gives military support to its proxies is unprecedented in modern history. Not only does it finance, arm and train them, it provides them with cruise and ballistic missiles. I can’t think of any other benefactor of terrorism who has been prepared to do that.

In the case of Hamas and Hezbollah, it even helps them develop their own arms industries so they don’t need to depend on imported weapons.

As several billion dollars in Western aid poured into Gaza because it was deemed to be a humanitarian basket case, Iran was providing Hamas with $300 million (£240 million) a year to create its own armaments industry.

The results are clear for all with eyes. Thanks to Iran, Hamas had the ability to launch its barbarous attack on Israel on October 7.

Hezbollah has rockets to spare to lob at Israel whenever it (or Iran) feels the need. The Houthis have attempted to control southern access to the Red Sea (with the help of Iranian spy ships).

Iran-backed militia groups in Syria and Iraq have launched scores of attacks on American bases in the region, causing 200 casualties and several deaths.

So Israel has good cause to retaliate after the weekend attacks. It just has to be mindful of how it does — and the consequences if it gets it wrong.

The Iranian missile and drone attack was rebuffed not just by the Israel Defense Forces but with the help of its allies: America above all, but also RAF fighter pilots. More significant, Jordan deployed its military assets to take out the Iranian missiles and drones when they entered its air space. That’s right. An Arab country used its military power to help defend the Jewish state.

I’m told that, along with the Americans, Saudi Arabia fed Israel with vital intelligence about Iranian intentions so that Israel could prepare for the attack. Thanks to its allies, very few Iranian missiles even made it to Israeli airspace.

It’s good to have friends when you’re up against Iran and its proxies. Even Western critics such as U.S. Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Canadian leader Justin Trudeau are again expressing solidarity. Israel must not forget that.

The Abraham Accords, agreed under President Trump, established diplomatic relations between Israel and Bahrain, the UAE, Morocco and Sudan. The rewards in terms of trade, military co-operation and, above all, the mingling of peoples at the highest level, have been substantial, much to Iran’s chagrin.

After too long a delay, President Biden belatedly sought to bring Saudi Arabia, the biggest prize of all, on board. Talks were going well. So much so that an appalled Iran gave Hamas the green light to attack on October 7, with the aim of scuppering the Biden plan. But, amazingly, Saudi participation in the Accords is still a runner. Again, something for Israel to keep in mind as it ponders its retaliation. For Saudi involvement would dismay Tehran.

Iran is out to undermine Israel and humiliate America. It has had too much success in both endeavours. Israel has every right to respond to the mass attack. There is too much loose talk about it leading to World War III if it does. This is designed to intimidate Israel into doing nothing. Even a robust Israeli response is unlikely to lead to a wider conflict. Iran knows it could not wage one successfully given Israel’s overwhelming superiority in air power.

How and when Israel responds is a matter for Israel. It just needs to keep in mind the wider picture. It cannot face down Iran without allies. It has these allies not just in America, Britain and much of the West but even among Arab nations, which is the major reason why, unlike 1973 or 1979, when the Middle East was wholly hostile to Israel and the West, the oil-price weapon has not been activated.

So do what you must, Israel, after the weekend’s appalling events. Just don’t lose your friends in the process.