These are frightening times. American jets pound Iranian Revolutionary Guard bases in ravaged, unstable Syria. Immensely powerful American naval forces are assembled in the Eastern Mediterranean. The whole region is alive with danger.
And right at the centre of the crisis, the world waits to see whether or when Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu will launch a risky ground offensive into the Gaza Strip.
Experience shows such incursions are much easier to begin than they are to end, and this is complicated even further by the scores of hostages still held in Gaza by the bloodstained terrorists of Hamas.
The Arab and Muslim world is, meanwhile, convulsed with protest against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza, now under way for many days.
Israel is still in shock over the cruel, racist Hamas pogrom against defenceless civilians on October 7, which began this eruption of one of the planet’s oldest and most intractable conflicts.
The Arab and Muslim world is convulsed with protest against the Israeli bombardment of Gaza (pictured), now under way for many days
Jerusalem regards its bombing of Gaza as entirely reasonable and justified. The Western world, so far, has endorsed Israel’s policy. But now we approach a more complex and dangerous moment.
What we used to call The Holy Land is criss-crossed with tripwires which might widen the combat into full-scale warfare.
The key to this is Iran, and its powerful Lebanese proxy Hezbollah, as Richard Pendlebury’s compelling dispatch today illustrates so starkly. Britain has unrivalled experience and knowledge of this region. We remain deeply involved in it, and cannot stay out of any crisis there.
Up to this point, Israeli anger has been justified and proportionate. But a general war would benefit nobody, least of all the hostages for whose safety the world prays.
All involved should remember that coolness under fire and wise caution are not weakness. On the contrary, they are signs of strength.
A duty to both sides
Once again, London’s Metropolitan Police will be faced today with a major demonstration in favour of the Palestinian cause. Feelings are running high especially among Britain’s Muslim population, and it is good that these discontents should have unrestricted expression in our free country and its capital.
The demonstrators come from an important and valuable part of our society. The complex and often distressing history of the region quite reasonably engages their emotions.
If they sought to make their case in many Muslim nations, they would face severe monitoring or even the heavy-handed suppression of their protests. We, by contrast, have a sensible rule that you may say what you like, as long as your actions remain within the law. Yet this, in practice, is more complicated than it looks.
Once again, London’s Metropolitan Police will be faced today with a major demonstration in favour of the Palestinian cause. Pictured: Demonstrators in London protested last week in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza
Legitimate criticism of the actions of Israel is entirely protected by the high status we rightly give to liberty of thought, speech and assembly. But hostility and bigotry directed against Jews is unacceptable and should not be protected.
For we owe an equal duty to this country’s long-established Jewish population that they should never be – or even feel – threatened, as so many of them currently are, to the great shame of those who have openly behaved in anti-Semitic ways.
So the police have our complete support if they restrain expressions of bigotry, and if they act with swift and decisive measures against anything which even borders on incitement to violence.
We are sure that the organisers and leaders of the demonstration will entirely agree with this and that they will co-operate with the police in ensuring that the march is a peaceful and dignified expression of a legitimate point of view, and nothing else.