All warfare is terrible and must be avoided at all costs. Where it becomes unavoidable, then terrible as it is it must be conducted within the carefully defined rules of the Geneva Conventions (even when one or other party may not be signatories). There must be a clearly defined reason for the war; it must not go on for one day longer than necessary; death and suffering must be minimised; civilian casualties avoided if at all possible; hostage taking, torture, terrorism are all war crimes.

As we face probably the bloodiest ground war the Middle East has ever seen- very probably starting this weekend and lasting for a month- it can only be right to contemplate what lies behind it.

First, there is no doubt about the ‘casus belli’. The Hamas attack last weekend was brutal, unjustified, and breached a whole range of internationally accepted laws and conventions. It would not be possible for Israel somehow or another to ignore it. Israel has sought to ‘contain’ Hamas within Gaza for decades; but last weekend’s outrage shows that that policy has simply failed. Israel is now perfectly justified in seeking the eradication of this terrorist organisation whose aim is to drive the Jews into the sea and destroy Israel for all time.

It will be an appalling campaign. Fighting in a built-up area is notoriously difficult, especially one which is criss-crossed by rat runs and tunnels of every kind. It will be booby-trapped at every corner and Hamas will ruthlessly use human shields, including the 100 or more kidnapped Israelis to try to prevent their own destruction. I fear that the death toll on both sides will be horrific, and the havoc amongst the civilian population unspeakable.

Despite the provocation, and despite those extreme difficulties on the ground, Israel must do all it can to conduct the operation within the internationally accepted norms and conventions of war. They must not lower themselves to the brutal depths of their enemy. It will not be easy, perhaps not even possible for them to do so. I would hope, for example, that humanitarian food and electricity might be allowed into Gaza, perhaps that civilians should have a safe route out (into Egypt?), although Hamas would probably not allow that since it would reduce their human shield.
Israel and the World must also contemplate why it was that Hamas carried out such a massive outrage in the first place. Quite plainly they knew that Israeli revenge would be swift and terrifying. Presumably that is exactly what they wanted, perhaps offering some kind of cover to allow a severe escalation, perhaps the ultimate Jihad? Hizbollah are already attacking Israel from Lebanon; Iran have their fingerprints all over this; and any kind of rapprochement between Israel and the Sunni Gulf States and Saudi Arabia is now probably impossible. In other words, may we be facing the possibility of all out war throughout much of the Middle East? Quite possibly. Never forget that Iran and Russia are also staunch allies in Ukraine, and spare a thought for Armenia/Azerbaijan, which seems to be blowing up. China has a shrewd long-term eye on the benefits to them in their rivalry with the USA. It’s a huge and complex geopolitical situation, and one which (rather like the Balkans before the First World War) needs only a spark (like Gaza) for a possibly massive conflagration with terrible consequences for the rest of the world.

These are terrible times indeed. We can but pray for a safe de-escalation of the war, and that it does not spread. The consequences otherwise are too awful to contemplate.