If brutal ruthlessness against civilians engenders long-running wars, then Israel’s merciless campaign in Gaza is seriously bad news for any hope of peace for decades – or even half a century, warns one senior military specialist. Richard Cullen reports.
BEN WALLACE WAS THE UK defence secretary from 2019 to 2023. Originally appointed by Boris Johnson, he also served in the post under Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak, prior to announcing his resignation from this position in August 2023.
Wallace understands war and conflict. He trained as a cadet at the Royal Military College in Sandhurst and joined the Scots Guards in 1991. Soon after transferring from active service in 1998 he was elected as a Conservative member of the Scottish Parliament, becoming a member of the UK Parliament in 2005. Once he stepped down as Defence Secretary, he was free to speak his mind on the horrific war in Gaza. And he did.
In a December interview (reported in The Telegraph and The Guardian) after the war on Gaza launched by Israel began, Wallace said that: “If he [Prime Minster Netanyahu] thinks a killing rage will rectify matters, then he is very wrong. His methods will not solve the problem. In fact, I believe his tactics will fuel the conflict for another 50 years.”
Wallace did not refer to particular examples to back up this assertion – at least, none were reported in the press reports of what he said. But it is reasonable to assume that he was drawing on his significant military experience and studies.
His candid remarks also prompted the recollection, for me, of one particular case study.
REMEMBERING A SPY
George Blake became a spy with Britain’s offshore Secret Intelligence Service MI6 in 1944. He was born as George Behar, in the Netherlands, in 1922. He later changed his name. His father, a naturalized British subject, was of Egyptian-Jewish origin and his mother was Dutch. In 1948, Blake was posted to the British Legation in Seoul by MI6 to gather intelligence on North Korea, China and the Soviet Far East.
The Korean War broke out in in June 1950 and the UK joined the United Nations command defending South Korea. North Korean forces swiftly overran Seoul, initially, and Blake was captured (along with other British diplomats) and later taken to North Korea, where he remained until released in 1953.
Blake agreed to become a double-agent, working for the Soviet Union, during his captivity. In subsequent discussions he revealed that he had been tempted by communism whilst studying at Cambridge and after reading the works of Karl Marx. He maintained, however, that his direct experience of seeing the Korean War unfold was what had convinced him to work for the USSR:
“It was the relentless bombing of small Korean villages by enormous American Flying Fortresses. … It made me feel ashamed of belonging to these overpowering, technically superior countries fighting against what seemed to me to be defenseless people. … I felt I was fighting on the wrong side.”[Click here for quote source: ]
Blake’s duplicity was subsequently revealed and he was sentenced, after a controversial in camera trial at the Old Bailey, to a total of 42 years imprisonment.
Five years after this term began, Blake, with assistance from at least three accomplices, managed a daring escape in 1966, arriving soon after in the USSR, via East Germany. Blake died in 2020, in Moscow, aged 98.
From a British standpoint, Blake was a traitor who had spied for the USSR, the UK’s primary adversary during the Cold War, whilst he was employed by MI6. His particular circumstances, set his case apart from more general instances of emphatic radicalization. But the tipping point identified by Blake – witnessing the horrific, homicidal American bombing of village civilians in Korea – signals how the use of overwhelming, military lethality against those who have zero capacity to defend themselves can be fundamentally radicalizing.
WARNING GRIMLY CONFIRMED
When we return to look at how Israel has chosen, as its primary response to the brutal Hamas attack on Israel on October 7, to indulge, uncompromisingly, in a “killing rage”, the cogency of the warning from Ben Wallace is grimly confirmed.
A range of human rights commentators and UN personal have graphically denounced the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) catastrophe unleashed on Gaza – with only one brief pause – for over 10 weeks (see, for example, this link).
The Palestinian death toll now, just in Gaza, is around 30,000, according to the Euro-Med Human Rights Monitor (including 481 health personnel and 101 journalists), with over 55,000 missing or dismembered or injured.
Around two million Gazans have been displaced (see this link.). And women and children have been worst affected (see this link.). Amputations without anesthetic for children have become common (see this link).
Various Israeli opinion leaders, including from within the government, have justified these horrors by labelling all Palestinians (in Gaza and beyond) as deserving of extreme punishment – because of their claimed association with Hamas (see here).
The generalized contempt shown for fellow human beings, not least women and children, is simply extraordinary.
South Africa has invoked the Genocide Convention Israel by formally launching a case against Israel in the UN’s International Court of Justice (see here). Israel’s almost immediate response was to label this move as profoundly antisemitic by calling it a “blood libel” (see here).
Frankly, given the terrible, bloody corner Israel has backed itself into, what else could they do? (See this.)
Gaza was, prior to the initiation of this extraordinary Israeli project to bomb it back into the Stone Age (and cleanse it of Palestinians), a remarkably clean and livable “open air prison camp” (see this).
Now, however after the massive, deliberate Israeli destruction of life and lives – and homes, shops, hospitals, schools, colleges and mosques, and more – you would have no idea of what went before.
EXPECTATIONS ARE VERY WRONG
Seemingly the Israeli government (and their Western backers, especially in the White House) think that if they can just get through this direct-mass-homicide and starvation-disease-expelling phase, the world will, in due course, look away and forget and Israel, along with Gaza, will eventually come out cleansed on the other side.
This sort of expectation is, as Ben Wallace says, “very wrong”. Presumably Israel does not want to build a worldwide reputation as an insistently violent and malignantly sinister apartheid state. That, however, is the outcome which the broad Gaza genocide project looks most likely to confirm, especially beyond the Global West. Wallace’s warning of where this will ultimately lead, is squarely on the money.
Many commentators from the West have aptly highlighted how Russia will have to live with serious, extended reputational damage after invading Ukraine almost two years ago – despite the prior provocations and whatever the outcome. That damage will be fractional, however, compared to the long-term character ruination now being incubated in Gaza, by Israel, for Israel.
Finally, there is something that Wallace did not headline, but which he will have surely considered: none of this bodes well for the receding geopolitical standing of Israel’s desperate, paramount ally based in the White House.
Richard Cullen is an adjunct law professor at the University of Hong Kong and a popular writer on current affairs.