One of the big snags in British premier David Cameron’s new plans for British air strikes against the Islamic State in Syria, as well as Iraq, is their snail-like tempo against a fast-moving enemy. This week, when Cameron advocated more spending on defense, focusing on “more spy planes, drones, Special Forces,” and Tornados, he said he would ask parliament to reverse the decision it reached in August 2013 to exclude “strikes against the Syrian President Bashar Assad.”
But UK Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said the Government has “made it clear it is a decision for the new parliament to take. We are not planning an early vote on it,” he said.
The debate and a new vote on the Syrian extension will therefore be put off for parliament’s autumn session. Cameron’s plan will not start taking off before the winter of 2015-2016. But then, the region’s harsh weather conditions will keep British bombers grounded for days on end. Therefore, no effective British bombing campaign over Syria may get underway before the spring of 2016.
Even then, it won’t be able to snap into action because of the four insuperable constraints outlined here by DEBKA Weekly’s military and intelligence experts:
Outdated planes, unready Special Forces
1. The British army doesn’t have drones comparable to the American Predator or Israel’s Hermes 3 and Hermes 4 that are capable of shooting missiles with damaging effect on targets.
2. They also lack the right military and intelligence infrastructure for operating the drones on combat missions.
3. The Royal Air Force’s Tornado warplanes are outdated. The Eurofighter’s Typhoon multi-role aircraft, which went into RAF service in 2003, is not new either. The Eurofighter’s stealthy cruise missile will not be fully operational on the Typhoons before mid-2016 at the earliest.
4. The Special Air Service (SAS) commando force is not only a small outfit, but it is scattered across a wide area from Afghanistan to the Middle East. To be effective, it needs substantial infrastructure investment in training, intelligence, means of deployment/insertion/extraction, command and control and support logistics.
Even the much larger US elite SEALs, Delta and Rangers units are rarely directly deployed in action against ISIS in Iraq or Syria, except for tightly focused operations.
The only country deploying more substantial Special Forces in Syria is Jordan – and on a far smaller scale, Israel.
Five years of budget cuts cut military units by 30 percent
These shortcomings are the fruit of nearly five years of budget cutbacks in an effort to solve Britain’s pressing economic problems. The previous Cameron government slashed defense spending by 10 billion euros (roughly $15 billion) and cut manpower strength to the bone by 30 percent in all military units.
Cameron is now determined to haul the wheel back under the shocking impact of the June 26 ISIS attack on a Tunisian beach, which left 38 British and other holidaymakers dead. The massacre was obviously timed for the 10th anniversary of the 2005 London Transport terrorist attack, which killed 52 people and injured 700, and was a flagrant act of war against the UK.
On his orders, the government has committed an extra £1 billion a year for the Ministry of Defense to spend by 2020, with a further £1.5billion split between the armed forces and intelligence agencies.
“As Prime Minister, I will always put the national security of our country first,” he said. “That’s why it is right that we spend 2 percent of our GDP on defense because this investment helps to keep us safe.”
He went on to say: “I have tasked the Defense and Security Chiefs to look specifically at how we do more to counter the threat posed by ISIL (aka ISIS) and Islamist extremism.”
While the added outlay will no doubt eventually beef up the manpower strength and capabilities of the British armed forces, homegrown Islamic extremism is being belatedly recognized as the number one threat to Britain’s security, after successive British governments chose to sweep it under the rug.
Islamic terror – overseas not within
According to DEBKA Weekly’s analysts, the UK is paying in full for its 55-year old policy of welcoming large Muslim communities from the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent to its shores. Anglo-Muslims today number 4.5 million and make up 5 percent of the population of the United Kingdom.
The pursuit of this policy in the sixties had complicated motives. The less obvious one was to gain UK intelligence access to the relocated communities as a strategic asset for preserving British economic and other interests in the source countries, after those countries were decolonized.
London also hoped to show Washington and US intelligence services that Britain alone had the ability to house and control a large Muslim community. This was intended to raise the UK’s value as a NATO ally and enhance its “special relationship” with the United States.
Because of those considerations, British security services neglected to take into account the potential domestic hazards of transplanting large Muslim groups and embedding them into the fabric of life in Britain. They counted on the multicultural creed to maintain social equilibrium. British security authorities were therefore slow to pick up on the first symptoms of dissident violence, certain that Islamic terror was an external threat – not one that lurked within.
A Muslim cabinet minister: British Muslims refuse to condemn terror
This perception still persists, as was apparent in the British prime minister’s military approach to the war on terror – i.e., ISIL and “Islamist extremism.”
He seemed not have heard the blunt warning coming from his own Business Secretary Sajid Javid, the only Muslim cabinet minister, who said on BBC1’s Andrew Marr Show Sunday, July 12: “British Muslims who refuse to condemn extremist attacks like the one in Tunisia, are ‘taking children to the door’ of the terrorists.
He warned that there are Imams in UK mosques who refuse to condemn terrorist atrocities.
“I do think there are too many people – let’s call them non-violent extremists – who feed this ideology. They may not agree with terrorism… but they might agree with the narrative.”
Even while her cabinet colleague called a spade a spade, Home Secretary Theresa May Tuesday, July 14, eschewed the term “terrorism” in a program she launched against what she called the "hatred, bigotry and ignorance" of extremists, who seek to undermine the values of democracy, equality and free speech.
She spoke of a “counter-extremism” policy against radical preachers, to make membership or fundraising for a group that “spreads or promotes hatred” a criminal offence, punishable by a maximum sentence of up to 10 years in prison.
Islamist terrorism – never in he UK, only overseas
In other words, “Islamist terrorism” is only committed overseas; on home ground it is called “hatred” and treated as a crime like any other. Semantics are hobbling the recognition of and struggle against homegrown terror, which an enlarged budget will not curb. In the end, when British bombers start attacking ISIS targets in Syria, the Islamists will hit back with terror attack in UK cities, using British Muslims converted to the jihadist cause. Treating them as criminals rather than terrorists will not stop the two halves of the problem coming together with a huge bang under the same unmentionable label of “Islamist terrorism.”