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Bill Carmichael: West is fighting war not of our choosing

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JUST hours after MPs voted to take action against Islamic State in Syria, RAF Tornado jets targeted oil fields under the control of the terrorists in the early hours of yesterday morning.

Time for some deep breaths and sombre reflection. We should never forget that men and women in our Armed Forces are putting their lives on the line to try to keep us safe.

On balance, the Prime Minister carried the argument in the Commons on Wednesday night and there were some thoughtful contributions from both sides – not least an impassioned speech from Leeds Central MP Hilary Benn who called on Labour to honour its traditions by taking on and defeating fascism.

The contrast to his party leader, Jeremy Corbyn, who gave a colourless response, couldn’t be sharper. It seems Corbyn and his shadow Chancellor John McDonnell are steadfast against any bombing – unless it is carried out by Hamas, Hezbollah or the IRA.

What the peaceniks fail to understand is that the UK is already a target for the terrorists – and being nice to Daesh, the so-called Islamic State, won’t persuade them to leave us in peace.

But although I think the Commons got it right this week, I am still afflicted by an abiding and crushing pessimism – because I am not convinced it will make much difference.

Such is the depleted state of our Armed Forces – thanks to repeated Government cuts – that the RAF can deploy just 16 warplanes in the battle against Islamic State.

Our contribution is largely symbolic – although symbolism can be important when we stand with our allies in France and the USA against an existential threat.

Neither am I convinced over David Cameron’s 70,000 ‘moderate’ Islamists who will supposedly provide our ‘boots in the ground’.

The idea of ‘moderate’ jihadis is 
wishful thinking – they would all saw your head off as soon as look at you, and don’t forget they hate their fellow Muslims even more virulently than they hate us.

I believe we are in this for the very long haul. In the last few months the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has invited almost a million migrants from the jihadi hotbed of Syria into Europe without any security checks.

We already know that some of the militants who carried out the atrocities in Paris took advantage of Merkel’s invitation to infiltrate Europe.

There is likely to many more, and added to a significant number of homegrown extremists it presents a serious and growing threat to the West.

I sincerely hope I am wrong, but I 
fear the Paris attacks will become part 
of a regular pattern for many years to come.

We are not going to solve this problem by bombing a few oilfields in Syria, and our intervention will not persuade Muslims to end their murderous blood feud and be more tolerant towards one another.

Neither can we ever hope to persuade the two main protagonists in this never-ending Sunni-Shia civil war – the equally vile tyrannies of Saudi Arabia and Iran – to become civilised democracies.

So why back the bombing campaign?

Simply because if there is even a remote chance that our Armed Forces can act to keep us safer, we shouldn’t tie their hands behind their backs.

We should take every opportunity to disrupt and degrade Daesh’s ability to plan and carry out attacks in the West.

For example, if we have reliable intelligence that the leader of the Paris attacks is travelling in a car or staying at a ‘safe’ house in Raqqa, we should allow our forces to strike with a drone or a laser-guided bomb.

In effect we turn the idea of a guerilla war on its head – we become the fleet-footed and flexible insurgents, striking at our enemies when we can, and biding our time when we can’t.

Of course this means we may never feel entirely safe – but the jihadis should not feel safe either. As they plot their murder and mayhem they may be vaporized by a missile at any moment.

Never forget the West is fighting a defensive war not of our choosing. The jihadis declared war on the West in the mid 1990s – a long time before the invasion of Iraq. They want to destroy us simply because they hate us and we have no choice other than to fight or surrender.

One thing I can confidently predict – it won’t be all over by Christmas.