The contagion of war could spread with lethal consequences for the world - Patrick Mercer

Today there will be two minutes’ silence at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the month and, despite the chaos that elements of our society would like to bring to these sacred seconds, the majority of us will fall quiet and reflect on the ‘wars to end all wars’.

The trouble is, that phrase was uttered after the First World War - but it didn’t stop another bout two decades later. Now, of course, we have bitter, regional conflicts raging with an intensity that we haven’t seen since 1945 and I fear that these could all too easily escalate into a war or rash of wars that would be only too familiar to our fathers and grandfathers.

In Israel their General Staff announced a few days ago that they had encircled Gaza City in the beginning of a ‘significant operation’ whilst nuclear tipped US warships arrived in the eastern Mediterranean. Meanwhile, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei had intense discussions with Hamas Political Bureau Chairman Ismail Haniyeh in Tehran and Russia prepared a long range fleet of aircraft armed with Kinzhal missiles to patrol the Black Sea. Kinzhal, of course, fly so fast that they cannot be intercepted and they can be armed with a number of different warheads including chemical and nuclear.

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Whilst calls for a ceasefire from deeply concerned onlookers right through to political opportunists echo round the parliaments of the world, others fear a domino-like effect unless the fighting is brought to an end quickly. Ask yourself, why are nuclear armed American warships in the Mediterranean? They are no use against Hamas terrorists, even ones in tunnels. They would be very effective against Iranian targets, though. Similarly, why are Russian aircraft patrolling in an area where, according to the Kremlin, they have ‘visual control’ over the Med?

Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv, Ukraine, earlier this year. PIC: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA WireUkrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv, Ukraine, earlier this year. PIC: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA Wire
Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky with the Defence Secretary Grant Shapps in Kyiv, Ukraine, earlier this year. PIC: Ukrainian Presidential Press Office/PA Wire

Then consider what happens if Iranian targets are attacked by US forces. I have no doubt that Neocon elements in Washington would be delighted to take advantage of what’s happening to put an end to Iranian expansionism. This, though, would certainly involve Syria where there are Russian bases which would have to be attacked too. It doesn’t take too much imagination to envisage how the contagion might spread and what would be the lethal consequences.

Now, just a few, short weeks ago the pundits had their eyes firmly fixed on Ukraine with many predicting a similar Armageddon there unless that war was brought to a close. Where is it now? There’s hardly a mention of what’s going on; it’s as if the fixation of every fireside fusilier for the past couple of years has ceased to exist once a newer, closer, shinier war dominates the 6 o’clock bulletins. Well, Ukraine ain’t gone nowhere, it’s killing people hand over fist and it’s even more dangerous now that the Middle Eastern jigsaw has fitted in snugly around it.

It’s fair to say that the West’s distraction with Israel has caused a turning point to be reached in Ukraine. Ammunition, money and equipment that was destined for Kiev has now been diverted to Israel with some sources saying that orders have been given that no more offensive operations are to be undertaken, only defensive ones.

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That makes sense as the weather turns and materiel is suddenly in short supply. The Russians might be allowed to exhaust themselves whilst Ukraine’s lads regroup, but - and it’s a huge but - for the first time Kiev’s sources are saying that as a result of their shocking casualties, manpower is running short. The new conscription cycle of all 16 year old boys and some girls will take months to become effective; meanwhile, there’s no point in providing new weapons if there isn’t the manpower to heft them.

What should President Zelensky do?

His options are stark. He could go all-out, abandon the defence of civilians and infrastructure, use everything he’s got and hope to penetrate to the Sea of Azov cutting the Russian forces in two.

He might hunker down for the winter, not risk any more offensives, hope that Russia can be kept at bay whilst he waits for fresh conscripts to arrive and pray for the situation in Israel to become less tense. Well, that might work, but will an overstretched, broke West really be willing to return to how things were in early October?

He could invite NATO - or elements thereof headed by Poland - to come to his assistance.

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Or, he could treat for peace. Bear in mind that he was on the point of doing this in April 2022 but now Russia holds a far greater slice of his country than they did then.

Fine, but Russia has a view too and I don’t sense that the Kremlin wants peace yet. I think she scents victory now the West has turned its face away. I believe that everything - in Moscow’s view - hangs on the US election next year and what sort of a deal can be cut over the corpse of Ukraine.

I hope I’m wrong; I hope that sense will prevail; and I hope we’ll never forget the sacrifice of two world wars.

Patrick Mercer is a former MP for Newark and Army colonel.