Is this man the IDF’s best British friend?

By Leon Symons, July 23, 2009
Col Kemp’s BBC interview during the Gaza War is a big hit on YouTube

Col Kemp’s BBC interview during the Gaza War is a big hit on YouTube

Speaking up for the Israel Defence Force is unlikely to win many friends — but it has turned one man into the most unlikely new star on YouTube.

Colonel Richard Kemp was the commander of British forces in Afghanistan in 2003 and even he admits he is surprised by his new-found fame.

A video of a talk he gave last month to the Jerusalem Centre for Public Affairs with the somewhat sombre title of “Hamas, the Gaza War and Accountability under International Law” has been viewed more than 7,000 times, and a BBC interview he conducted during the Gaza War in January has been seen 55,000 times.

In both, he said that the IDF did more to safeguard the welfare of civilians during Operation Cast Lead “than any other army in the history of warfare”.

It is a message he has been repeating since the war in Gaza in January.

So why is this former senior British army officer publicly defending the Israeli army?

“The moment the IDF starts to do anything around military operations, they are condemned by the media. I have seen it over many years and as a professional soldier, I object to that,” said Col Kemp this week.

“I have worked alongside some of their officers and I have studied what they do. I’m not saying this because I ‘love’ the IDF; it is completely wrong for soldiers to be condemned in the way they are.

“I want to give an objective view on what they are doing and about the criticism levelled against them.”

He worked closely with the IDF as commanding officer in Afghanistan, when he discovered there was no set way of dealing with suicide attacks.

“I developed a policy with considerable input from the IDF. That policy was then adopted across the army and was used in Iraq as well as Afghanistan. The US experienced a high level of suicide attacks in Iraq and to a lesser extent in Afghanistan. We had some experience but not like the Israelis,” he said.

“In recent years, the fighting the Israelis have done in Lebanon and Gaza and elsewhere is very relevant to the kind of fighting that British forces have been doing since 2001 in Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as coping with our own terrorist problems at home.”

He said the IDF experience was rarely mentioned by fellow officers, most of whom have had little contact with it.

“If I’m asked about my views of what the IDF is, or to interpret what they are doing, I am more than happy to give them,” said Col Kemp, who has written several articles for the JC.

“Like every army, the IDF has got its problems. They can of course improve on the way they do things but so can the British Army. Look at some of the horrendous things the British Army is doing, terrible things in Iraq that should not have been allowed.

“Of course mistakes are made and things happen but this is a democratically accountable government. I try to make my view objective.

“A lot of people have an agenda and try to cast doubt on the IDF’s legality.”

Col Kemp, 50, joined the army straight from school in 1977 and retired after 30 years’ service in almost every war Britain has been involved in since he signed up, including both Gulf wars, Iraq, Bosnia and Northern Ireland.

He has even included references to the IDF’s advice on suicide attacks in a new non-fiction book called Attack State Red, due to be published in September, that gives an insight to the ordinary man in the street into what battle is like for soldiers.

Last updated: 5:23pm, July 23 2009