MARK ALMOND: Israel risks starting a multi-front war it can never win. And the rest of us  could be dragged in as well

The deadly airstrike that killed three Britons and four other aid workers in Gaza on Monday has debunked any assumption that the West will continue indefinitely backing Israel in its war against Hamas terrorists.

The carnage caused by Israeli drones is as shocking as it is baffling. How could the Israeli Air Force have launched it when the aid convoy was so clearly marked and the Israelis were aware of its whereabouts?

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu described the attack as “a tragic case of our forces unintentionally hitting innocent people in the Gaza Strip,” before smugly adding: “This happens in wartime.”

But that’s not good enough. The optics of this – the unnecessary slaughter of well-meaning young people trying to help the underprivileged in the most dangerous place on earth – couldn’t be worse.

The war between Israel and Hamas has dragged on for seven months since the massacre of 1,200 Israelis by terrorists on October 7. Hamas, of course, caused the terrible human damage suffered by Palestinian civilians in Gaza through their frenzy.

The airstrike on the aid convoy killed seven personnel, including three British nationals

But the global sympathy that Israel benefited from after the attack is quickly disappearing. Against the backdrop of the brutal destruction of Gaza, the ever-rising death toll and the hunger that haunts the depressed region, this terrible mistake will only fuel claims that Israel is bent on trigger-happy revenge, whatever the consequences.

The fact that at least two of the three Britons killed are former Marines, and the other fatalities are from the US and Australia – both staunch allies of Israel – only makes matters worse.

Like I said, we need to keep things in perspective. None of this would have happened if the monstrous terrorists of Hamas had not begun their grotesque attack on Israel.

But Israel must heed the fact that its Western allies are increasingly warning Netanyahu’s government to limit the civilian damage caused by the war to crush the terrorists there.

Yet humanitarian concerns are not the only ones troubling Israel’s Western allies. They are deeply concerned about being drawn into a bigger war. There is a palpable fear that the conflict in Gaza threatens peace and stability far beyond Israel.

Also on Monday, Israeli F-35 stealth bombers struck a conclave of the Jewish state’s deadly enemies at the Iranian consulate in the Syrian capital Damascus.

Senior Iranian commanders of the Islamic Republic’s Revolutionary Guards, who coordinate anti-Israel activities with Palestinian jihadists and Lebanese Shia Hezbollah militants, were killed.

There is no need to mourn them, but we cannot ignore the truth that killing bad guys can have bad consequences.

One of the vehicles of the World Central Kitchen aid convoy hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza

One of the vehicles of the World Central Kitchen aid convoy hit by an Israeli airstrike in Gaza

An official inspects the damage to an aid convoy vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza

An official inspects the damage to an aid convoy vehicle in Deir Al-Balah, Gaza

The Israelis wanted to reduce the chance that Iran would coordinate actions against them along their northern borders with Lebanon and Syria. Missiles launched from these two countries could cause serious damage to Israel, because Iran is sending its proxies serious hardware.

But does Israel risk setting the entire Middle East on fire by provoking Iran’s ayatollahs to take revenge?

The conflict has already spread. Egypt and the vital Suez Canal have suffered disruption as Yemen’s Houthis attack Western shipping in support of Hamas.

Neutral Jordan could also be brought in soon. The Israeli F-35s flew over Jordan to attack the capital of Syria by surprise. They have achieved that, but their violation of Jordanian neutrality puts pressure on the pro-Western government because so much of the population are Palestinians sympathetic to their cousins ​​in Gaza.

One reason for the Israeli bombers’ circuitous flight path was to avoid Russian-manned anti-aircraft defenses west and north of Damascus. The presence of thousands of Russian soldiers in Syria in areas where Iranian and Hezbollah forces also operate means that a clash between Putin’s forces and Israel cannot be ruled out.

US troops are also present in eastern Syria and Iraq. They have already faced sporadic drone attacks by local pro-Iranian militias.

The risk that an Israeli-Iranian war will drag in the superpowers, already at odds over Ukraine, cannot be ignored. Iran could aspire to go nuclear, as Israel fears, but does not yet have the bomb. Israel, Russia and the US are nuclear powers – and many fear Netanyahu is playing with fire and gambling recklessly to save his political skin.

Before the war broke out, he faced calls to resign over corruption allegations. His wafer-thin parliamentary majority was threatened. The Hamas attacks in October punctured his reputation as Israel’s ‘Mr Security’, although ironically the war saved his political career for the time being.

If Netanyahu’s instinct for political survival leads him to expand the Gaza war, he may find he has few friends left among Israel’s traditional allies.

Because not only would it be bad for his own country, but it could also set the rest of us on fire.

Mark Almond is director of the Crisis Research Institute, Oxford.