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President Biden’s sagacious advice to Israel – “take the win” – expressed relief that Iran’s attack on Israel last weekend had been thwarted, and warned that this result did not warrant a further escalation of the conflict with Iran. As a sporting metaphor, it tells a winning team not to question its victory but to rejoice, go home and move on. Whether Israel was in a mood to take that advice is another matter. It will know that tit-for-tat armed exchanges can get out of hand, even if they are meant to be limited.

It has to be aware that what stopped the attack, literally in its tracks, was not just the skill of the Israeli air force but the contribution of various allies, led by the United States but including the RAF, the Jordanian and French air forces and several others. Without that international ad hoc coalition, many of the 300-plus cruise missiles, ballistic missiles and armed drones sent from Iran could have reached Israeli soil, with possibly severe consequences; some ballistic missiles did, but caused limited damage. Even though it signalled its attack in advance, it is hard to doubt that Iran wanted a more spectacular result and was recklessly playing with fire.

Iran is not popular in the region. It is not an Arab nation. It promotes its official religion, Shia Islam, to make trouble in neighbouring countries, which are mainly Arab followers of Sunni Islam. Israel of course is universally unpopular in the Middle East. It was so, long before Hamas broke its implicit truce with Israel and launched its horrific attack on innocent

Israelis on 7 October, in spite of improved diplomatic relations between Israel and some Arab states. The brutal way Israel has responded in Gaza has increased this antipathy. Nevertheless, events have confirmed that there are regional alliances waiting to be brokered. Last weekend’s improvised coalition creates a precedent. If Israel decides it must respond to Iran’s attack, it would do well to retaliate in a way that does not jeopardise these opportunities.

The United States has said it does not want to be part of any such retaliation. It has already demanded that Israel should not launch a ground attack on the area of southern Gaza around Rafah where more than a million Palestinian refugees have taken shelter, and it refused to veto a Security Council resolution demanding an immediate ceasefire.

So the US and other countries willing to defend Israel have to take some moral responsibility for how Israel conducts itself. Countries which supply arms to other countries do so under legal conditions restricting their use. They do not appear to have policed those conditions strictly enough. The heavy toll of civilian casualties in Gaza must weigh on the conscience of the leaders of nations friendly to Israel. But it would be wrong to suppose that Iran’s leaders – unpopular at home and mistrusted by Arab nations – have any special interest in the plight of the Palestinians. They have their own agenda: the destruction of Israel and the ultimate triumph of militant, hard-line Shia Islam throughout the Muslim world.



The report by Dr Hilary Cass into the care of children and young people who are questioning their gender identity or experiencing gender dysphoria should awaken Britain to a serious deficiency in the way it treats young people. The present generation is one of the least happy on record, and the incidence of mental ill-health is running far ahead of the capacity to deal with it. Gender confusion makes the headlines because of a bitter ideological wrangle between advocates of so-called gender theory and their opponents. This is made worse by attempts to gain political advantage for and against what is called “woke”, initially referring to those who had “awoken” to the implicit racism of American society, now more often used pejoratively.

This leads to such extraordinary consequences as attempts in official documents, for instance inside the NHS, to avoid using the term “women”. Thanks to the campaigning efforts of the lobby group Stonewall, defence of gender theory has become linked to the advocacy of LGBT rights in general. What Dr Cass has done is to take it out of that highly controversial context and made it an issue of mental-health provision, where it surely belongs. What she has uncovered is evidence that many young people experiencing gender confusion are suffering from other types of confusion as well, with poor mental health often a common factor. Autism spectrum disorder is a familiar feature, as is anxiety and depression. Internalised homophobia is another factor, where a young man or woman rejects the idea that they may be gay and chooses instead to describe their feelings as having a trans or gender-diverse identity. Dr Cass concluded that for most young people a medical pathway will not be the best way to manage their gender-related distress.

Attempts to discover if a young person’s gender confusion is real and permanent or a symptom of something else have run into ideological resistance on the basis that such feelings need to be reinforced and “affirmed” rather than analysed with a view to a possible need for treatment. This has made specialists who may have had something to offer wary of engagement. Dr Cass accepts that gender dysphoria can be objectively real. Clearly society’s acceptance of “what it means to be human” needs to expand to acknowledge this, provided it also understands that being a young person can, perfectly normally, be a time of existential anguish and uncertainty. Society’s own lowering of the boundaries between masculinity and femininity has weakened the sense that there is a basic reality behind the experience of being a man or a woman. What is “normal”? Past generations had more confident answers. So young people bewildered by this complexity can grab at offered certainties to steady themselves. But to demonise alternative options as “bigotry” is to make accurate discernment and diagnosis more difficult, and more dangerous. And if this applies to some gender theory activists, it may equally apply, on the other side, to Pope Francis.

2 | THE TABLET | 20 APRIL 2024

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