UK ministers are set to hold an emergency Cobra committee meeting to address concerns that the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas could increase the risk of domestic terrorist incidents in Britain. This follows a deadly attack by Hamas on Israel more than three weeks ago, which has since escalated tensions and prompted calls for heightened security measures in the UK.
Home Secretary Suella Braverman will meet with national security officials and police at No 10 on Monday to assess the current security risks. This meeting comes after a Cobra meeting chaired by Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden took place on Thursday, where discussions centred around delivering aid to Gaza.
In an interview with Times Radio, Education Minister Robert Halfon highlighted the importance of ensuring the safety and security of British citizens. “We have to make sure that British citizens are safe and secure from the threat of terrorism, as the government always does,” Halfon stated.
The heightened tensions have also led to an increase in antisemitic and Islamophobic incidents in Britain. Massive pro-Palestinian demonstrations have been held in various major cities, including London, while Jewish groups have conducted vigils for hostages taken by militants.
Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley spoke about the complexity of the current situation, with an increase in activity from Iranian-backed groups in the UK. “When you’ve got state threats from Iran, you’ve got terrorism being accelerated by the events and hate crime in communities. For Jewish communities, it’s now about a 14-fold increase in antisemitism in London, and for Muslim communities, it’s nearly threefold. So this is really precarious,” Rowley told Sky News.
The surge in antisemitism has also led Braverman to urge police officers to crack down on any attempts to use flags, songs, or swastikas to harass or intimidate Jewish people. Halfon, who is Jewish, described the current situation as “frightening” and “scary” for Jewish people in England. He recounted instances of Jewish schools having to close their doors and Jewish students being harassed on campuses.
Amidst these tensions, the UK government’s MI5 intelligence agency has classified the threat to the country from terrorism as “substantial,” meaning an attack is likely. There are two higher categories of threat level – “severe,” indicating that an attack is highly likely, and “critical,” suggesting an attack is highly likely in the near future.
This complex web of security challenges comes as Foreign Secretary James Cleverly is in Abu Dhabi for talks aimed at getting humanitarian aid into Gaza and facilitating the exit of civilians, including British nationals. Approximately 200 UK nationals in Gaza have contacted the Foreign Office, seeking assistance to leave the region.
The UK government is calling for a pause in the fighting, as opposed to the ceasefire being advocated by the United Nations and other international entities. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has argued that Tel Aviv has the right to defend itself as it seeks to rescue the more than 239 hostages seized by Hamas.