by Dick Barry
Bombing Iraq. Here We Go Again.
Parliament was recalled on 26 September, following an absence of two weeks, to debate a Government motion calling for the UK to support the so-called international coalition against the Islamic State (IS). The motion reads as follows:
That this House condemns the barbaric acts of ISIL against the people of Iraq including the Sunni, Shia, Kurds, Christians and Yazidi and the humanitarian crisis this is causing; recognises the clear threat ISIS poses to the territorial integrity of Iraq and the request from the Government of Iraq for military support from the international community and the specific request to the UK Government for such support; further recognises the threat ISIL poses to wider international security and the UK directly through its sponsorship of terrorist attacks and its murder of a British hostage; acknowledges the broad coalition contributing to military support of the Government of Iraq including countries throughout the Middle East; further acknowledges the request of the Government of Iraq for international support to defend itself against the threat ISIL poses to Iraq and its citizens and the clear legal basis that this provides for action in Iraq; notes that this motion does not endorse UK air strikes in Syria as part of this campaign and any proposals to do so would be subject to a separate vote in Parliament; accordingly supports Her Majesty’s Government, working with allies, in supporting the Government of Iraq in protecting civilians and restoring its territorial integrity, including the use of UK air strikes to support Iraqi, including Kurdish, security forces’ efforts against ISIL in Iraq; notes that Her Majesty’s Government will not deploy UK troops in ground combat operations; and offers its wholehearted support to the men and women of Her Majesty’s armed forces.
The request from the Government of Iraq for military support in the fight against ISIL is, in reality, a request for others to fight their war for them. The Iraqi military are a useless force in spite of earlier boasts from Cameron and Obama that western training had turned them into a fighting machine. Only a few weeks ago 1,300 ISIL jihadists killed thousands of Iraqi troops which led to senior Iraqi officers fleeing the scene of action.
It has been said by many commentators, including British ex-military senior personnel, that air bombing alone will not defeat ISIL. ISIL have a greater capacity to fight than their opponents. Their will is stronger and they believe the fruits of victory are worth dying for. There is no comparable initiative or incentive on the other side, including, one suggests, among British or American military.
In his opening remarks, Cameron said, “There is no more serious an issue than asking our armed forces to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country…” But bombing from 30,000 feet, or from whatever height, will not put the armed forces directly in harm’s way. ISIL have surface-to-air missiles, but as they are said to be not very effective, there is minimum risk to aircraft. Deploying troops at ground level would be a much greater risk, but the motion rules that out. Beheading hostages is condemned as a barbaric act. But so is bombing from relative safety, particularly when it results in the deaths of innocent civilians as it has done on many occasions, and will do in the current operation.
Interestingly, ISIL have been beheading people from the beginning of their mission, but it was only when western hostages, notably American, were beheaded that the US and Britain cried foul.
A number of MPs made the point that we are involving ourselves in a conflict that could go on for years without any idea of the end result. Cameron himself told Denis Skinner that it will take “not just months, but years”. It could take years because the Iraqi troops lined up against ISIL are obviously, in Cameron’s eyes, not up to the job. The Kurdish PKK are fierce fighters, but it is listed as a terrorist group by the west. It is difficult therefore to imagine that British and American troops will not be involved at ground level at some time in the near future.
This is not our fight and getting involved in it will surely make Britain’s civilian population a target for attack by jihadists. It is simply disingenuous of Cameron and co. to argue that our involvement will make Britain’s streets safer. But perhaps Britain’s love of war overrides all else.
One final point. Cameron said that Obama described ISIL as a “network of death”. Well, Obama ought to know. Over the last 60 years, the US military and secret services have been responsible for the deaths of more civilians throughout the world, and used chemical weapons to do so, than ISIL, however barbaric they are, will ever do.
The following sets out the bulk of Cameron’s speech. Plus speeches from George Galloway and Tory backbencher Richard Bacon. The contributions from most Labour backbenchers were saturated with emotion, lacking logic and reason.
Mr David Cameron:
The question before the House today is how we keep the British people safe from the threat posed by ISIL and, in particular, what role our armed forces should play in the international coalition to dismantle and ultimately destroy what President Obama has rightly called “this network of death”.
There is no more serious an issue than asking our armed forces to put themselves in harm’s way to protect our country, and I want to set out today why I believe it is necessary. If we are to do this a series of questions must be answered.
Is this in our national interest? In particular, is there a direct threat to the British people? Is there a comprehensive plan for dealing with this threat? Is the military element necessary? Is it necessary for us to take part in military action? Is it legal for us to take part? Will we be doing so with the support of local partners, and will doing this add up to a moral justification for putting the lives of British servicemen and women on the line? And above all, do we have a clear idea of what a successful outcome will look like, and are we convinced that our strategy can take us there?
I want to address each of those questions head on—first, our national interest. Is there a threat to the British people? The answer is yes. ISIL has already murdered one British hostage and is threatening the lives of two more. The first ISIL-inspired terrorist acts in Europe have already taken place, with, for instance, the attack on the Jewish museum in Brussels. Security services have disrupted six other known plots in Europe, as well as foiling a terrorist attack in Australia aimed at civilians, including British and American tourists.
ISIL is a terrorist organisation unlike those we have dealt with before. The brutality is staggering: beheadings, crucifixions, the gouging out of eyes, the use of rape as a weapon and the slaughter of children. All these things belong in the dark ages, but it is not just brutality; it is backed by billions of dollars and has captured an arsenal of the most modern weapons.
In the space of a few months, ISIL has taken control of territory that is greater than the size of Britain and is making millions selling oil to the Assad regime. It has already attacked Lebanon and boasts of its designs right up to the Turkish border. This is not a threat on the far side of the world; left unchecked, we will face a terrorist caliphate on the shores of the Mediterranean and bordering a NATO member, with a declared and proven determination to attack our country and our people. This is not the stuff of fantasy; it is happening in front of us; and we need to face up to it.
Next, is there a clear, comprehensive plan? Yes. It starts at home with tough, uncompromising action to prevent attacks and hunt down those who are planning them. As the House knows, we are introducing new powers. These include strengthening our ability to seize passports and to stop suspects travelling, stripping British nationality from dual nationals and ensuring airlines comply with our no-fly lists. And in all this, we are being clear about the cause of the terrorist threat we face. As I have said before, that means defeating the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism, by tackling all forms of extremism, not just the violent extremists. So we are banning preachers of hate, proscribing organisations that incite terrorism and stopping people inciting hatred in our schools, universities and prisons.
Of course, some will say that any action we take will further radicalise young people. I have to say that that is a counsel of despair. The threat of radicalisation is already here. Young people have left our country to go and fight with these extremists. We must take action at home, but we must also have a comprehensive strategy to defeat these extremists abroad.
Mr Denis Skinner:
On a comprehensive strategy, there are two questions the Prime Minister has not put to himself: how long will this war last and when will mission creep start?
Mr David Cameron:
Let me answer that very directly: this mission will take not just months, but years, and I believe we have to be prepared for that commitment. The reason for that is that America, Britain and others are not—I think quite rightly—contemplating putting combat troops on the ground. There will be troops on the ground, but they will be Iraqi and Kurdish troops, and we should be supporting them in all the ways that I will describe.
My second point is that Britain’s involvement must be in training, arming and giving strategic support and planning. Many have already suggested that links with the Free Syrian Army, the Kurds and the Iraqi army need to be enhanced, but this is an area in which the British military excel. We need to ensure that we do everything that we can to help train, arm and provide strategic support and planning. Those are issues at which Britain is undoubtedly one of the best in the world.
Mr Speaker, time does not permit me to tell you how many million of times “I told you so” is currently being said in the country—or will be once people read of this debate. Millions of ordinary people knew what the expensive talent governing our country did not know, namely that there was no al-Qaeda in Iraq and that there was no Islamist fundamentalism in Iraq before Mr Blair—and his mouthpieces who are still here— and Mr Bush invaded and occupied the country. What a tangled web we have woven is abundantly clear to everyone watching this debate. The mission creep has not even waited for the end of the debate. The words on the motion are about bombing Iraq, but there is a consensus here that there will be boots on the ground, the only question being whose boots they will be.
The debate has been characterised by Members of Parliament moving around imaginary armies. The Free Syrian Army is a fiction that has been in the receipt of hundreds of millions of dollars and hundreds of tonnes of weapons, virtually all of which were taken away from them by al-Qaeda, which has now mutated into ISIL. The Iraqi army is the most expensively trained and most modernly equipped army in history. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent on the Iraqi army, which ran away leaving its equipment behind. ISIL itself is an imaginary army. A former Defence Secretary no less said that we must bomb its bases. It does not have any bases. The territory that its personnel control is the size of Britain and yet there are only between 10,000 and 20,000 of them. Do the maths. They do not concentrate as an army They do not live in bases. The only way that a force of that size could successfully hold the territory it holds is if the population acts as the water in which it swims. The population is quiescent because of western policies and western invasion and occupation. That is the truth of the matter. ISIL could not survive for five minutes if the tribes in the west of Iraq rose up against it.
Ian Austin (Lab.):
Does the hon. Gentleman understand how appalled people will be to hear him say that women who have been buried alive or enslaved have been quiescent in their persecution by these people. What a total disgrace.
They don’t like it up them, Mr Speaker. They would rather have an imaginary debate, moving around imaginary armies. ISIL is a death cult. It is a gang of terrorist murderers. It is not an army and is certainly not an army that will be destroyed by aerial bombardment. ISIL is able to rule the parts of Iraq that it does because nobody in those parts has any confidence in the Government in Baghdad, a sectarian Government helped into power by Bremer and the deliberate sectarianism of Iraqi politics by the occupation authorities. The Government know that. That was why they pushed al-Maliki out—even though he won the election, by the way, if we are talking about democracy. They pushed him out because they knew that far too many people in ISIL-occupied Iraq had no confidence in the Baghdad Government. Nobody has any confidence in the army emanating out of Baghdad. This will not be solved by bombing. We have been bombing Iraqis for 100 years. We dropped the world’s first chemical bombs on them in the 1920s. We attacked them and helped to kill their King in the 1930s. We helped in the murder of their President in 1963, helping the Ba’ath party into power. We bombed them again through the 1990s.
Emma Reynolds (Lab.):
I am sure we are all ever so grateful for the lecture, but what is the hon. Gentleman’s solution to this problem?
Now that I have an extra minute, thanks to the hon. Lady, I will be able to tell her. This will not be solved by bombing; every matter will be made worse. Extremism will spread further and deeper around the world, just as happened as a result of the Iraq war. The people outside can see it, but the fools in here, who draw a big salary and big expenses, cannot or will not see it, like the hon. Lady with her asinine intervention.
Rory Stewart (Con.):
I thank the hon. Gentleman very much for giving way, but will he please bring us towards his solution to the problem?
In five minutes it is difficult, but we have to strengthen those who are already fighting ISIL. We have to give them all the weapons they need—the Baghdad Government have paid for weapons that have still not been delivered. We have to strengthen the Kurdish fighters, who are doing a good job of fighting ISIL. The Saudi, Emirate and Qatari armies are all imaginary armies. They have not even told their own people that they are on the masthead. Has anyone seen a picture of them fighting in Syria? Anyone seen a picture of a Saudi jet bombing in Syria? Saudi Arabia is the nest from which ISIL and these vipers have come, and by the way, it does a fine line in head chopping itself. Saudi Arabia has 700 warplanes—get them to bomb. Turkey is a NATO member—get Turkey to bomb. The last people who should be returning to the scene of their former crimes are Britain, France and the United States of America.
Richard Bacon (Con.):
For two thirds of my adult lifetime, we have been dropping bombs on Iraq, as the hon. Member for Bradford West (George Galloway) said, actually, we have been doing so for 100 years. Each time we do it, we think it is going to make things better. The evidence suggests that each time we do it, it makes things worse. I voted against the Iraq war in 2003 because I thought it would make things worse. The Deputy Prime Minister was not a Member of Parliament at the time, but many Liberal Democrats did vote against it and they were right; it did make things worse.
The Leader of the Opposition countered the argument that if we do anything, we will make things worse by saying that if we pass by, we will make it harder to persuade Arab countries to play their part. I find that quite a difficult argument to understand. The House of Commons Library tells me that in the top 18 Muslim countries in the world, of which 13 are Arab—the other five are Muslim countries such as Pakistan and Indonesia—there are 2.8 million men under arms. It seems to me that if fellow Muslims—co-religionists—are being threatened in this part of Iraq and Syria, the first response would be from Muslim countries. Those top 18 Muslim countries—perhaps many others as well—would be the first to put their soldiers’ lives on the line, although not necessarily all of them. Of course, not all of them would be available, but out of 2.8 million soldiers enough could probably be found to do the job, especially if other countries, including those in the west and in the gulf, could be found to pay for them. They would not excite the natural suspicion and antagonism that will be aroused by any involvement by the west. However, that has not happened yet.
Perhaps the single most important contribution I have heard today was from the right hon. Member for Oldham West and Royton (Mr Meacher), who said that there are big questions to ask about the regional powers that have been supporting ISIL. That issue has hardly been touched on in the debate. We have heard that Turkey has yet to make up its mind, and there are big concerns that some of the gulf states—and Saudi Arabia itself—are partly supporting ISIL. The truth is that Islam faces its own version of the thirty years war. The idea that we can solve the problem by supporting one side in this war is absolutely delusional. It is only Muslims who can decide locally for themselves whether they wish to live together or die together. There is a role for the United Nations and the five permanent members—including Russia and China—and we quite possibly could get a resolution through, including all five permanent members, if we but tried.
The Motion was carried by 524 votes to 43. The 43 MPs who voted NO were:
LABOUR: Diane Abbott, Rushanara Ali, Graham Allen*, Anne Begg, Ronnie Campbell, Martin Caton, Katy Clark, Ian Davidson, Paul Flynn, Stephen Hepburn, Kate Hoey, Kelvin Hopkins, Sian James, Mark Lazraowicz, John McDonnell, Iain McKenzie, Austin Mitchell, Grahame Morris, George Mudie, Linda Riordan, Barry Sheerman, Denis Skinner, Graham Stringer, Mike Wood, Jeremy Corbyn (teller). * Voted in both lobbies.
CONSERVATIVE: Richard Bacon, John Baron, Gordon Henderson, Adam Holloway, Nigel Mills, Mark Reckless.
LIB DEMS: Julian Huppert.
SNP: Stewart Hosie, Angus Robertson, Mike Weir, Eilidh Whiteford, Angus Brendan McNeill, Mike Wishart (teller).
SDLP: Mark Durkan, Alasdair McDonnell, Margaret Ritchie.
PLAID CYMRU: Jonathan Edwards, Hywel Williams.
RESPECT: George Galloway.
GREEN: Caroline Lucas.
Brit Terrorists Abroad
On 1 September, Foreign Office Under Secretary Tobias Ellwood expressed concern about the involvement of UK nationals in terrorist activity in Syria. He told Labour’s Jim Shannon:
‘We remain concerned about the significant number of UK nationals becoming involved in terrorist groups. Since the conflict in Syria began, over 500 individuals have travelled to fight from the UK. Our priority is to dissuade people from travelling to areas of conflict in the first place, and to identify and dissuade individuals at risk of radicalisation.
We are working closely with allies, partners in the region and through the UN and EU on counter-terrorism priorities. We have had extensive discussions with the opposition Syrian National Coalition on the threat of extremism, including the role of UK nationals. We welcome their rejection of terrorism and their consistent condemnation of terrorist acts, as well as their commitment to upholding international human rights and humanitarian law. We are supporting the moderate opposition in Syria who are leading the fight against both the regime and wider extremism, including ISIL’. (my emphasis).
Could this be the same ‘moderate’ opposition in Syria who, allegedly, handed over an American hostage to ISIL/IS in return for money? If so, why has no MP asked this question?
Wise Words From The Father Of The House
Also on 1 September, Sir Peter Tapsell, Conservative member for Louth and Horncastle, asked, ‘Does the Prime Minister recognise that one of the reasons why there are misguided British jihadists fighting in Arabia is the folly of those in the Gulf and in the west who first encouraged and then supported a Sunni rebellion against the Syrian Alawites? We must avoid, under the banner of democracy, intervening in a religious civil war that has already lasted 1,300 years.’ Cameron, of course, had a different view.
The Prime Minister:
‘I always listen very carefully to the Father of the House but on this occasion I am not sure I agree with him. I would argue that the rise of the Islamic State—of ISIS— has had two principal causes: one is the brutality that Assad has shown to his own people, and the second is the failure of the Government in Iraq to represent all of its people. We need to recognise that it is those two issues that have been the principal cause of this problem, together with, as I have said, the real problem, which is the Islamist extremist narrative that finds any broken state, any source of conflict, any sign of weakness, and exploits it.’
And just who is responsible for the broken state of Iraq? Who installed the Shia Muslim Nouri al-Maliki as President, who Cameron accepts has been a hopeless failure? No doubt, Sir Peter would have asked those questions had he been allowed a supplementary.
Saudi Arabia: Terrorism, Torture And Public Beheading
On 8 September, Tobias Ellwood replied to a series of questions about Saudi Arabia. Naturally, he expressed concern, again, about accusations of support for terrorism, torture and public beheadings.
Labour’s Katy Clark asked Ellwood: ‘what representations he has made to the Saudi government about the funding of ISIS by Saudi citizens since 2012’
‘We maintain a close dialogue on a broad range of counter-terrorism issues with Saudi Arabia, including terrorist financing. The Saudi government is acutely aware of the threat from terrorist groups such as ISIL to their own and global security and they have been at the forefront of efforts to combat the threat facing us all. Saudi Arabia has a comprehensive set of laws in place to prevent terrorist financing, which they vigorously enforce.’
‘what assessment he has made of the effects on the UK’s security of the Saudi government’s promotion of intolerant religious teachings internationally.’
‘We enjoy close co-operation with Saudi Arabia in countering the shared terrorist threat against both our countries. The Saudi Arabian government has condemned acts of terrorism and extremism around the world. In his Eid speech to mark the end of the holy month of Ramadan, King Abdullah was unequivocal in his language warning of the threat of extremism and sectarianism. The Saudi Arabian Government operates one of the most advanced deradicalisation programmes anywhere and is working to reduce the threat that religious extremists pose including through the establishment of the King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz International Centre for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue, opened in 2012 to enable, empower and encourage dialogue among followers of different religions and cultures around the world. We hope it will deliver practical initiatives to further that aim.’
‘what reports he has received of the alleged torture of Waleed Abu al-Khair while imprisoned in Saudi Arabia.’
‘We are aware of the allegations of torture of Waleed Abu al-Khair from media reporting of the allegations made by Samar Badawi, Waleed Abu al-Khair’s wife. We are concerned about the sentencing of Waleed Abu al-Khair and the British embassy has supported the efforts of international partners in his case. We will continue to follow his case closely. We regularly raise human rights issues with the Saudi authorities and the UK condemns all forms of torture and ill treatment wherever they occur.’
Labour’s Paul Flynn asked Ellwood:
‘what representations he has made to the Government of Saudi Arabia on each of the executions by public beheading carried out in that country in August 2014.’
‘The abolition of the death penalty is a human rights priority for the UK. Ministers and our ambassador and embassy team in Riyadh frequently raise the issue of the death penalty with the Saudi Arabian authorities, bilaterally and through the European Union. We must recognise that total abolition of the death penalty is unlikely in Saudi Arabia in the near future. For now, our focus is on the introduction of EU minimum standards for the death penalty as a first step, and supporting access to justice and the rule of law.’
It seems that the UK’s efforts to dissuade Saudi Arabia from a range of activities have so far been an abysmal failure, just like its pleas to Israel. Perhaps the halting of military exports to both countries and the adoption of a range of sanctions as per Russia would help to concentrate their minds.
Halt Military Exports to Saudi: No Way!
On 11 September Greg Mulholland asked Tobias Ellwood ‘if he will bring forward proposals to make military exports to Saudi Arabia contingent on human rights reform in that country.’
‘The Government of Saudi Arabia faces a number of security challenges, with concerns arising from the fractious regional situation and external sources, and so have a legitimate requirement for types of equipment in the performance of its sovereign defensive responsibilities. The Government remains confident that the UK has a thorough and robust export control and licensing system, which distinguishes between exports for legitimate defence and security purposes and exports that breach the criterion 2 threshold: a clear risk that they might be used for internal repression, violation of human rights or gender-based violence. These considerations are specifically identified in the Government’s Consolidated EU and National Arms Export Licensing Criteria, criteria against which all applications for strategic export control licences for military goods, including arms and dual-use goods are assessed on a case-by-case basis. The Government is satisfied that the currently extant licences for Saudi Arabia are compliant with the UK’s export licensing criteria.’
TweedleCam And TweedleMil
On 3 September David Cameron reported briefly on the executions of Western citizens carried out by IS. Labour leader Ed Miliband offered him uncritical support. The following are excerpts from their comments.
‘I am sure that the whole House and the whole country will join me in condemning the sickening and brutal murder of another American hostage, and share our shock and anger that it again appears to have been carried out by a British citizen……….But let me be very clear: this country will never give in to terrorism. Our opposition to ISIL will continue at home and abroad. It is important that we are clear about the nature of the threat we face. It makes no distinction between cultures, countries and religions; there is no way to appease it. The only way to defeat it is to stand firm and to send a very straightforward message: a country like ours will not be cowed by these barbaric killers. If they think that we will weaken in the face of their threats, they are wrong—it will have the opposite effect. We will be more forthright in the defence of the values that we hold dear—liberty under the rule of law, freedom and democracy—and I am sure a united message to that effect will go forward from this House today.’
‘I join the Prime Minister in expressing the universal sense of revulsion at the barbaric murder of Stephen Sotloff, and deep concern about the British hostage being held, for whose family this will be a terrible time, and people across the country will be thinking of them. This is a pattern of murderous behaviour by ISIL towards the innocent: Christians; Yazidis; Muslims—anyone who does not agree with their vile ideology. And I agree with the Prime Minister: events like this must strengthen, not weaken, our resolve to defeat them and he can be assured of our full support in standing firm against them.
Turning to the threat we face in Britain, people will have been shocked and disgusted that there are British voices on the video and that British citizens are part of ISIL. On Monday, the Prime Minister announced that he would reintroduce relocation powers for suspected terrorists. He has our full support for this change.
We need swift action to build alliances across the world against ISIL and strong and considered action here at home. It is what the world needs; it is what the British people expect; and in pursuing this course the Prime Minister will have our full support.’
‘I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his support……What we need to be absolutely clear about, however, is that it is not enough to target those who preach violent extremism. We need to go after those who promote the extremist narrative and life view that gives the terrorists and the men of violence support for what they do. It is not unlike the cold war, where we pursued not just those who wanted to do us such harm; we also had to challenge all those who gave them succour. That is what we need to do in this struggle, which, as I have said, I think will last for decades, and we need to show resilience and, as the right hon. Gentleman has said, unity in pursuing it.’ (my emphasis).
The cold war lasted for over forty years, so the UK can continue for decades to come to do what it has done for practically the whole of its existence: wage war on those who threaten its interests. Of course, its military activities are not justified on those grounds, but on the more publicly palatable grounds of national security and safety of its citizens. Interestingly, neither Cameron nor Miliband explained how and why ISIL came into existence. It seems that it is driven purely by a “vile ideology.” Cameron’s and Miliband’s tone suggests that the assault on ISIL will not be confined to air strikes, and that at some stage there will be British boots on the ground. So the working class can expect more of its sons to die in an unwinnable war in a far away country.
Hammond On Gaza And Israel
On 10 September, Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond presented his first statement on events in Ukraine, the Middle East and North Africa. His comments on Gaza and Israel are particularly revealing. Key aspects of these are published below.
‘Finally, I want to turn to the perennial problem of Israel, Gaza and the middle east peace process. Ending the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians and seeing a responsible, viable and independent Palestinian state that respects the rights and security concerns of Israel taking its place among the family of nations would be a major step towards restoring stability throughout the region.
Throughout the summer, in my meetings and phone calls with President Netanyahu, President Abbas, President al-Sisi and others, I have supported the Egyptian-led talks in Cairo as being the best way to bring a rapid end to the violence, and we warmly welcome the agreement that was reached in Cairo on 26 August, which has, at last, led to a ceasefire that has held. It is now vital that negotiations resume and rapidly agree some practical, deliverable and confidence-building first steps to improve the situation for ordinary citizens in Gaza at the same time as reassuring Israel that there will be no further rocket fire against Israeli civilians and no rebuilding of military infrastructure inside Gaza.’
‘Both the Prime Minister and I have expressed our grave concern at the level of civilian causalities and the scale of human suffering in Gaza during the recent violence, but we have also been clear that the indiscriminate firing of thousands of rockets from Gaza into civilian areas of Israel by Hamas was a clear breach of international humanitarian law, and that by launching attacks from densely populated civilian areas—in some cases, from sensitive buildings, such as mosques and schools—Hamas bears a direct responsibility for the appalling loss of civilian lives. We have been equally clear that Israel has a right to defend itself against attack, but that in doing so it, too, must act in accordance with international law with regard to proportionality and the avoidance of unnecessary civilian casualties.’ (my emphasis).
‘In the light of what the Foreign Secretary has just said, will he please explain why the British Government abstained at the United Nations Human Rights Council on its official call for an investigation into war crimes that have occurred there? Could he not express some regret about Britain’s close military relationship with Israel, which has indeed helped to kill more than 2,000 people in Gaza during the recent siege?’
‘The hon. Gentleman’s last allegation is regrettable and completely inaccurate. We have looked very carefully at the nature of the material and equipment supplied to the Israelis, and we are confident that very little of what we supplied could in any way have been used in equipment deployed during this operation in Gaza. On the hon. Gentleman’s first point, we chose to abstain on the resolution, along with all our European partners, because it was not worded in an even-handed and open way. It was not aimed at getting to the truth of what happened in Gaza, and it was not targeted at possible wrongdoing by both sides. It was heavily lopsided, and made a political point, rather than seeking to get to the bottom of what took place. I would, however, say to him that we are clear that, in due course, there must be a proper inquiry into what went on.’
‘In due course, a resolution of the immediately pressing issues in Gaza and a resumption of Palestinian Authority control in the strip must be steps towards the wider middle east peace process leading to a two-state solution. However, for the negotiations to have the best possible chance of success, both sides need to resist domestic pressure to take actions that could jeopardise the prospects of long-term peace. That is why we deplore the Israeli Government’s provocative decision to expropriate 988 acres of land near Bethlehem. We have unequivocally condemned that move, and we will continue to press the Government of Israel to reverse that decision. The UK’s position on settlements is clear: they are illegal under international law; they present an obstacle to peace; and they take us further away from a viable two-state solution.’
‘I am very pleased to hear that the Foreign Secretary condemns the Israeli action, but does he still not see that from the outside it looks as if the British Government are guilty of double standards. When Israel makes a land grab of this type, yes we have some harsh words, but nothing else follows; if Putin does something in Ukraine, things follow much more dramatically. I do not want to see such things, but I do want to see an end to double standards.’
Philip Hammond: ‘I think that the hon. Lady is being a little harsh. The reality is that in the Israeli-Palestine conflict, we have a deeply entrenched and largely intractable challenge, which has defeated many people who have tried to solve it over many years. We have to make progress on this issue, but we are not going to make it wagging fingers; we have to make it by engagement. The situation in Ukraine is different, with a clear violation of the hitherto well-observed principle of international law that we do not resolve border disputes in Europe by force of arms. The fact that Russia has breached that principle has put at risk the whole edifice of European security that has served us so well for many years.’ (my emphasis).
‘The stability of the international order is at risk. Our values and principles—freedom, democracy and the rule of law—are coming under sustained attack, and our homeland security is under threat. Our resolve to meet these multiple challenges is being put to the test. The Government are clear that we cannot shirk our responsibilities in the world. If violations of international norms are to go unchallenged and the spread of terrorist organisations with violent and extremist ideologies is allowed to go unchecked, the future prospects for our own national security and that of the friends and partners who share our values will only get worse.’
Friends and partners such as Saudi Arabia, no doubt. But not Russia, who are next up in Hammond’s sights.
‘In standing up to Russian aggression, we must continue to send the clear message to President Putin that his behaviour will not be tolerated, and that the end result will be a weaker, not a stronger Russia. In tackling the terrorist threat from ISIL and in supporting the newly formed Government of Iraq, we must be prepared to use all means at our disposal to reverse ISIL’s advance, to deny its objectives and to defend ourselves at home. In supporting the resolution of the conflict between Israel and Hamas and ultimately the advance of the middle east peace process, we must be clear with both sides that only a negotiated political settlement can deliver security guarantees that Israel needs and the viable state that the Palestinian people deserve. In the face of these multiple threats to our security and our interests, I have no doubt that the British people will rise to the challenge and show the resolve, the courage and the determination that have defined our nation for hundreds of years.’
So for hundreds of years, Britain has been on the receiving end of external aggression, against which its people have shown resolve, courage and determination. What other possible interpretation could one put on Hammond’s words? Another, more plausible, interpretation, is that Britain has been the aggressor nation, invading and waging war against other countries to defend and protect, not the security of its people, but the interests of those who run Britain.