The drums of war are beating again in Parliament and the talk of an attack on Iran is raising the temperature. This is either a cover to give tacit support for an Israeli strike or another dangerous bumbling venture down the path to military action. There was a little reported debate in the Commons on Iran on Monday. This is what I said. We need to be mobilising now to prevent the war hawks building up a head of steam for war.
John McDonnell (Hayes and Harlington) (Lab): I join other Members in commending the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron). I say to him that being in a minority does not necessarily mean that someone is not right, and that when the House is unanimous, it is invariably wrong. I will support his motion.
Like the hon. Gentleman, I find it important when we have these debates to have a prologue condemning the theocratic regime in Iran. I am one of the Members who consistently table motions supporting human rights campaigns in Iran, most recently on the Tehran bus workers and on the persecution of the film director Panahi, whose release we have been successful in securing. I agree with the right hon. Member for Dwyfor Meirionnydd (Mr Llwyd). I am fearful of again treading down the path that starts with rumours of weapons of mass destruction, goes on to sanctions, sabre-rattling and covert operations, and then develops a momentum that carries us into military action, death and destruction, and increased terrorism and instability. My right hon. Friend the Member for Coventry North East (Mr Ainsworth) is not in his place, but I, too, worry about the approach whereby we try to negotiate peace by threatening war; it does not work that way.
Hon. Members need to be very clear about the decision that they take tonight. Those who vote against the motion and for the amendment will be sanctioning the threat of military action. In my view, if one threatens something. one has to ensure that one understands the full implications of acting on the threat, and I am not sure that there is clarity in the House about why this threat is being made. The notion of Iran being close to having nuclear weapons is open to doubt as there is no solid evidence, but as the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay said, the issue is really about nuclear capability. Nuclear capability is a threat only if one believes that nuclear weapons will be used. Even in Israel, people do not believe that there will be a nuclear strike, and that is true of wise heads around the world. I cannot find any advisers in the US who are recommending to the President that action should take place on the basis of a nuclear threat. Like the hon. Gentleman,I have listened to some of the spokespeople in Israel. I have also listened to a former head of Mossad, Efraim Halevy, who said that it is all about scaremongering and that there is no threat to the state of Israel as a result of this supposed escalation.
Why are we being implicated in the threat of military action? First, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington (Sir Malcolm Rifkind) said, the threat is based on the danger not of a military attack but of Iran becoming a regional superpower. At the moment, the implications of that are not, by any means, sufficient to justify the threat of military action. Secondly, there is the argument about nuclear proliferation. If we are anxious about nuclear proliferation, we have to start with the root cause, which is Israel illegally gaining nuclear weapons. Unless we attack that root cause, the issue will not go away. Thirdly, it is about Israel’s own domestic political agenda: the crisis atmosphere suits Netanyahu and the hawks who surround him.
Fourthly, as the right hon. and learned Member for Kensington said, we are being blackmailed by Israel to the effect that if we do not support military action, it will. After Iraq and Afghanistan, and in the midst of the global economic crisis, there is no appetite in the US for war. That is why the Americans sent General Martin Dempsey to Tel Aviv in January to let the Israelis know that there was no such appetite. It is now time for us to face down Israel and ask what sanctions we are willing to exercise against it if it seeks to threaten military action. I fear that the debate is gaining the momentum for a military strike, which will make matters worse, not better.
We are already at war by proxy in undermining the potential for peace and change in Iran. The sanctions are a siege of Iran. Its currency is collapsing, imports of grain staples are drying up, and people are becoming impoverished. That is not undermining the regime but hardening support for it by giving it the excuse that an external enemy is causing the impoverishment and hunger. The covert military actions carried out by organisations and individuals whom we now know, as a result of exposés in Der Spiegel, were trained by Mossad, have prompted more terrorism around the world through Iran-sponsored attacks in India, Thailand and elsewhere. The cyber-war that was launched under Stuxnet, with the worm or bug that was put out to undermine Iran’s industrial complexes, has provoked even more retaliation, which has undermined some of the ability of Iran’s freedom movement to communicate with the outside world. I would welcome information on that extremely complicated cyber-attack. Did Israel sponsor it or its development? Was GCHQ alerted to it?
The actions that have taken place have escalated the potential for conflict, and they are strengthening the hard-liners in Iran and hurting the Iranian people, who are desperate to throw off the yoke of that theocracy. The way forward was spelt out by our former ambassador, Richard Dalton, who said that we needed multilateral negotiations to secure a nuclear-free zone across the middle east. Unless we tackle the issue of Israel holding nuclear weapons, we cannot confront Iran sensibly or creatively.
I reiterate that we cannot negotiate peace by threatening war, and I fear that we are again on a path that we have witnessed time and again in the House. We are threatening military action, which gains momentum that results in loss of life, including the loss of British soldiers and military personnel.