Soleimani strike threatens UK ‘lives and interests’

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said Britain ‘will not lament’ the loss of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad, but fell short of supporting the attack. (File/AP)
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Updated 07 January 2020

Soleimani strike threatens UK ‘lives and interests’

  • British MP says US failure to share information ‘a matter of concern’

LONDON: When the sun rose on Jan. 3, the world woke to unprecedented contemporary tensions between the US and Iran. 

As an American drone fired missiles at the convoy of Iranian Maj. Gen. Qassem Soleimani in Baghdad at around 1 a.m., most of Washington’s allies were in the dark.

British sources said the government was not informed ahead of the strike, despite the heavy UK presence in the region and Iraq.

Washington’s failure to forewarn London amid heightened regional tensions has caused confusion and concern among commentators and politicians. 

“I’ve long believed that the purpose of having allies is that we can surprise our enemies and not each other,” said Tom Tugendhat, a Conservative MP and chair of the foreign affairs committee in the previous UK Parliament.

The failure to share information has become “a pattern,” and it is “a bit of a shame that the US administration of late has not shared with us, and that is a matter of concern,” he added.

A source close to Downing Street told Arab News that UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson — who is currently holidaying on the private Caribbean island of Mustique — was unaware that the strike was due to take place. 

As global leaders weighed in on the incident, Johnson remained silent until Jan. 5, when he was careful not to deliver a statement that was overly supportive of US President Donald Trump’s orders.

Johnson said Britain “will not lament” the loss of Iran’s top general, but fell short of supporting the attack.

A surprisingly short statement from Britain’s Foreign Office did not contain a line of support for Trump’s decision to kill Soleimani. 

In a statement, UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Britain had “always recognized the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force,” but he called for de-escalation, adding: “Further conflict is in none of our interests.”

Lucy Fisher, defense editor at The Times, said Iran was “convinced of its status as a world superpower,” and the chance of it launching attacks on British interests was “very possible given the UK is inextricably linked with the US in the eyes of Iran.” 

A senior commander in the Quds Force — Iran’s international military force, responsible for supporting proxy militias — told The Times on Jan. 6: “Our forces will retaliate and target US troops in (the) Middle East without any concern about killing its allies, including UK troops, as this has turned into a fully fledged war with much collateral damage expected.”

The commander added: “We request (the) UK, the key US ally, and other Western allies … to not stand with this Trump regime.”

His inflammatory comments come as Iraqi police confirmed that two rockets had injured six people in Baghdad’s Green Zone, where the US Embassy is based.

Iraq’s Parliament has backed a resolution supported by Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi to expel foreign forces — including British troops — from the country.

Raab responded by urging Baghdad to abandon the resolution. He told Iraq’s government that an ejection of NATO forces would allow Daesh to “exploit the vacuum” left behind.

Arab News understands that Britain’s Defense Ministry is preparing new plans to secure UK interests and personnel after the resolution. 

The 400 British armed forces personnel based in Iraq have shifted their mission from training local forces to fight Daesh, to defending NATO bases and high-value individuals. 

The Royal Navy now plans to resume its escort of merchant vessels through the Strait of Hormuz following the heightened tensions. 

HMS Montrose and HMS Defender, a frigate and a destroyer respectively, had ended their escorting duties in 2019, but will now return to their duties. 

But despite the widely perceived threat to British interests, and the predictable trouble this has brought to London, the US failed to consult or even brief
the UK ahead of the attack.

The diplomatic silence over an assassination that has huge ramifications for British security has led to some questioning the value of the “special relationship” between the two nations.

“We pride ourselves on the so-called ‘special relationship,’ yet there’s often little evidence that the US has a special relationship with anyone other than itself,” said Charlie Herbert, a former British Army major general.

Kyle Orton, an independent terrorism researcher, told Arab News: “British interests are at risk, arguably more than American interests if Iran is looking for a calibrated response that doesn’t provoke worse from Washington.”

But he added: “The need for speed and secrecy makes it imperative to keep the circle of people aware small.” 

According to reports from the Los Angeles Times, that circle was small but included Israel. Barak Ravid, a journalist with sources in Israel’s government, said on Jan. 4 that the “US informed Israel about this operation in Iraq apparently a few days ago.”

A well-informed Israeli army officer told the Los Angeles Times that the attack “did not come as a surprise.”

After decades of fighting alongside American troops, and with thousands of British military and governmental personnel deployed in the Middle East to work alongside US forces, many Britons will be wondering what more they must do to enjoy the kind of advance notice afforded to Israel.


British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

Updated 21 January 2020

British MPs urge UK government to recognize Palestine

  • Palestinian envoy welcomes cross-party call ahead of visit by Prince Charles

LONDON: A group of British MPs has called for the UK to recognize the state of Palestine ahead of a visit by Prince Charles to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories.

In a letter to The Times, the MPs, along with figures from think tanks and pressure groups, said the move was long overdue and would help fulfill Britain’s “promise of equal rights for peoples in two states.” 

The call comes as the heir to the British throne travels on Thursday to Israel and the occupied West Bank. 

During the visit, he will meet Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem and Israeli President Reuven Rivlin in Jerusalem. 

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

The letter said since 2014, no meaningful progress has been made in the peace process, and Israel’s actions are pushing a two-state solution beyond reach.

“Illegal Israeli settlements, described by the Foreign Office as undermining peace efforts, are expanding,” the letter said.

Among the signatories are Emily Thornberry, a candidate for the Labour Party leadership, and Crispin Blunt, chairman of the Conservative Middle East Council.

Husam Zomlot, the Palestinian envoy to the UK, welcomed the move but said full recognition from the British government should have happened many years ago.

“Recognition doesn’t contradict peacemaking and negotiations,” Zomlot told Arab News, referring to the main argument used by the UK against taking such a step. 

“It reinforces the vision (of a Palestinian state) and a negotiated two-state solution. It should happen now because of the threat of annexation (of Palestinian territory) and the killing of the two-state solution.”

FASTFACT

Prince Charles will also attend the World Holocaust Forum to mark the 75th anniversary of the liberation of the Auschwitz concentration camp. 

Alistair Carmichael, a Liberal Democrat MP who signed the letter, told Arab News that the policies of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government toward Palestine “makes the achievement of a two-state solution more and more remote with every week that passes.”

He said: “The UK has historic and political obligations toward Israelis and Palestinians. There’s now no longer any good reason not to recognize the state of Palestine.”

A spokesman for Labour MP Fabian Hamilton, who also signed the letter, told Arab News: “The fact that this has cross-party support shows the growing desire across Parliament for the recognition of a Palestinian state and a two-state solution.”

Chris Doyle, director of the Council for Arab-British Understanding, said the international community needs to finally stand up for the solution that it has had on the table for decades.

Doyle, an Arab News columnist, said the letter is an “indication that many people in British politics think we should be doing this, we should be standing up for the Palestinian right to self-determination, the legal rights, at a time when the state of Israel is doing everything to stop this, to take more land from the Palestinians.”

The letter was timed to coincide with a meeting of European foreign ministers on Monday, who discussed the Middle East peace process.

The Palestinian Authority, which runs parts of the West Bank, has been increasing calls for European countries to recognize the state of Palestine as the US has shifted to a more pro-Israel stance, including recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in 2017.

Writing in The Guardian on Monday, Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestine Liberation Organization, said Europe could strengthen its role in the peace process if it recognized Palestine.

“European recognition of this state is not only a European responsibility but a concrete way to move towards a just and lasting peace,” he said.

Only nine out of the 28 EU countries have so far recognized Palestine as a state, compared to 138 out of the 193 UN member states.

In 2011, the UK’s then-Foreign Minister William Hague said the British government “reserves the right” to recognize Palestine “at a time of our own choosing, and when it can best serve the cause of peace.”

In 2012, the UN General Assembly voted to upgrade Palestine’s status to that of “nonmember observer state.”