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Iran - the threat of war grows

Parliament to debate Iran policy on Monday as more MPs urge government to rule out war.

With the prospect of a pre-emptive Israeli attack on Iran growing ever more likely, Westminster is finally beginning to respond. In a little-noticed move, Conservative MP John Baron, who resigned as a Tory health spokesman over the Iraq war, has tabled a parliamentary motion calling on the government to rule out military action against Iran. He rightly warned that the use of force by Israel or anyone else would be "wholly counter-productive and would serve only to encourage any development of nuclear weapons."

However, 22 MPs, including Malcolm Rifkind and Margaret Becket, have already put their names to an amendment supporting the government's stance that "all options remain on the table". In an interview in today's Daily Telegraph, William Hague says: "It is not our way of dealing with this to have assassinations or to advocate military action. Although I do stress again, we are taking nothing off the table."

More than anything, this is a negotiating stance but if, as seems likely, Israel takes military action, the government will be forced to take a position. As I noted earlier this week, the issue of Iran has the potential to split the coalition and the Lib Dems. The Lib Dem manifesto explicitly ruled out the use of force against Iran ("[W]e oppose military action against Iran and believe those calling for such action undermine the growing reform movement in Iran," read a passage on p.68) but Nick Clegg has since remarked that "you don't in a situation like this take any options off the table". Unlike Clegg, most Lib Dems are explicitly opposed to military action by Britain or Israel.

For instance, the recently-knighted backbencher Bob Russell told me:

We should condemn, now rather than after the event should it happen, any moves by Israel (with or without the backing and involvement of the United States) of a pre-emptive strike against Iran.

The consequences to world peace, not just in the Middle East, are immense.

Ming Campbell warned that military action would have the "effect of setting fire to the Middle East" and, asked if he was opposed to military action, Martin Horwood, co-chair of the Lib Dem parliamentary party committee on international affairs, commented:

Yes - and that was a Lib Dem manifesto commitment. Events move on and of course if British minesweepers were attacked in the Gulf or something like that, we would have to respond. But as things stand, the answer is clear.

As today's Guardian reports, the US now believes that sanctions will fail to deter Iran from pursuing its nuclear programme, with an Israeli strike likely to follow in September or October. All of which will lend Monday's parliamentary debate on Iran a rare urgency.

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