“will protest in the strongest possible terms – including at the United Nations – if Israel engages in airstrikes over Iraqi soil, in breach of international law” – UK Labour Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry
WOW! Told ya… the British have gone absolutely mental! (the water?… fuck knows)
Shadow Foreign Secretary urges Foreign Office to tell Israel it will ban arms sales and end joint military exercises if it extends airstrikes.
Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has urged the Foreign Office to threaten Israel with an arms sales ban and an end joint military exercises.
Her letter to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, while also criticising and threatening the Iranians, brought an angry reaction from Jewish community leaders keen to hear Labour acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian operations on its border.
In the letter, Thornberry warned that Israel now seemed set on targeting Shi’ite militias in Iraq and outlined how Israel’s aerial bombardment of Iranian positions in Syria on Sunday meant events were “developing in ever more dangerous directions”.
She blasted the fiery rhetoric emanating from both Jerusalem and Tehran and urged Hunt to warn both sides that the UK’s support was conditional, but it was her recipe for withdrawing UK-Israel cooperation that drew most attention.
She said Hunt should tell the Iraqi government that Britain “will protest in the strongest possible terms – including at the United Nations – if Israel engages in airstrikes over Iraqi soil, in breach of international law”.
Thornberry also urged Hunt “to confirm that, if Israel does engage in escalating acts of aggression against Iran, then it will be in breach of the rules governing the UK arms export regime, and that sales of arms to Israel for use in those acts of international aggression will therefore be suspended”.
Finally, she said Hunt should tell the Israelis that if they were to “escalate” the situation, the UK should “withdraw the invitation for the Israeli air force to participate in joint exercises with the RAF in the UK later this year”.
She added: “It would seem utterly unacceptable for the RAF to be helping to train pilots who would then be using those lessons in a war of aggression against Iran, or in breach of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Thornberry’s concern and ultimatums follow Israel’s retaliatory action against positions south of Damascus after surface-to-surface missiles were fired over the Golan Heights towards Israel, before being intercepted by the Iron Dome system.
Israel blamed Iran’s elite Quds force for the missiles and hit back hours later, striking what it said were Iranian weapons and training facilities as well as Syrian air defence positions. Multiple casualties were recorded, prompting Russia – which defends the Syrian regime – to warn Israel against further forays.
However Jewish leaders in the UK said on Friday that Thornberry could not claim to have Israel’s best wishes at heart while threatening it if it defended itself.
“Emily Thornberry’s recognition of Iran’s belligerence and state-backed antisemitism is inconsistent with her call to deprive Israel of the means to defend itself against Iranian aggression,” said Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl.
“Will Labour’s front bench give a cast-iron guarantee that if Israel is attacked by Iran or its proxies like Hezbollah or Hamas, that Labour would support Israel’s defence of its civilians? British Jews are invested in the security of the region, not least because of our close familial and religious ties.”
Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein also questioned Thornberry’s reasoning given that she had acknowledged an Iranian commander’s threat to “confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth”.
Goldstein said: “Labour’s front bench yet again targets Israel, and only Israel, for criticism. This obsession with Israel is something we raised with the Labour leadership last year. The double standards, demonisation and delegitimisation is what contributes to the toxicity we see on a daily basis.”
Jennifer Gerber, Labour Friends of Israel’s director said: “It is frankly beyond belief that, having barely uttered a word about the brutal war crimes and mass killing of civilians carried out by Russia and Iran on behalf of the Assad regime, the Labour leadership has chosen to cast Israel as the villain in Syria. Once again, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is showing its hostility to the world’s only Jewish state, its appeasement of Vladimir Putin and its failure to recognise the danger posed by the Iranian theocracy. This would be absurd were it not so appalling.”
Notwithstanding the continuous story of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-affiliated targets across Syria, another interesting claim emerged in Iraqi media last week.
Iraq emerges as a potential target for Israel as it steps up efforts to eliminate the Iranian land bridge to the Levant.
Recent Israeli airstrikes prove that air defense systems supplied to Syria by Russia are not enough to repulse Israeli aggression against Iranian targets in this country, but this may not be the end of the story. Israel may soon change the course of action to strike Iranian targets beyond Syria’s borders and launch aerial campaigns in Iraq where the airspace is defenseless and the political vacuum is too deep for the government to claim territorial sovereignty.
Russian S-300 air defense systems are waiting to be tested in the ongoing Syrian-Israeli conflict, and according to recent news, the Syrian Arab Army (SAA) did not employ these systems to repel Sunday’s large-scale air raid by Israel on various Syrian and Iranian positions in southern Syria. SAA had used S-200 missiles to mistakenly target a Russian jet in September 2018, and Russia announced the subsequent delivery of the more advanced S-300 missile launchers along with new radar systems to Syria. Although the Syrian government and Russia claim that Syrian air defense systems have successfully concluded the mission by intercepting the majority of Israeli missiles said to be fired from the Lebanese airspace, it remains obscure whether the famous S-300 systems are capable of defending Syria against an advanced and technological nation like Israel.
Notwithstanding the continuous story of Israeli airstrikes on Iranian-affiliated targets across Syria, another interesting claim emerged in Iraqi media last week that US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo warned the central Iraqi government of potential Israeli airstrikes against Shi’ite militia groups in that country. Iraqi news outlets alleged that Pompeo made it clear to Iraqi Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi that the US government would refrain from taking action should Israeli missiles start raining on Iranian targets inside Iraq.
Iraq’s test with Iranian-vetted militia groups that have gained access to the Iraqi parliament as the second largest bloc in the final elections of May 2018 has been a rather challenging one for the world and the central Iraqi government alike. Former prime minister Haider al-Abadi’s last policy attempt was designed to bring the militia groups closer to the government as he sought to sack the national security adviser responsible for militias, Falih al-Fayyadh, and replace him in this position by himself. Fayyadh, who does not see any necessity to hide his connections to Iran, regained this position under Mahdi, and was even nominated to become the interior minister. The dispute over Fayyadh created a political deadlock as Iraq is still waiting for someone to become its interior minister to deal with the world’s most fragile security situation.
Reports that the US was concerned about a possible Israeli aerial campaign against Shi’ite militias in Iraq emerged as the debate on the government’s control over militias continue. The only known fact within the dramatically complicated political stalemate of Iraq is the notion that the Iraqi government has given up the race to control the militias, and the current picture is about not losing the government to Iranian militias entirely.
Iran’s land bridge to the Levant continues to function without any disturbances, and it is likely to be more functional in the near future as US troops are preparing to withdraw from Syria. The only force that has created obstacles for the Mullah regime’s grand strategic goal of connecting Beirut to Tehran through secure land routes has so far been Israel. The Trump administration’s overestimated confidence in renewed sanctions to curb Iran’s regional capabilities signal that the Jewish state will stay alone longer in being the sole preventative military force against Iran on this matter.
Hence, the Iranian land bridge is not only about the transferring of military equipment to the Levant, but a more sophisticated project that entails the creation, sponsorship and commanding of proxy forces en route. Iraq enters the picture not only for its geostrategic location adjacent to both Syria and Iraq, but also due to its Iran-friendly Shi’ite population and the willingness of large militia groups to continue the fight under the Iranian banner. In this regard, Iraq is safer for Iran than Syria where the majority of the local population is hostile Sunni Arabs governed by a rather weaker Iranian client that is no way a substitute for dedicated Iranian proxies within and in the periphery of the Iraqi government and military apparatuses.
Assuming that Syria will eventually complete the installation of S-300 missiles and master the use of complicated Russian-made radar systems to hunt Israeli fighter jets violating its airspace to strike Iranian targets, Iraq’s airspace will continue to remain defenseless against Israel. Although the calculation that Russian air defense technologies can save Syria may point to a devastating mistake for Syrians and Iranians alike, the Iranian land bridge to the Levant makes Israel extremely vulnerable also in Iraq.
Russia has no intention to meddle with Iraq’s political and security crises in order to safeguard Iranian-backed militias, and the US signals messages of inaction in the event of Israeli aerial operations if they target militia groups. If Israel decides to strike Iranian proxies in Iraq, not only will its fighter jets not meet any capable resistance but there will be many local factions willing to share intelligence on whereabouts of Iranian clients in the country as well.
The writer is the coordinator of Kurdish Studies Program at the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies in Tel Aviv