UK braced for fall-out as Iranians vow ‘severe revenge’
●Britain warned to stay distant from Trump or risk being target
Western allies including the UK have been warned they face an increased risk of reprisals after Donald Trump ordered an airstrike that killed a top Iranian general.
The Iranian government promised “severe revenge” for the killing of General Qassem Soleimani, who was targeted by a missile strike near Baghdad’s airport yesterday.
Gen Soleimani, the head of the elite Quds Force, was one of the most powerful figures in Iran and the architect of his country’s involvement in the proxy war in Syria.
The US Defence Department
said it killed Soleimani because he “was actively developing plans to attack American diplomats and service members in Iraq and throughout the region”.
Allies including the UK are understood not to have been given advanced notice of the airstrike, and yesterday moved to harden defences around military bases in Iraq that are home to hundreds of troops.
Several western governments including the US advised their citizens to leave Baghdad “immediately”, although the Foreign Office has not updated its travel advice. Foreign Secretary
Dominic Raab called for a deescalation of tensions, and spoke to US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo yesterday.
Mr Raab issued a statement saying the UK Government had “always recognised the aggressive threat posed by the Iranian Quds force” led by Gen Soleimani.
“Following his death, we urge all parties to de-escalate. Further conflict is in none of our interests,” Mr Raab added.
Mr Pompeo stressed that the White House “remains committed to de-escalation”.
But on Twitter, the US President did not tone down his rhetoric, posting a picture of an American flag followed by the message: “Iran never won a war, but never lost a negotiation!”
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has been celebrating New Year on the private Caribbean island of Mustique, was yet to comment last night.
There are around 400 British troops deployed in Iraq as part of the international coalition fighting Islamic State.
Tory MP Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister who served as a captain in the Army, warned on social media that western allies should “expect repercussions.”
Middle East experts also warned of retaliations following the US strike. Ian Bond, foreign policy director at the Centre for European Reform, called the air strike a “big escalation” by Mr Trump and “a lawless step that increases risk to US and allies”.
And Seyyed Mohammad Marandi, the professor of North American Studies at the University of Tehran, said: “If I was a western citizen I would leave the UAE immediately. I would leave the whole region.”
Dr Jack Watling, research fellow at the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), said the attack was “very significant” because it was an “assassination” outside a declared armed conflict. But he said that Iran was not likely to want to provoke a war with the US.
Dr Watling added that “ultimately Iran does not want to provoke a full-scale conflict” but warned that if the UK was seen by Iran to be participating in US actions, it could capture or arrest British citizens in the region.
“The Iranians do not draw a direct line between the UK and US,” Dr Watling said. “Citizens in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon would certainly potentially be at risk, dual-nationalities in Iran will certainly be at risk of arrest under espionage charges.”
RUSI research fellow Michael Stephens warned the situation could grow into a wider regional conflict. He added: “The US strikes in Iraq are a game changing event that will have severe repercussions for regional security.”
The killing of General Qasem Soleimani in a targeted strike by American forces marks a dramatic and troubling escalation of conflict between the US and Iran.
Tensions between the nations have been at breaking point for some time, with tit-for-tat actions becoming increasingly commonplace, but the assassination, on the orders of President Trump, of the commander of the Iranian Revolutionary Guard’s Quds force takes things to a new level.
And while we cannot see with clarity what the American President’s strategy is, we can say with certainty that the world is now a more dangerous place.
It would appear that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was kept in the dark about the strike on Soleimani. We are bound to say that, even though the UK had no involvement in its ally’s actions in this instance, our Government must consider the implications for the security of our citizens living and working in Iran.
This action will, we believe, be seen as an act of aggression on behalf of the Western world and, therefore, any blowback won’t be necessarily focused solely on America.
President Trump has spouted a great deal of hawkish rhetoric since coming to office at the same time as he has refused to deploy troops where they appear to be needed. His abandonment of Kurds in the Turkey-syria border region is a shining example of his confusing approach to foreign policy.
The attack on Soleimani is in keeping with President Trump’s unpredictability.
The president will, no doubt, hope that the killing of Soleimani will cow Iran. This, we think, will require him to take the most optimistic view of matters.
Iran is certain at some point to respond aggressively to what has been described by an adviser to former president Barack Obama as little short of “a declaration of war” by the Americans.
And that response may not be as predictable as a strike on a US facility in the Gulf region.
There is a cliche that says whenever a political leader needs a boost at the polls, he or she finds a conflict with which to engage. President Trump may now be thinking that there is nothing quite like a bit of a war to bring patriots behind the commander-in-chief.
There is no question that Iran presents a danger to international security.
This being so, we should be deeply concerned about President Trump’s provocations, which appear to be unaccompanied by any kind of strategy.
0 Crowds protest against the killing of General Soleimani by a US missile strike near Baghdad’s airport early yesterday