OpinionIran in the World PressA weak Britain becomes a target for tyrants

A weak Britain becomes a target for tyrants

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Sunday Telegraph – Leaders: The Prime Minister is right about one thing. The kidnapping of 15 British soldiers and sailors by the Iranians is indeed “unjustified and wrong”. The question is what to do about it. Tony Blair’s dismal foreign policy record over the past decade means that Britain has very few options. The Sunday Telegraph

Leaders

The Prime Minister is right about one thing. The kidnapping of 15 British soldiers and sailors by the Iranians is indeed “unjustified and wrong”. The question is what to do about it. Tony Blair’s dismal foreign policy record over the past decade means that Britain has very few options. But once the release of our captives is secured diplomatically, and Mr Blair is gone from office, we need a rethink. The aim should be to rebuild British self-confidence and stress to aggressors that we are not to be trifled with.

That the Iranians chose to take hostage British service personnel is in large part a consequence of policy under Mr Blair. His unquestioning support of the United States has made us the easy target for Middle Eastern countries who want to take action against America, but fear that country’s military might. The Iranians are typical in this: unable and unwilling to pick a fight with the Americans – the power they call the Great Satan – they pick on the country they have dubbed the Little Satan: us.

They do so because they are confident that they can kidnap our troops without having to face any sort of serious retaliation. Their prediction is regrettably being proved correct. The Americans are not willing to risk their own servicemen to rescue or avenge ours. The almost total absence of the 15 British hostages from the American media demonstrates how marginal a concern their capture is in the United States.

Short of firing nuclear missiles at Teheran, a step which no sane person can want, Britain is not in a position to respond militarily. Our Armed Forces are overstretched, and scarcely able to fulfil their commitments in Iraq and Afghanistan. The budgets of the Navy and the RAF have been squeezed, while billions have been wasted on that futile white elephant, the Eurofighter.

The Prime Minister has made a point of not swaggering on the world stage as if he were the leader of a militarily powerful country, willing and able to use force unilaterally. On the contrary, he has always insisted on his commitment to international law. That is all very well, but as this kidnapping illustrates, the Iranians were able to sail up to the British and capture them without fear. The UN-imposed rules of engagement in this case meant our lightly armed sailors could not open fire unless fired upon. To say it made them sitting ducks is an understatement.

Yes, the Government should use all its diplomatic skills to end this crisis. After that we need to become far more robust about defending the national interest and the lives of our own personnel. In comparison to the decade after the Falklands War, when Britain’s international reputation was at its height, today we are perceived as weak. The consequence has been the taking of British hostages and their humiliation on Iranian television.

As our poll on attitudes to the Iranian hostage crisis reveals, many Britons, perhaps weary of the failures of military action to produce peace in Iraq, have no stomach for more conflict. Of course that is a sensible view in this specific case.

But the lesson from this great nation’s history is that we are more likely to avoid war when we are in a position of strength. We become a target for tyrants when we forget that.

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