Daily Telegraph: Tony Blair laid the blame for the crisis in the Middle East at the door of Syria and Iran yesterday, saying they were responsible for supporting militants ranging from Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement to insurgents who have killed British soldiers in Iraq.
The Daily Telegraph
By Anton La Guardia Diplomatic Editor
Tony Blair laid the blame for the crisis in the Middle East at the door of Syria and Iran yesterday, saying they were responsible for supporting militants ranging from Lebanon’s Hizbollah movement to insurgents who have killed British soldiers in Iraq.
The Prime Minister was especially outspoken about Iran, saying the regime was responsible for “supporting terrorist activity across the region” and that if diplomacy failed to stop its nuclear programme, then it would face “stark choices”.
As the UN Security Council prepared to discuss tomorrow proposals to send a reinforced international force to try to halt the fighting in Lebanon, Mr Blair told MPs that the force was essential to “enforcing a cessation of hostilities on both sides”.
He echoed comments by Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary General, who said there was a need for a “considerably” larger and better contingent than the existing 2,000-strong UN force in Lebanon, Unifil.
Israeli officials have not ruled out the idea as a means of helping the Lebanese army take control of southern Lebanon, but Ehud Olmert, the Israeli prime minister, said last night it was “too early” to discuss the deployment of an international force.
The United States has been lukewarm about the idea of an international force in Lebanon, and Condoleezza Rice, the US secretary of state, last night disagreed with her Egyptian counterpart Ahmad Aboul-Gheit over the timing of any ceasefire. Mr Aboul-Gheit said a truce was “imperative. We have to bring it to an end as soon as possible”.
Miss Rice responded curtly: “We all agree it should happen as soon as possible -when conditions are conducive to do so.”
Miss Rice is to visit the Middle East tomorrow, Israel’s ambassador to the UN, Dan Gillerman, said last night.
Whitehall sources said the most likely option would be to strengthen both the size and mandate of Unifil.
Middle Eastern experts in Whitehall are wary of repeating the experience of the ill-fated Multi-National Force that deployed in Lebanon at the time of the Israeli invasion in 1982. That force was drawn into the civil war and became the target of Hizbollah suicide bombers against US marines and French troops in 1983.
Reporting to MPs on the G8 Summit in St Petersburg, the Prime Minister pointed out that the summit communiqué had condemned Hizbollah and the Palestinian Hamas movement, and “more elliptically, those that support them”.
Mr Blair said he could be less elliptical. “Hizbollah is supported by Iran and Syria: by the former in weapons, weapons incidentally very similar if not identical to those used against British troops in Basra, by the latter in many different ways and by both financially.”
British security experts have long said that remote-controlled roadside bombs that have killed several British soldiers are of the same design as devices used by Hizbollah, with the clear implication that Iran was the source for the technology in both cases.
At times, Mr Blair’s analysis of the troubles in the Middle East was indistinguishable from that of US neo-conservatives. The Prime Minister identified that the “root cause” of the violence in Lebanon and Gaza was not Israel’s actions, the unresolved question of Palestine or even resentment over western intervention. Instead he blamed Islamist extremists who are sponsored by Damascus and Teheran.
He told MPs: “At root, we need to recognise the fundamental nature of the struggle in the region, which has far-reaching consequences far beyond that region and even in countries like our own.
“All over the Middle East there are those who want to modernise their nations, who believe as we do in democracy and liberty and tolerance. But ranged against them are extremists who believe the opposite, who believe in fundamentalist states and are at war not against Israel’s actions but against its existence.”
America and Britain received rare support from Arab leaders such as Egypt’s President Hosni Mubarak, who issued direct criticism of Hizbollah and Hamas, the radical Palestinian group that was elected to power in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Like Hizbollah’s cross-border ambush and kidnapping of two Israeli soldiers, Hamas last month dug a tunnel into Israel, killed two soldiers and captured one serviceman.
Mr Mubarak said: “Igniting the situation to achieve limited gains means losing sight of the main Palestinian goal of obtaining an independent state.” He stressed that his comments on “the Palestinian resistance also applied to the Lebanese resistance”.
He added: “Nobody doubts the right of peoples to resist occupation forces. But this resistance should take gains and losses into account.”