Liberal Democrats should vigorously oppose a UK war with Iran

The UK representative in the Iranian Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) nuclear weapons negotiations, Sir Simon Gaas, now Joint Intelligence Committee (JIC) Chair, has often talked about US political perceptions. Sir Simon Gaas explained how shocked he was when it seemed some US politicians thought Iran was a desert country consisting entirely of mad Mullahs running around with Kalashnikovs.

There is such a vast and sophisticated pro-war propaganda machine against Iran that the bare facts of Iran’s alleged drive towards nuclear weapons can be lost beneath the layers.

Brutal to its people though the regime might be, if domestic brutality be the justification for a major regional war, we would be at war with half the planet. Wars in Afghanistan, Libya, Syria, Iraq and Somalia increased, not decreased, brutality.

What is lost in the fog is the fact that the USA’s own formal intel, and the last Defense Secretary not chosen for his pro-war aims over Iran, Leon Panetta, said that Iran is NOT developing nuclear weapons and never had a physical programme. Some of the intel passed to General Amano of the IAEA in the years that followed, suggesting a new physical programme, turned out to be at least partially fabricated by Iran’s adversaries.

These are the reasons why Iran agreed to the comprehensive JCPOA agreement in 2015; the most stringent 24 hour technical surveillance of the processing and handling of nuclear materials ever imposed on a country… and probably that ever will be. Iran was found by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) to be compliant in all respects during the application of the JCPOA up to and past the point of US withdrawal.

However Trump withdrew from the JCPOA and at a time when UN sanctions were promised to be lifted. He imposed devastating primary and secondary unilateral sanctions instead.

His given reasons were that the US wants Iran to withdraw from any operations in Syria, halt ballistic missile development, and step back from any support for the Houthis in Yemen, influence in Iraq, or on Hizb Ullah in Lebanon.

The problem with these demands is that Iran’s role as supporter of ally Assad’s Alawites is small in Syria compared to Russia, which provides a degree of cover. Ballistic missile development is not prohibited and many countries have such programs. Iranian involvement in Yemen is commonly wildly exaggerated and the Saudis brutally attacked Yemen with UK and US support, as a pre-emption of future potential Iranian participation. Hizb Ullah was established in Southern Lebanon due to invasion by its neighbour, and Iranian influence in Iraq is due to the illegal US and UK invasion and occupation.

Pro-war advocates in the US and UK know very well that Iran will not accede to these demands unless forced to in a war. But Iran is not Iraq or Afghanistan; it has a solid science base and significant military capability. It would be a war which would devastate the European economy as oil supplies are disrupted. It would almost certainly bring in support from Russia, China and Turkey. Hundreds of thousands would die.

For what?

For uncertain outcomes best pursued diplomatically. There is no strategic UK interest at stake in such a war; in fact quite the reverse since UK companies had agreed major job-generating cooperations prior to US withdrawal from the JCPOA, and with FCO assent, all now cancelled.

Boris Johnson has clearly suggested that the UK would join in an attack by the US and the Saudis. Boris has already agreed to the joint naval task force with Israel and the US off the coast of Iran.

UK bases in Bahrain and Cyprus would then be targets. The price of a trade deal with the US?

The Liberal Democrats should strongly oppose this planned war, as we did with Iraq.

Trump himself appears privately against this war. His key advisers support it however. To push forward they may have to push Trump aside. We shall see.

* Paul Reynolds works with multilateral organisations as an independent adviser on international relations, economics, and senior governance. He is a member of the Lib Dem Federal International Relations Committee and an Executive member of Liberal International (British Group).

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This entry was posted in Europe / International and Op-eds.


  • Well said Paul. A spot of mea clupa for the mess which is now Libya from the LibDem leadership wouldn’t go amiss either.

  • Richard Easter 25th Sep '19 - 8:54am

    Saudi Arabia is no friend of the British people – it is an appalling anti-semitic terror exporting murderocracy run by an arrogant vile spoilt brat. The atrocious behaviour of the elite in Saudi Arabia is well documented, and the country has an absolutely appalling record on human rights where executing children is commonplace.

    Saudi Arabia should be treated as a global pariah and an enemy. We should do nothing to defend this awful hellhole, other than allow persecuted opponents of this awful regime to claim asylum.

    Finally the Iraq war was despised by many. But most people would agree Saddam was a brutal man. But 99.9% of British people would never ever tolerate British forces defending the Saudis, and war with Iran to defend the Saudi regime will make the Iraq war look as popular as a lottery win in comparison.

  • As many people as possible should be opposing more destabilising military action by former and neo colonial powers on North Africa. It has been a humanitarian and counter productive disaster for twenty years or more.

  • @Glenn “As many people as possible should be opposing more destabilising military action by former and neo colonial powers on North Africa. ”

    Iran is not in North Africa.

  • Paul Reynolds 25th Sep '19 - 1:51pm

    Watch out for Dominic Raab’s quickly-put-together statement on Iran in the House of Commons today around 2pm to 230pm. Following Boris Johnson’s rather obsequious meetings with Trump over the last few days, it is expected to signal that the UK is pulling away from EU international policy and cosying up to those people in Washington DC trying to bounce Trump into more wars, and into a reversal of the forces drawdowns in Iraq, Afghanisan and elsewhere. In order to garner support in Congress for a trade deal, and elicit support for those in security & defence sectors at home, Raab is likely to signal support for a future attack on Iran… which is likely to be as disbeneficial to UK and EU interests as Brexit is.

  • TCO
    I should have said Middle East. It’s just that we have been so busy dropping bombs on people and destabilising nations for so many years, in both the Middle East and North Africa, I got a bit caught up in the moment. I still think we need stop and will add that it might be an idea to cut military spending to reduce the temptation.

  • Richard Underhill 25th Sep '19 - 2:23pm

    Where is the Middle East?
    It is between the Near East and the Far East.
    Where is the Far East?
    That depends on you standpoint. Nowadays we say East Asia.
    Where is the Near East?
    We do not use that term any more.
    So, where is the Middle East?

  • John McHugo 25th Sep '19 - 3:15pm

    Glenn – I think you are making a very dangerous generalisation when you say “we have been so busy dropping bombs on people and destabilising nations for years”.

    Yes, we should not invade Iran just to suit Trump, Saudi Arabia and possibly Israel. Yes, the invasion of Iraq was a disastrous false path. But I believe at earlier stages of the Syrian conflict there was a case for armed intervention under the (admittedly controversial) doctrine of humanitarian intervention. This could have been done to establish safe zones for the opposition and refugees, for instance, although this would have had to be thought through properly in advance of any action.

    As regards Libya, I agree it has not turned out at all well, but Libya has not slid into a civil war on anything like the scale that has occurred in Syria and Yemen. Do Libyans wish Gaddafi had not fallen? It is not a country that I know, but I doubt it.

  • John
    I disagree. I think the armed forces should be used for protection of the UK and nothing else. We are a middling military power and we should not be putting our troops in danger for nebulas political theories. We certainly should not be involved in the dubious policy of regime change. I think there is absolutely no danger in evolving a policy of non intervention in conflicts that have no baring on national defence.

  • Mick Taylor 25th Sep '19 - 6:23pm

    Churchill, not a man I like to quote, once said ‘jaw jaw is better than war war’. He was right then and now.
    The UK now has no role policing the world, if it ever did, It should be in the forefront of diplomacy that seeks to settle conflicts through dialogue. We should be encouraging Iran and Saudi Arabia to sit round a table and settle their differences peaceably, not joining with the warmonger Trump ion making the Middle East even worse than it is.
    War is never the solution and ultimately all conflicts have to be settled by diplomacy.

  • The one thing you can say with all sincerity about Glen is he isn’t an internationalist, he genuinely believes we should withdraw from the world and live in isolation. Safe in our little villages, ignoring the rest of the world and hoping the world will ignore us. The problem is we live in a globally connected world and if international actions are not taken on the environment and human rights we face a grim future. I’m afraid this reality frightens “my little village for people like me” people, they are exhibiting the flight not fight reaction but the place they intend to run to doesn’t exist ( and probably never did).

  • Peter Martin 26th Sep '19 - 7:54am

    I’d hope anyone with any sense, and not just the Lib Dems, would oppose starting a new war against Iran. Who knows how Iran would have developed if the UK and the USA hadn’t conspired to overthrow the democratically elected Govt of Mohammed Mossadegh in the early 50s and install the Shah in its place?

    I’d say we’d done enough damage already.

    The last country we should be siding with is Saudi Arabia. The Saudi role in the events of 11th Sept 2001 has largely been ignored. All but one of the hijackers were Saudi nationals. Bin Laden was a Saudi national.

    We had a Saudi plot against the USA and our response was to invade, er, Iraq, Not a very smart move IMO.

  • Frankie
    Just what did you mean by “bit exotic am I, your old friend Glen”?

  • Humphrey Hawksley 26th Sep '19 - 9:34am

    Very well outlined, Paul. Obama’s long term plan was to bring Iran back into the tent, get the US to put the ’79 embassy hostages behind it and wean the US off Saudi Arabia. The two pronged campaign to thwart that, Yemen war and Trump’s exit from the nuclear deal, has car crashed that plan and brought things round to an post 9/11 Iraq scenario where enemies are created from falsehoods. Boris Johnson’s shadowy links with the Steve Bannon ideology make our current scenario even more chilling.

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