Sunak says Israel has UK’s full support after ‘unprecedented’ Iran attack but all sides must show restraint

The prime minister said the ‘reckless and dangerous escalation’ by Iran on Saturday night risked plunging the Middle East into a deeper crisis

Archie Mitchell,Tom Watling
Monday 15 April 2024 20:09 BST
Iran attack on Israel ‘dangerous escalation' but 'calm heads must prevail', Sunak says

Rishi Sunak has doubled down on Britain’s backing for Israel after Iran’s “unprecedented” attack, but urged all sides to “show restraint” amid fears the Middle East crisis could spiral out of control.

The prime minister said the “reckless and dangerous escalation” by Iran on Saturday night risked plunging the region into a deeper crisis, as he hit out at Tehran for trying to “sow chaos in their own back yard”.

Addressing MPs for the first time since Iran launched more than 170 drones, 30 cruise missiles and 120 ballistic missiles on the nation, Mr Sunak said G7 countries were united in condemning the assault and were working on a package of measures to pile pressure on Iran.

He added that he would speak to Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu to express Britain’s solidarity and discuss “how we can prevent further escalation” – warning that Israel’s security “is non-negotiable” as part of a “fundamental condition for peace in the region”. But in a sign that Britain’s support for Israel’s campaign against Hamas in Gaza is unwavering, the PM repeated that Israel has the “right” to seek to defeat the militant organisation.

Mr Netanyahu is considering how to respond to Tehran, with the UK, France, Germany and the European Union all echoing calls by the US for Israel to avoid an escalation that could spark a wider war.

Rishi Sunak condemned the ‘reckless and dangerous’ escalation by Iran (PRU/AFP via Getty Images)

The PM’s intervention came as:

  • Foreign secretary David Cameron described the Iranian attack as “reckless” but urged Israel to respond “with head as well as heart”
  • Europe’s top leaders also urged Israel to show restraint and “move away … from the edge of the cliff”
  • Mr Netanyahu convened his war cabinet where they discussed a number of options for a “painful” retaliatory measure against Iran
  • Mr Sunak came under fresh pressure from backbenchers to proscribe the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) as a terrorist group

Mr Sunak told the Commons on Monday afternoon: “With this attack Iran has once again shown its true colours. They are intent on sowing chaos in their own back yard, on further destabilising the Middle East.

“Our aim is to support stability and security because it is right for the region and because although the Middle East is thousands of miles away, it has a direct effect on our security and prosperity at home.

“So, we’re working urgently with our allies to de-escalate the situation and prevent further bloodshed. We want to see calmer heads prevail and we’re directing all our diplomatic efforts to that end.”

He added: “All sides must show restraint.”

RAF jets shot down ‘a number’ of Iran’s attack drones directed at Israel over the weekend (Israeli Army/AFP via Getty Image)

Adding that Israel has Britain’s “full support”, the PM set out three steps to “put the region on a better path”.

Mr Sunak said: “First we must uphold regional security against hostile actors including in the Red Sea, and we must ensure Israel’s security – that is non-negotiable. It is a fundamental condition for peace in the region. In the face of threats like we saw this weekend, Israel has our full support.

“Second we must invest more deeply in the two-state solution – that is what we have been doing over the past six months, including working closely with the Palestinian authority so that when the time comes they can provide more effective governance for Gaza and the West Bank.”

He went on: “The conflict in Gaza must end. Hamas, which is backed by Iran, started this war. They wanted not just to kill and murder but to destabilise the whole region.”

He added: “It is significant that other regional partners actually helped to prevent a much worse attack over the weekend, it reminds us how important the attempts to normalise relations between Israel and its neighbours really are, and it holds out precious hope for the region.”

Turning to the ongoing conflict in Gaza, Mr Sunak said: “It is Israel’s right, and indeed its duty, to defeat the threat from Hamas terrorists and defend its security.”

The Royal Air Force joined allies in defending Israel, with British jets shooting down a number of Iranian attack drones.

Sir Keir Starmer joined the PM in urging Israel to show restraint after the attack, backing the involvement of UK armed forces in efforts to thwart the strikes. Mr Sunak had previously confirmed that RAF jets shot down “a number” of Iran’s attack drones.

The Labour leader added there was “no doubt” the attack “has left the world a more dangerous place” and said Iran “must be wholly condemned by all”.

Labour leader Keir Starmer also urged Israel to show restraint in its response to the attack from Iran (Getty Images)

Foreign secretary Lord Cameron had earlier urged Israel to be “smart as well as tough” by not escalating the conflict with Iran. He said Israel should recognise Tehran’s attack as an “almost total failure” when they consider their next move.

“I think [Israel are] perfectly justified to think they should respond because they have been attacked, but we are urging them as friends to think with head as well as heart, to be smart as well as tough,” he said.

Meanwhile, the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, urged all parties to “step on the brakes and reverse gear”, or risk an all-out war in the region.

French president Emmanuel Macron and German chancellor Olaf Scholz also called for restraint, saying they were working to avoid escalation. “We will do all we can to avoid things flaring up, escalating,” Mr Macron said, urging Israel to aim to isolate Iran rather than escalate the situation.

Countries including Belgium and Germany summoned the Iranian ambassadors. And Italy, which holds the rotating presidency of the G7, raised the possibility of the group discussing new sanctions against Iran following the attack.

Israeli defence minister Yoav Gallant said Israel had an opportunity to form a strategic alliance “against this grave threat by Iran”, while Benny Gantz, a former military chief who is part of the war cabinet, said they would build a “regional coalition and exact the price from Iran in the fashion and timing that is right for us”.

Foreign secretary Lord David Cameron said Israel should view the Iranian attack as a total failure (PA Wire)

The weekend’s assault was launched in response to a strike widely blamed on Israel upon an Iranian consular building in Syria earlier this month, which killed two Iranian generals. Israel has denied responsibility for that attack.

It marks the first time a direct military assault has been launched by Tehran on Israel despite enmity dating back to the country’s 1979 Islamic Revolution.

Iran has said it does not want tensions to increase, but promised an immediate and stronger response if Israel retaliates against its strike.

Iran has been blamed for supporting Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon which have targeted Israel, along with the Houthi group in Yemen which has mounted attacks on Red Sea shipping.

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