Defence in the World

Part of Points of Order – in the House of Commons at 1:42 pm on 1st February 2007.

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Photo of Liam Fox Liam Fox Shadow Secretary of State for Defence 1:42 pm, 1st February 2007

We need to look at the other half of the equation: the build-up of Iranian naval forces. In the view of many western intelligence analysts, that is taking place to internationalise any dispute that may arise after the tightening of sanctions as a result of Iran's nuclear ambitions, and to disrupt maritime transport through the Strait of Hormuz. It would be strange if we did not make it clear by positioning forces that we would respond to such a threat. When dealing with the current Iranian regime, it is essential that we make it clear that nothing will be ruled out in our responses to any actions that Iran may take.

I hope that the regime will see sense. I hope that political opinion in Iran will persuade the regime that the Iranian people do not want a conflict with the international community, and that its actions are to the detriment of the ordinary people of that country. I hope that a political way through can be found, but we should give the Iranian regime no comfort by ruling out any specific responses to any military action that they may take, or threaten to take.

The Secretary of State mentioned the role of Iranians in Iraq. It is sufficient to say that increased Iranian involvement in the Iraqi conflict will be to the detriment of all parties concerned, and would severely damage the chances of a peaceful resolution in Iraq. It would be likely to inflame tensions, way beyond the borders of either Iran or Iraq, and the Iranians are already raising considerable fears in the wider region.

It may or may not turn out to be correct, but increasingly, noises are coming from Iran suggesting that Iran may want to change its position not only on the conflict in Iraq but on the conflict in Afghanistan. Until now, the Government in Tehran have never thought it to Iran's advantage to become too involved in what is happening in Afghanistan. For historical and religious reasons they are no friend of the Taliban, and they have not wanted a sustained NATO presence on their border. However, there are those in Iran who now say, "Well, the greatest threat to us is a potential military strike as a result of our nuclear programme, so it would be all the better for us to tie up the NATO forces, and the Americans in particular, in a prolonged and more difficult conflict in Afghanistan."

That may or may not be what the regime is thinking, but it is worth stating that view, because if Iran were brought into conflict with the entire international community—and it would be the entire international community, because we are talking about a United Nations-sanctioned mission, carried out by NATO—there would be a tremendous escalation of tension in the region. If people in Tehran, and Iran's representatives in this country, are listening to today's debate, I hope that they understand the strength of feeling in this country about any meddling by Iran in Afghanistan, especially as we heard only today that there are to be more British troops in part of Afghanistan.