Syria: UK Military Action — Motion to Take Note

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 5:34 pm on 2nd December 2015.

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Photo of Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Lord Palmer of Childs Hill Liberal Democrat 5:34 pm, 2nd December 2015

My Lords, I believe that there is such a divergent set of opinions about what to do and what not to do about the situation in Syria because, in some people’s minds, “Heads we lose and tails we lose”. Whether or not the UK takes action in Syria, in addition to current actions in Iraq, there are likely to be further terrorist incidents in Paris, London and elsewhere. Although Daesh is under constant military pressure, it shows no current sign of heading for defeat.

Western intelligence shows that, after the horrific attacks in Paris, Daesh has shown a shift from inspiring and inciting terror to being the guide and perpetrator. Are we about to see a contest between Daesh and al-Qaeda in attacking western targets? We and our allies are already active in Iraq, but Daesh does not recognise a border between Syria and Iraq. Up to now, it slips across the porous border into Syria and we have not been authorised to follow. Defeating Daesh in Iraq and Syria will not solve all the problems, but surely it must be the start of the solution.

Noble Lords are right to ask whether the UK’s efforts can make a difference. My answer is that they can, by the very nature of our Armed Forces and weaponry, to which the noble Lord, Lord King, referred. Two extra Tornado aircraft, armed with Brimstone missiles, can seek out specific and very exact targets, and they have a fuse that can be delayed or even aborted. The local forces—Kurdish, Free Syrian Army, Southern Front and others—need to be equipped and trained with, for instance, the Exactor or Tamuz TV-guided missile, made in Israel and used by Britain successfully in Afghanistan. The Tamuz missiles are fired from an armoured personnel carrier from two launchers. The Brimstone and the Tamuz are but two examples of sophisticated weapons, and I hope that when he replies the Minister will give some indication of what sophisticated weaponry the UK forces can add to the conflict.

Quite rightly, we are not offering combat boots on the ground, but who can doubt that the ground war against Daesh in Iraq and Syria, using local troops, will be better co-ordinated with a moral, British, logistical input? Other noble Lords have rightly asked what happens after we join in the attack in Syria. As other noble Lords have also said, I hope that we will concentrate on the humanitarian aspect after the conflict as well. This conflict is a complex one, where it is difficult always to tell the “good guys” from the “bad guys”. Surely, therefore, we should accept that this conflict must be waged with short-term and longer-term targets.

I emphasise that the Gulf states must be brought on board at some stage—as soon as possible—and when they see the resolutions in the other place, I hope that they will come on board. The first target must be to weaken Daesh, which not only aims for local terror but has been seen to send its terrorists into our western heartlands. Then, and only then, we must turn to toppling Assad and replacing him—but not make the mistake of necessarily replacing his Alawite supporters, who may be needed post conflict to restore some order to this troubled land.