My Lords, I understand why the Government want to respond positively to the requests of our allies to join them in air attacks against ISIS in Raqqa. Nothing that I say in this necessarily brief intervention should be interpreted as any sympathy whatever for ISIS, or disagreement with the objectives of that powerful statement last week from the United Nations.
However, I find the Prime Minister’s response to the report of the Foreign Affairs Committee unconvincing, if not dangerously misleading. Mr Cameron’s claim that the Syrian opposition forces could put 70,000 men in the field against ISIS, under the command of the so-called Free Syrian Army, ignores the reality that they are deeply divided groups of Syrians and others, about 90% of whom are Islamic fundamentalist radicals supported and funded by Turkey and the Gulf states. These are the so-called moderates that the Government expect to form the basis of a transitional Government in Damascus. Is it not high time that we recognised that although the present Syrian Government, with their powerful and growing support from Russia and Iran, are undoubtedly part of the problem, they must also be part of the solution. Surely all the Government’s efforts and our still considerable diplomatic resources should now be directed towards supporting the diplomatic talks in Vienna and encouraging their early resumption.
Have the Government taken adequately into account the chaotic military situation in northern Syria, where the Jordanians have withdrawn support from the Free Syrian Army; where the Turks are primarily interested in bombing the PKK and opposing the Russians; where the deployment of Russian S-400 anti-air missiles have effectively transformed most of northern Syria into a no-fly zone under Russian control; and where the United States suspended air strikes this week? If our Tornados and Typhoons are sent into action in the next few days without adequate co-ordination and consultation, is there not a serious risk of collision with the Russian and Syrian forces?
The Government tell us that there is no question of our putting ground troops into Syria. President Obama has said the same, and yet we saw yesterday a decision by the United States to send in more special ground forces. If that is not mission creep, what is?
It is argued that it is illogical for the Royal Air Force to attack ISIS in Iraq but not in Syria. The Government may be content with the legal advice that they have received. However, let us not forget that we are in Iraq at the request of the Iraqi Government, whereas we do not even accept that the Syrian Government in Damascus even exist.
We have given facilities to our allies in our sovereign base areas, and no doubt we are sharing as much intelligence as possible with both the United States and France. Should we not leave it at that and devote all our diplomatic weight and experience to the talks in Vienna? If we do, what more should we be doing about ISIS in Syria? We should accept, however much it sticks in our throats, that President Assad was right when he said yesterday that the only forces effectively confronting ISIS in his country are his Russian allies. Should we not persuade our Gulf allies, which have given financial, material and ideological support to ISIS, that they should more actively discredit, confront and cut off funding from what is, after all, their creature?
As we have just reached four minutes, I will make just one quick postscript. I note that the Government prefer to call ISIS “Daesh”. Can I just tell noble Lords, as a much decayed Arabist, that the “D” in “Daesh” stands for “the state”?