Britain warns Iran: We’ll respond to any attack on our citizens or our forces, pledges Defence Secretary Ben Wallace
- Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this country would do ‘what it has to do’
- Hundreds of personnel on ships and helicopters have been placed on standby
- Some 25 non-essential UK personnel have also been moved out of ‘harm’s way’
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace (pictured) said this country would do ‘what it has to do’ to defend itself
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace said this country would do ‘what it has to do’ to defend itself. He spoke out amid fears of a spectacular act of Iranian revenge for the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani.
In a statement to MPs yesterday, Mr Wallace said he was taking ‘urgent measures’ to protect the UK’s soldiers and citizens from potential reprisals by the Tehran regime.
Hundreds of personnel on ships and helicopters have been placed on standby in the Middle East in case they are needed to carry out an emergency evacuation.
In addition, the Mail understands that some 25 non-essential UK personnel have been moved out of ‘harm’s way’ and transferred from Baghdad to US base Camp Arifjan in neighbouring Kuwait. On another chaotic day in the region:
- It emerged that Iran has worked up 13 sets of plans for revenge for Soleimani’s killing in what the country said would be a ‘historic nightmare’ for the US;
- Iran’s Revolutionary Guard threatened to ‘set ablaze’ countries supported by the US;
- Boris Johnson and Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan agreed to find a ‘diplomatic way’ through the crisis;
- The US warned ships on the Middle Eastern waterways that are crucial to global energy supplies that there is the ‘possibility of Iranian action against US maritime interests’;
- Nato began moving some of its training staff out of Iraq in a blow to the fight against Islamic State;
Wallace spoke out amid fears of a spectacular act of Iranian revenge for the US assassination of Qassem Soleimani (pictured centre)
Asked yesterday if he would rule out an attack on Iran should the regime strike British interests, Mr Wallace told MPs: ‘I’m not going to rule out anything. The UK will do what it has to do to defend its persons, its citizens and wherever it needs to do that. That is our duty.
He added: ‘If British civilians were killed, or even military personnel, as a result of Iranian or terrorist action we would look at the response. The response would no doubt be proportionate.’
The Mail understands that other British troops could be pulled out of Iraq if the security situation deteriorates, a move that would end Britain’s 17-year presence there.
A defence source said: ‘We have started moving non-essential personnel so there are less people in harm’s way.’ Mr Wallace also revealed yesterday that a team of military and civilian planners had been despatched to Iraq to map out the evacuation of UK citizens. He said: ‘We plan for the worse but we hope it does not get to that.’
The Department for Transport meanwhile, is expected to update its advice for shipping in the Gulf amid fears British-flagged vessels could be seized by Iran.
Boris Johnson convened a meeting of the National Security Council where military chiefs and ministers discussed the crisis. British intelligence chiefs believe a revenge attack by Iran for the US killing of its top military commander last Friday is more likely once he has been buried.
Some 400 British troops are in Iraq as part of a mission to help Iraqis defeat IS, which still represents a major threat in the region.
On Monday night it emerged in a leaked letter that US-led coalition forces, including UK troops, were being moved out of Baghdad amid safety fears. Some UK embassy staff were also moved to the Taji military base north of the capital.
Boris Johnson convened a meeting of the National Security Council where military chiefs and ministers discussed the crisis
The Government has already announced that the Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender and the Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose are to resume escorting shipping through the Straits of Hormuz.
Mr Wallace warned that the UK was ‘alive’ to the fact that Al Qaeda and IS could exploit the situation to mount attacks. Earlier in the week the Iraqi parliament voted to boot out western forces after the assassination of Soleimani on their soil.
Mr Wallace warned that such a move could lead to foreign fighters in prisons in Syria being set free. He said: ‘It is incredibly important we are able to say in Iraq.’
Mr Wallace said Soleimani had been ‘no friend of the UK’ and that the Quds force of the Revolutionary Guards Corps which he led had been ‘one of the foremost architects of Iran’s malign activity’ in the region. ‘He encouraged proxies to develop weapons such as improvised explosive devices that killed and maimed UK soldiers,’ he said.
In a step change, the former Scots Guard also said that more needed to be invested in defence to ensure that the UK was not so reliant on partners such as the US. Jeremy Corbyn asked why Mr Johnson was not giving a statement to the House.
Mr Wallace retorted: ‘Funnily enough, the prime minister is running the country – something the leader of the opposition will fail to ever do as a result of the election.’ Mr Corbyn branded the drone strike on Soleimani an ‘assassination’.
Mr Wallace dismissed the Labour leader’s comments as ‘anti-American guff’. He said he had seen evidence suggesting there was ‘a case of self-defence to be made’ by Washington, which has claimed Soleimani was in Iraq in relation to an imminent attack.
- The director of the Victoria and Albert Museum has described its forthcoming exhibition on Iran as ‘more important than ever’ after Donald Trump warned he could target the country’s cultural sites. Writing in The Art Newspaper, former Labour MP Tristram Hunt applauded American institutions for condemning Mr Trump’s threat, adding: ‘Politicians and international bodies need to do the same.’
The V&A exhibition Epic Iran is due to open in October.