Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry has urged the Foreign Office to threaten Israel with an arms sales ban and an end joint military exercises.
Her letter to Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, while also criticising and threatening the Iranians, brought an angry reaction from Jewish community leaders keen to hear Labour acknowledge Israel’s right to defend itself against Iranian operations on its border.
In the letter, Thornberry warned that Israel now seemed set on targeting Shi’ite militias in Iraq and outlined how Israel’s aerial bombardment of Iranian positions in Syria on Sunday meant events were “developing in ever more dangerous directions”.
She blasted the fiery rhetoric emanating from both Jerusalem and Tehran and urged Hunt to warn both sides that the UK’s support was conditional, but it was her recipe for withdrawing UK-Israel cooperation that drew most attention.
She said Hunt should tell the Iraqi government that Britain “will protest in the strongest possible terms – including at the United Nations – if Israel engages in airstrikes over Iraqi soil, in breach of international law”.
Thornberry also urged Hunt “to confirm that, if Israel does engage in escalating acts of aggression against Iran, then it will be in breach of the rules governing the UK arms export regime, and that sales of arms to Israel for use in those acts of international aggression will therefore be suspended”.
Finally, she said Hunt should tell the Israelis that if they were to “escalate” the situation, the UK should “withdraw the invitation for the Israeli air force to participate in joint exercises with the RAF in the UK later this year”.
She added: “It would seem utterly unacceptable for the RAF to be helping to train pilots who would then be using those lessons in a war of aggression against Iran, or in breach of Iraq’s sovereignty.”
Thornberry’s concern and ultimatums follow Israel’s retaliatory action against positions south of Damascus after surface-to-surface missiles were fired over the Golan Heights towards Israel, before being intercepted by the Iron Dome system.
Israel blamed Iran’s elite Quds force for the missiles and hit back hours later, striking what it said were Iranian weapons and training facilities as well as Syrian air defence positions. Multiple casualties were recorded, prompting Russia – which defends the Syrian regime – to warn Israel against further forays.
However Jewish leaders in the UK said on Friday that Thornberry could not claim to have Israel’s best wishes at heart while threatening it if it defended itself.
“Emily Thornberry’s recognition of Iran’s belligerence and state-backed antisemitism is inconsistent with her call to deprive Israel of the means to defend itself against Iranian aggression,” said Board of Deputies’ president Marie van der Zyl.
“Will Labour’s front bench give a cast-iron guarantee that if Israel is attacked by Iran or its proxies like Hezbollah or Hamas, that Labour would support Israel’s defence of its civilians? British Jews are invested in the security of the region, not least because of our close familial and religious ties.”
Jewish Leadership Council chair Jonathan Goldstein also questioned Thornberry’s reasoning given that she had acknowledged an Iranian commander’s threat to “confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth”.
Goldstein said: “Labour’s front bench yet again targets Israel, and only Israel, for criticism. This obsession with Israel is something we raised with the Labour leadership last year. The double standards, demonisation and delegitimisation is what contributes to the toxicity we see on a daily basis.”
Jennifer Gerber, Labour Friends of Israel’s director said: “It is frankly beyond belief that, having barely uttered a word about the brutal war crimes and mass killing of civilians carried out by Russia and Iran on behalf of the Assad regime, the Labour leadership has chosen to cast Israel as the villain in Syria. Once again, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour party is showing its hostility to the world’s only Jewish state, its appeasement of Vladimir Putin and its failure to recognise the danger posed by the Iranian theocracy. This would be absurd were it not so appalling.”
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