UK does comprehend Iran threat

William Hague

William Hague

It is rare that the political class has been as united as it was on Monday evening when MPs voted by 285 to six for a cross-party amendment to keep all options open when dealing with Iran. The anti-war Tory MP John Baron proposed a backbench motion calling on the government to remove military intervention from the table and barely a voice was raised in support.

These are times of profound division, within the country, within the Coalition government and within each of our political parties.

The Labour Party remains deeply bruised by the experience of the Iraq War. The losses our military forces have sustained in Iraq and Afghanistan are a huge psychological wound. The Libyan adventure and giant cuts to the Ministry of Defence mean that our ability to intervene, even if we wanted to, is severely limited. And yet, as one Foreign Office told me this week in typically understated terms, "with Iran everyone gets the seriousness of the threat".

It is always possible that the majority has it wrong and it may yet be the case that the world will learn to live with an Iran armed with nuclear weapons. But no one seriously believes this would be a good idea.

At this point, I would love to indulge in the usual Kremlinology of the political journalist, to explain the subtle differences of position within the Cabinet and outline the nuances of the battle between the Neocons and the Little Englanders, so evident in much of government foreign policy.

Stopping Iran going nuclear is a personal mission for Hague

But I'm afraid it's just not there.

I think it's fair to say that William Hague has not always been an entirely convincing friend to Israel. His position on Syria has been decidedly wobbly. But on Iran he has been utterly consistent. From the moment he took the job as Foreign Secretary, Mr Hague has made it plain that he does not believe a nuclear Iran is a tolerable option.

This is not to say he believes a unilateral strike by Israel is a good idea. But of all areas of foreign policy, with the possible exception of Europe, this is what William Hague feels most passionately about. He would feel it as a personal failure if Iran went nuclear on his watch.

Parallels with Iraq in the build-up to 2003 are not helpful or illuminating here.

This is a far more dangerous situation at a time of extraordinary turmoil in the Arab world, where the consequences of military intervention would be almost inconceivably catastrophic.

This is why we had better believe ministers and officials when they tell us that they are determined to pursue a dual track approach of diplomatic negotiation linked to the pressure of sanctions.

But Monday's vote demonstrates that if all else fails, there is the political will in the UK to use force despite everything that has happened over the last decade to dissuade people from the path of war. We can only hope the Iranian regime also gets it.

Last updated: 2:04pm, February 23 2012