David Cameron believes Britain “had to take a stand” following the chemical weapon attacks in Syria and thinks that the Holocaust provides a chilling lesson of what can happen when outrages are not tackled.
The Prime Minister told guests at the Holocaust Education Trust’s 25th anniversary dinner in central London on Monday that the “shame of not acting sometimes doesn’t quite register properly until afterwards”.
Speaking fully for the first time since the government was defeated in a Commons vote on Britain’s response to the chemical attacks, Mr Cameron linked Parliament’s refusal to back military action with ignoring a key lesson of the Holocaust.
The Prime Minister explained how he felt as he watched videos of the aftermath of the massacres. “I saw children’s bodies stored in ice. Young men and women gasping for air and suffering the most agonising deaths — all inflicted by weapons that have been outlawed for nearly a century.
“And let’s not forget, these chemical weapons also pose a massive potential threat to Israel. So there I was facing this reality. The evidence before our eyes. The flagrant breach of an international taboo against the use of chemical weapons. The refugee crisis of our time. And a man-made humanitarian catastrophe where 6.8 million in Syria are in need of humanitarian assistance.”
Mr Cameron said his instinct after the chemical attacks was not to “secure advantage for my political party — it was to say ‘what is the best way for my country to stand up?’.”
The memory of massacres in Srebrenica and Rwanda had made him “wonder now why we didn’t do more at the time”.
Accepting that there would be “no easy answers” to solving the Syrian crisis, the Prime Minister spoke more widely on the complexity of issues in the Middle East and the potential for Syria’s neighbours to be dragged into the conflict.
“Let me assure you that the safety of Israel will always be a fundamental concern for me. With me as Prime Minister, Britain will never stand by. We will not stand by when people talk with genocidal intent about the Jewish people — as the Iranian regime has done. We will not stand by as the Iranians continue their path to nuclear weapons.
“And we will back Israel’s right to defend itself, when rockets from terrorists… are fired into Israeli homes.”