Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry criticised for 'absurd' letter on Israel and Iran

Labour leadership castigated for staying silent on war crimes of Russia and Iran while attacking Jewish state for defending itself


The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Emily Thornberry, has been criticised for appearing to equate the actions of Israel and Iran in Syria and Iraq, in a letter to the Foreign Secretary described as "absurd", “inconsistent” and “a complete misreading of the facts.”

Writing to Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, on Wednesday, Ms Thornberry said: “I am sure that you have been gravely alarmed by the latest escalation in the multi-faceted conflict in Syria.

“These exchanges have been accompanied by unacceptable rhetoric from both parties, with Iranian air force commander Aziz Nasirzadeh saying his pilots were ready to 'confront the Zionist regime and eliminate it from the earth', and Israeli Intelligence Minister Israel Katz saying: 'The policy has changed. This is an open confrontation with Iran'.”

“The escalation also comes amid reports that your US counterpart, Mike Pompeo, has told the Netanyahu government in Israel that the US will have no objection if the Israeli air force conducts air strikes inside the sovereign state of Iraq against what it alleges are Iranian backed Shiite militias transporting missiles into Syria.

“These are all hugely dangerous developments, which – coupled with the general policy of aggression towards Iran being pursued by the Trump Administration – increase the risk of a drift by Israel and the US towards war with Iran.”

Ms Thornberry’s letter went on to call for a number of “immediate issues to be addressed”, almost all of which are aimed at Israel rather than Iran, including urging the suspension of arms sales to Israel and cancelling joint exercises between the Israeli air force and the RAF planned for later this year because “it would seem utterly inappropriate 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.”

Jennifer Gerber, director of Labour Friends of Israel, 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.”

Joan Ryan, parliamentary chair of LFI, responded to Ms Thornberry’s letter by calling it “nothing short of a complete misreading of the facts.

“The leadership of Iran has consistently made clear its desire to destroy Israel,” Ms Ryan, the MP for Enfield North, pointed out.

“The comments you refer to by Brigadier General Aziz Nasirzadeh are simply the latest in a series of bellicose threats by Tehran dating back to the Islamic revolution in 1979. As the Iranian Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei stated last June: ‘Our stance against Israel is the same stance we have always taken. Israel is a malignant cancerous tumour in the West Asian region that has to be removed and eradicated: it is possible and it will happen.’

“The current tensions between Israel and Iran in Syria stem from these threats and the desire of Tehran to turn them into a reality.

 “Thus, with the connivance of Russia – on whom, I note, you once again fail to place any responsibility for the death and destruction it has wrought in Syria – Iran has worked in recent years to use Syria as a base from which to attack Israel.”

Ms Ryan also noted that Ms Thornberry’s letter “fails to make any mention of Hezbollah”, which she described as “frankly incredible.

“As you know, Hezbollah – the proxy army of Iran, which is funded and directed by Tehran – has a long history of carrying out terrorist attacks against Israeli, Jewish and western targets throughout the world,” she wrote

 “It, too, has made clear its goal: the destruction of the world’s only Jewish state.

 “With Iran’s active encouragement, vast sums of money and overt assistance, Hezbollah is working to realise this mission. It has recruited an army of 45,000 men and amassed an estimated 120,000-140,000 rockets and missiles – an arsenal larger than that of many states – thousands of which are capable of hitting civilian targets across Israel.

“Iran has attempted to use its position in Syria to transfer what Israel believes to be 'game-changing' weapons to Hezbollah; to assist Hezbollah in the manufacture of precision-missiles; and to establish a permanent military presence for itself in the country. Indeed, despite agreements signed by Russia and the US in late 2017, Iran has continued to work to increase its presence in southern Syria. This was evident in the construction last year of a new military base south of Damascus, a mere 31 miles from the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.

 “It is this context and background which is totally absent from your letter.”

Marie Van Der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies, described how Ms Thornberry’s “recognition of Iran’s belligerence and state-backed antisemitism is inconsistent with your call to deprive Israel of the means to defend itself against Iranian aggression.”

Mrs Van Der Zyl went on to ask: “Will Labour 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 religious and familial and religious ties.”

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