In his speech to the February 11 solidarity film screening of Hands Off the People of Iran (which raised £180 for Hopi), John McDonnell MP explained how the British government is preparing to step up its intervention in the Middle East:
I was present in the Commons on January 24, when foreign secretary William Hague made a statement on European Union sanctions against Iran. In response to a question, he said that, while the UK was “not calling for, or advocating, military action”, it is “the job of our armed forces to prepare for many contingencies” and “all options remain on the table”. This was reflected on the Labour front bench by shadow foreign secretary John Spellar, that well known progressive politician (there’s no irony in Hansard, but I hope it’s not the same in this meeting). Spellar reflects the same attitude – that we should be ready for military action.
Some caution was sounded, including from Tories – the Tory chair of the Iran All-Party Group basically said, ‘Look at the situation from Iran’s point of view. It’s surrounded by nuclear states: Pakistan, India and Israel. Then there are the occupied territories. What would the government think if that was happening here?’ So, while there is a clear majority on all sides of the house for ensuring that military intervention remains on the agenda, there were reservations being expressed even on the Tory side. The Iran All-Party Group is basically an alliance of Tories and big capital, which is concerned about the repercussions on trade more than anything else.
There were two interventions from our side: from myself and Jeremy Corbyn. Jeremy raised the issue that, if there really is so much anxiety about nuclear weapons – Hague’s line is that we need to intervene now before nuclear weapons were obtained and developed – then the government should adhere to its legal commitments under various treaties and press for a conference to establish a nuclear-free zone within the Middle East. Hague’s response was fairly derisory, refusing to confront the issue that there might be another path to securing peace. Obviously, they don’t want to confront Israel – that’s not on their agenda either.
I asked a question about current military action and about the covert operations and assassinations that have already happened. Interestingly enough, Hague denied the UK’s involvement in assassinations, but it’s useful to look at the phrasing he used: he said he was not going to comment further, because the British government does not comment on intelligence matters. What that confirms effectively is that they know about the covert operations – the assassinations as well as the bombings, etc. But they are unwilling to acknowledge the role of Mossad, with the support of some movements within Iran itself, for those sorts of military actions. Of course, you can only put one question; you cannot engage in debate.
But if you compare the responses last month to what was being said in the run-up to the war against Iraq, there is a clear similarity. There is a need to ratchet up sanctions, and a tacit acknowledgement that covert operations are already happening. There is a build-up on the Tory side, backed by the Labour front bench in a coalition of agreement, if you like: all three parties agree that military intervention would be supported if and when they felt it was appropriate. As with Iraq, once that ball starts rolling, it begins to pick up speed and I genuinely think that is where we are at. I do think that they are now clear in their own minds that military intervention will take place – it will probably take the form of a strike by Israel and then if necessary another intervention force of some sort.
There are also arguments about intervention in Syria, maybe moving towards a no-fly zone. That then gives them a base to move on to Iran later. They are plotting these options very clearly and we need to do the same thing in relation to our response to what we think those next steps will be.
There will definitely be an escalation of sanctions, and our job is to expose their implications. Here I must mention the work Yassamine Mather has done – on the resulting economic situation in Iran, on the destabilising effect on the Iranian currency and on trade, and the knock-on effect that has on ordinary working class people. I think it is critical that we get than message out, because it is not reported anywhere: there’s no discussion of this in our national press or media at all. We in Hands off the People of Iran have argued that sanctions are just war by another means – war perpetrated not on the ruling elite of Iran, but on the ordinary working class people. They’re the ones who actually suffer as a result of sanctions.
We need to be the people who are exposing the covert operations, because I don’t think we can give the media the credit for doing that. The fact that it’s not British troops on the ground is irrelevant: whether it’s British boots or not, there’s a covert war going on and it’s our job to expose that. Above all else, our job is to try and make sure the anti-war forces in this country are mobilised effectively and, hopefully, in a non-sectarian way to prevent any further military action taking place.
I think that, with Iraq still in the memory, there is a popular sentiment that can be mobilised against direct intervention by this country in Iran. But it has to be worked upon. So I think our job in the coming weeks and months is to continue the work which Hopi is doing and to expose what’s going on, to expose the sanctions, to expose the build-up of covert operations and to expose the potential that there is for intervention by the US and the UK and others in some sort of ‘coalition of the willing’, which I think they’re trying to prepare, certainly in propaganda terms.
It’s interesting that the propaganda is so extensive. The Guardian – supposedly a left-liberal newspaper – carried a piece by Jonathan Freedland [February 11] arguing in favour of an intervention in Iran. It actually attacks those people who demonstrated on the Stop the War Coalition demo on January 28 – we also participated, of course. The arguments are beginning to be presented in terms of a ‘humanitarian intervention’ – an intervention that is required at this stage to prevent the development of nuclear weapons.
Well, Jeremy posed the right solution, you have to be engaged in the debate about nuclear proliferation overall if you are going to tackle this issue. And the reason they don’t want to address it seriously is because they are not willing to address the issue of the nuclear arms held by Israel. So, again, it’s our job in the coming period to expose that and work against military intervention. If we can win the argument against direct intervention, we can then roll back the argument about the sanctions issue as well.
We might well then be able to start a discussion deep in the heart of the labour and trade union movement in this country about the real force for change in Iran. In other words, how can we give effective support to the progressive forces, individuals and organisations in Iran? At the moment the solidarity work of the labour and trade union movement is at an extremely low level – a few tokenistic statements by the general secretary of the TUC, for example. It hasn’t become a feature of the international work of the labour and trade union movement in this country amongst the official organisations, and that’s part of our mission in the coming period. We must learn how to be successful in raising this in individual trade unions and we need to step up to the plate on this now.
Let me finish on this. On the first day following the recess there will be a debate in the Commons on Iran, on the initiative of Elfyn Llwyd of Plaid Cymru, who is reasonably progressive on a number of issues. Jeremy and I will be intervening in that debate. We as Hopi need to prepare the lines of argument that should be posed in parliament – because, as sure as day follows night, there will be an organised intervention, not just from the Tories, but from the Labour side as well. They’ll be seeking to consolidate their consensus over sanctions, but also ratcheting it up into support for intervention. So we on our side have to use that debate as best we can to argue not just against sanctions and military intervention, but also for an alternative. That means revolutionary change in Iran. But revolution on the basis of working class people and working class organisations, together with progressive forces, coming together to challenge the current regime.
If Hopi can make such an intervention in parliament, that will give a lead to others. One thing that struck me about the January 24 exchanges in parliament was that MPs were absolutely lost. Then there was the realisation: ‘Oh my god, we are going down the same route as with Iraq.’ The same drums are beating. That shift from ‘weapons of mass destruction’ to sanctions, covert operations and military build-up. As soon as the navy arrives in the Gulf area then the inevitability of military intervention is posed.
There might just be the potential to set out our alternative – an alternative to the usual escalation that develops into another war. If we can make a good intervention in parliament, then we can use that as part of our propaganda base to alert the British people as well.