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Cameron urges Israel to be ‘smart’ by not escalating tensions with Iran

Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said Israel should view the Iranian attack as a total failure (James Manning/PA)
Foreign Secretary Lord David Cameron said Israel should view the Iranian attack as a total failure (James Manning/PA)

Lord David Cameron has urged Israel to be “smart as well as tough” by not escalating the conflict with Iran.

Israel should recognise Tehran’s attack at the weekend as an “almost total failure” and “think with head as well as heart” in its response, the Foreign Secretary said.

He confirmed that British RAF jets shot down “a small number” of drones fired by Iran in what was its first direct military assault on Israeli soil.

The unprecedented attack by Iran, which it said was in retaliation against a strike on an Iranian diplomatic compound in Syria earlier this month, has raised fears over the Israel-Hamas war spiralling into a wider regional conflagration.

Speaking ahead of a Commons statement by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on the matter, Lord Cameron on Monday echoed US President Joe Biden’s comment that Israel should view the successful defence against around 350 drones and missiles launched by Iran as a victory.

The Foreign Secretary told Times Radio: “The best thing to do in the case of Israel is to recognise this has been a failure for Iran.

“And so they should, as President Biden has said to them, as it were, take the win and then move on to focus on how to eradicate Hamas in Gaza and how to get those hostages free.”

He also said: “Israeli people this morning are thinking ‘We’ve suffered this massive attack. Of course, we want our government to respond’.

“And that’s why I think we have to be sensitive in the way we put this, but to say ‘Look, you have had a win because the Iran attack was such a failure and the smart thing to do as well as the tough thing to do now is actually not to escalate’.”

He described it as a “double defeat” for Tehran, with its attack being not only “an almost total failure, but also the rest of the world can now see what a malign influence they are in the region”.

“Had those weapons not been shot down, there could have been thousands of casualties, including civilian casualties,” he told Sky News, describing Tehran’s actions as “reckless and dangerous”.

The UK would “absolutely” consider further sanctions on Iran and will seek to work with G7 partners to “look at what further steps we can do”, the Cabinet minister said.

RAF jets could defend Israel again, even if the country’s leaders ignored calls from the UK and US to hold back from retaliation against Iran, Lord Cameron suggested.

“If there was another Iran attack – Iran has said they’re not going to attack again, and after the failure of their attack, I’m not surprised – but absolutely, we’ll always keep these things under review.”

The UK’s role was to “backfill” for the US in joint operations against the so-called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, he said.

“But at the same time, we also agreed that if there were drones coming in through that area that we would shoot them down. And our planes did that. A small number of drones were shot down.”

(PA Graphics)

Downing Street said there are “no current plans to publish legal advice” on the UK action, since British forces are operating within existing permissions and defined geographic area of the Operation Shader mission.

Giving pilots permission to intercept any airborne attacks from Iran is a “common-sense measure” to ensure that drones or missiles flying at or past British aircraft could be taken out, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said, while declining to say how many were shot down by the RAF.

The official also rejected Iran’s assertion that it gave advance warning of its strike, saying: “We were not briefed directly by Iran on their attacks.”

Lord Cameron called for a pivot in focus to the release of hostages by Hamas.

“Our hope is that there won’t be a retaliatory response, and instead the world’s focus should shift to Hamas.

“They still hold those hostages. They’ve been offered a deal that prisoners can be released from Israeli jails in return for some of those hostages and there’ll be a pause in the fighting. That’s what needs to happen next and that’s what I hope we can focus on.”

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is expected to make a House of Commons statement on the developments in the Middle East on Monday (Benjamin Cremel/PA)

He placed the blame for the ongoing Gaza war with Hamas, saying the militant group has rejected Israel’s offer.

“Anyone in any doubt who is responsible for keeping this conflict going, it’s not Israel, it is Hamas, and the focus should be on them.”

An Israeli offensive in Gaza, sparked by Hamas’s October 7 attack that claimed the lives of 1,200 people, has caused widespread devastation and killed more than 33,000 Palestinians.

Leaders of the G7 on Sunday warned that an “uncontrollable regional escalation” in the Middle East must be prevented and said they “stand ready to take further measures now and in response to further destabilising initiatives”.

All eyes will be on the response from Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s government, with countries in the region and elsewhere urging restraint to avoid intensifying the conflict.

A spokeswoman for the Israeli embassy in London said Israel is not “in the business of revenge” but wants to ensure Iran is “deterred” from launching further attacks.

Orly Goldschmidt told Sky News: “We are listening very carefully to our allies, we’re taking what they’re saying into consideration but, at the end of the day, we will have to defend ourselves against this Iranian threat.”

Shadow defence secretary John Healey urged Mr Sunak to set out the Government’s actions to “pursue the path of peace” in the Middle East.

He told BBC Breakfast: “We need to hear about the reasons for the military action, the legal basis for it, but most importantly what the UK Government is doing diplomatically to try and reduce tensions, to restore some stability and to pursue the path of peace and a ceasefire in Gaza.”