James Morris is MP for Halesowen and Rowley Regis.
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The seismic changes we are witnessing in the Middle East present both hope for the future but also profound strategic dangers. The threat of Iran continues to be the most pressing issue facing the international community. Should we be concerned about their nuclear intentions, and what sort of threat does Iran really represent to the region? The truth is, we should be taking the threat of Iran very seriously. Europe and the West must not become distracted by economic woes into underestimating the challenge presented by the possibility of a nuclear armed Iran. Their words and actions paint a vivid picture of the danger the regime would pose as a nuclear power.
Rhetoric littered with 9/11 denial, Israel hatred, and threats to the West are commonplace in the regime’s discourse. Iran’s actions also demonstrate the malignant power of the regime. The state is widely recognised as the world’s leading sponsor of international terrorism, which funds, trains and arms groups like Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. These terrorist groups share the regime’s stated goal of destroying the West.
The Islamic Republic is also providing weapons and support for the Assad regime in Syria as well as being the driving force behind insurgent groups in Iraq and Afghanistan, which have inflicted countless casualties on British forces. If Iran achieves their nuclear ambitions, a rise in international terrorist attacks will undoubtedly follow suit. In the event Iran goes nuclear, the grim prospect is that these terrorist groups will be protected under the regime’s nuclear umbrella.
Iran’s aggressive behaviour is not restricted to support of terrorist surrogates. In December 2011, Iran’s naval commander, Admiral Habibollah Sayari said "Blocking the Strait of Hormuz would be as easy for us as drinking a glass of water." And last month, Iran made good on their threat and blocked the Straits, which are of fundamental geo-political importance, a passage for 20 per cent of the global oil trade.
The regime’s belligerence is explained somewhat by the protection afforded to them by their expanding missile programme. The Islamic Republic now possess a large arsenal of short and medium-range ballistic missiles, including the Shahab-2 and Shahab-3 with ranges of up to 1300km. Given the short distances between Iran and the Gulf states – oil refineries included – the missiles represent a significant risk to the stability of the global oil business. A nuclear Iran, however, would take even bolder steps to increase their hegemonic power. They will spark a nuclear arms race throughout the Arab and Muslim world as states like Saudi Arabia, Jordan and Egypt all seek to establish their regional position and become a member of the nuclear ‘club’.
In looking to tackle the Iranian threat, there are those who argue that the threat of them ever using a nuclear bomb is vastly exaggerated. Those advocating a Containment strategy for dealing with Iran’s nuclear ambitions are living in a dream world. Containment would require the determination to confront Iranian aggression with overwhelming force and huge military deployment. We would need reliable and capable allies in the region to help with this. Additionally, we would have to confront Iran’s terrorist proxies. The West has so far shown little desire or capability to follow this path. Military power is stretched, Middle Eastern allies are few and far between and terrorists operate in a secret realm that is difficult to penetrate.
In the face of these difficulties, the international community must re-focus their efforts. We have a responsibility to ensure Iran never becomes a nuclear power. The Foreign Secretary is right to say that all options must be left on the table, and he is right to be pursuing an aggressive sanctions programme. The international community must be unified in ensuring that the sanctions actually bite. In certain instances more could be done. For example, whilst the assets of the Iranian central bank have been frozen in Europe, there are limited exemptions to permit the continuation of some "legitimate trade". Conversely US sanctions do not include these exemptions. This legal loophole allows companies to operate according to EU rather than US agreements. EU banking sanctions must be tightened up, bringing them closer in line with those of the US.
Furthermore, sanctions on the shipping industry should also be looked at more closely. The Islamic Republic of Iran Shipping Line (IRISL) has been renaming, re-registering and re-flagging its cargo ships in an effort to circumvent sanctions. Exploiting a series of legal loopholes, IRISL has reportedly renamed a total of 90 out of its 123 ships since 2008. Britain’s tradition as a hub for shipping insurance means we need to be looking at tightening up these sanctions and ensuring that due diligence is paid in the systems and processes agreed, in relation to their monitoring and implementation.
We must do everything we can to prevent Iran from realising its nuclear ambitions and pursuing its long term aim of achieving regional hegemony. The sanctions are finally beginning to take effect but there is much more that can and should be done. In dealing with this threat the consequences of failure should be at the forefront of our minds at all times. History shows that it is during periods of turmoil and crisis that we need to be most vigilant.