As today’s homepage demonstrates it is not only Tony Blair – through his Middle East policy – who is causing unhappiness in his party. A number of leading Tories are also unhappy with the Conservative leadership’s willingness to criticise Israel. The critics of the Tory leadership feel that the world comnmunity has failed Israel over the last six years by doing next to nothing to dismantle the Hezbollah terrorist network in southern Lebanon.
In an article for today’s Times the Shadow Foreign Secretary acknowledges that "the origins of the current conflict lie in Hezbollah’s aggression" but he repeats his recent criticism of Israel:
"Ministers were wrong to be so slow and reluctant to warn Israel of the dangers and injustice of attacks on purely civil infrastructure and other areas of Lebanon. The Government should have been able to say clearly two weeks ago that elements of the Israeli response were disproportionate, risking unnecessary loss of civilian life and an increase in popular support for Hezbollah."
The two principal weaknesses of Mr Hague’s article are (1) his failure to face up to the role of Iran in this current conflict and (2) his faith in the United Nations. Mr Hague does make passing reference to the support and encouragement that Iran and Syria give to Hezbollah but there is nothing in his article that points to any understanding that Tehran’s hatred of Israel is the most menacing fact in this whole equation. The world community is dithering over how to respond to Iran’s nuclear weapons programme and its desire to wipe Israel from the face of the planet. Israel understands that, in fighting Hezbollah, it is fighting Iran, too.
Current UN plans to insert international troops into Lebanon do not impress Frank J Gaffney. In The Wall Street Journal the President of the US Center for Security Policy writes:
"The make-up of this force may compound the problem. Under discussion are troop contributions from places like Turkey, Indonesia and France–nations that are not likely to prove unfriendly to Hezbollah and that are, to varying degrees, hostile to Israel. In short, this will be just another anti-Israel U.N. mission, providing protection to the Free World’s terrorist foes and doing little if anything to keep them from readying new attacks on freedom-loving peoples."
I never expected to write this but Michael Portillo has contributed a lot more wisdom to the national debate than William Hague. Hague’s article could have been written by the Foreign Office. A recent Portillo article was much richer in its observations and much more understanding of Israel’s besieged status. This is what the former Defence Secretary wrote for The Sunday Times of 23rd July:
"Critics of Israel point out that bombing Lebanon provides fresh grievances for Palestinians and other Muslims. That is undoubtedly so, and it is exactly what
Hamas, Hezbollah, Syria and Iran would wish. Israel is forced to choose between looking feeble (which will increase its vulnerability) or playing into its enemies’ hands through “disproportionate” action. Before we criticise Israel we should at least understand that dilemma and be aware that if we stoke up anti-Israeli feeling we dance to a devilish tune."
It is an interesting fact that Michael Portillo, Francis Maude and other modernisers have changed in many often bewildering ways in recent years but they have not lost their conservative internationalism.
As this crisis continues what is urgently needed is a strong intervention from David Cameron. He gave very impressive answers to a Q&A with Conservative Friends of Israel during the leadership election. His absence from the public square during this time of international crisis is deeply unhelpful. He needs to lead his party on this subject and contrast his own command of his party with the chasm between Tony Blair’s rhetoric and the instincts of 95% of Labour MPs. The current hesitancy is repeating the EPP experience. Different sides of a contentious debate are digging into entrenched positions whilst the leader delays. The party needs David Cameron to speak his mind and demand that the party follows his lead.