The Middle East is currently living up to its reputation as being a hotbed of conflict, with Israel and Gaza carrying out daily attacks on each other and a terrorist stronghold spreading across Iraq.
The USA has got stuck in as expected, and is conducting air strikes against Islamic State militants in Iraq – albeit with the primary goal of protecting its own citizens that are supporting the Iraqi government in the country – while Turkey and Iran are aiding in the effort to suppress the terrorist uprising.
The UK’s involvement though is one of interest. While it is helping to a certain degree – it deployed two C-130J Hercules transport aircraft to deliver aid to Iraqi refugees that have been pushed out to the Mount Sinjar region and is planning on deploying its GR4 Tornado jets for surveillance – it is not involving itself in offensive measures against the insurgents.
UK Ministry of Defence
David Cameron was quick to praise Barack Obama’s decision to intervene, however, while the defence secretaries of the two nations have had each other on speed dial to keep the other informed on what it is doing re the conflict.
“The Prime Minister welcomed the US efforts and made clear that we are keen to work with the Americans on the humanitarian effort,” a Downing Street statement notes, while emphasising the humanitarian support that is first and foremost required.
With a general election coming up in May 2015, Cameron is obviously trying to keep his nose clean and avoid engaging in any new Gulf War that may arise.
The UK led a United Nations Security Council meeting on the subject of Iraq last week, while emergency meetings by both the foreign and defence secretary have been carried out at a time when parliament typically winds down for the summer break.
The UK is very much playing its part and nobody can argue that its decision to provide an additional £8 million in aid to the people of Iraq was justified, but its part in the Iraq crisis will not detract from the criticism the prime minister is receiving regarding the conflict in Israel and Gaza.
Senior figures in both opposition parties have criticised Cameron’s stance on the Israeli conflict, as he is continually called on to condemn the killings carried out by Israel in Gaza, while members of parliament have resigned from their posts over the “morally indefensible” actions of Israel.
“On Gaza, both [Obama and Cameron] expressed serious concern at the return to hostilities,” is what a Downing Street statement conjured up.
“They noted that Hamas had started firing rockets into Israel once again and condemned that they are launching these from deep within civilian neighbourhoods, putting innocent people at risk. They agreed that Israel has a right to defend itself but it should do so in a way that exercises restraint and Israeli forces must take utmost care to avoid civilian casualties.”
Both leaders agreed that the priority must be to re-establish a ceasefire that paves the way for negotiations on a more lasting peace deal, Westminster adds.
Protesters that object to Israel’s actions have applied pressure to the UK government, in particular calling on it to release information on arms sales to Israel.
UK-based UAV Engines – an Elbit Systems subsidiary – came under fire last week when activists protested over their understanding that the company provides engines for the Elbit Hermes family of UAVs that are being used by the Israel Defence Force over Gaza.
Elbit claims that UAV Engines does not provide engines for IDF UAVs, although it does provide them for the British Army’s WK450 Watchkeeper UAV – derived from the company’s Hermes 450 platform – as well as other internationally-owned systems.
Nevertheless, protesters are now compiling a ‘hit list’ of contractors they believe are providing parts for Israeli defence systems, it has been reported.
Parliament’s decisions on Iraqi intervention are likely to be damage control. With all eyes on what Cameron does next, the humanitarian support in Sinjar is a sugar coating for his other oversights.
However, the situation in Gaza is still very much a relevant one, and Cameron will inevitably be called up on the UK’s stance in the months leading up to the election, which will become a much more difficult task as the number of civilian casualties rises.