The member of Parliament representing Winston Churchill’s former constituency said that the British public will never countenance military intervention to prevent Iran attaining nuclear weapons.
Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP for Harlow, said more broadly that Britons are so scarred by what they regard as having being drawn into war against Saddam Hussein’s Iraq on false pretenses that they will not now support the use of military force unless Britain itself or a British target overseas is directly attacked.
Halfon, who was visiting Israel this week in a delegation of Conservative Friends of Israel, told The Times of Israel in an interview that the vote in the House of Commons last August against a resort to force in Syria, following President Bashar Assad’s use of chemical weapons against his own people, was “a tragic day for our country.” The vote, a crushing defeat for Prime Minister David Cameron, reflected the “scarring” effect the Iraq war has had on the British psyche, he said, with Britons believing they were misled about Saddam’s non-conventional weapons capacity. Cameron’s defeat was also a result of “political opportunism” by the opposition Labour Party.
That vote, in turn, Halfon said, had a “massive effect” on US President Barack Obama, who subsequently changed course, having indicated that a “punitive” strike against Assad was imminent. “The one dependable ally of the US was saying no,” Halfon said.
Instead, the US accepted a Russian-mediated initiative under which Assad has agreed to give up his entire chemical weapons capability, but Halfon rejected the idea that this represented an enviable result. He said he was not yet convinced that Assad would indeed shed his entire WMD capacity and capability, that the US and UK positions sent a dismal signal to dictators everywhere, and that Iran perceived Obama’s behavior as signalling weakness — which in turn gave it confidence to continue to pursue its nuclear program.
He stressed that while he had emphatically backed military intervention in Syria, “my constituents were all against. They see the body bags coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Halfon, 44, who grew up in a Jewish family in north London, won election to Parliament in 2010 in the seat formerly held by Churchill, Britain’s inspirational World War II prime minister. He said he lamented that in today’s Britain, there was both an “importing and exporting” of Islamist terrorism. Islamic extremists, “indoctrinated in Britain, are going to Syria to fight,” and radical Islamist preachers were coming into the UK to teach hatred. “We were only able to extradite [radical preacher] Abu Qatada [to face terrorism charges in Jordan] after a long struggle,” he noted.
He said Britain was grappling with “lots” of terrorist plots hatched by Muslim extremists and that a Kurdish leader who visited the UK recently and went to a mosque in the north of England told him that “a mosque that radical would have been closed down in Kurdistan.” (In the worst recent Islamist terror attack in the UK, in July 2005, four British-raised Muslims carried out simultaneous suicide bombings on a London bus and three underground trains, killing 52 people and injuring 700.)
Unfortunately, Halfon charged, the right-wing UKIP political party exploits the Islamist danger to “bash moderate Muslims,” while the political left “appeases” the extremists.
Halfon said Israel’s image in the UK has improved a little since a low point at the time of May 2010 Mavi Marmara raid, when Israeli naval commandos, commandeering a Turkish vessel seeking to break the security blockade of Gaza, opened fire and killed 9 activists after coming under attack. “Since the Arab Spring erupted, people are registering that Israel is the region’s only democracy, and seeing on TV the oppression in Arab countries, notably by Assad,” he said.
Nonetheless, among those pushing boycotts of Israel, there was no change in the level of hostility — “but all that, don’t forget, is organized by Israel’s enemies… There’s not been one [major] demonstration over the killings of 140,000 Syrians, he said.
Relating to British charity Oxfam’s criticism of Scarlett Johansson for representing Israel’s SodaStream, with its West Bank settlement factory employing Jews, Israeli Arabs and Palestinians, he wondered why Oxfam does not boycott the likes of Russia and China. Noting that its protests over SodaStream had prompted the US actress to step down from her role as an Oxfam ambassador, Halfon said “SodaStream is an enlightened company, and Johansson is a hero.”