Iran and nuclear weapons

Here is my speech in the debate last night Monday 20 February 2012.  You can watch it here from 3hours 15 minutes in to The Democracy Live video

Or read it here:

Mike Gapes (Ilford South) (Lab/Co-op): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for The Cotswolds (Geoffrey Clifton-Brown), and I endorse entirely what he said about the importance of the BBC World Service. I congratulate the hon. Member for Basildon and Billericay (Mr Baron), a fellow member of the Foreign Affairs Committee, on initiating the debate, but I will not support him in the Lobby. I will support the well drafted and measured wording of the amendment, not because I believe that we should be engaged in military action against Iran, but because I want to stop military action against Iran and a war that would be a precursor to a conflagration in the region.

I am concerned about the potential consequences of the current crisis. I recently held discussions with a senior figure in the Pakistani Government, who said that the consequences for Afghanistan and Pakistan of a conflict involving Iran would be dire. Anybody who has been, as I have, to Herat, the Afghan city close to Iran, and seen how calm and peaceful the area is will recognise that it is no accident; it is because that border between Afghanistan and Iran is stable and calm, and that would not necessarily be the case if there were a conflict involving Iran.

Similarly, Iran’s borders are very complicated. Reference has already been made to some Gulf states, including Bahrain, but other neighbours such as Qatar and Kuwait are in range of Iranian missiles, and the Iranians would not even need to send missiles; they could send people with bombs in bags or in suitcases.

Reference has been made also to Iraq.

Alec Shelbrooke rose

Mike Gapes: I will give way in a moment.

With the Defence Committee several years ago, I visited the KBOT terminal at the top of the gulf of Hormuz, just south of Basra, from where, along with the ABOT terminal, most of the Iraqi oil from Basra leaves. That was a few weeks after motor launches from Iran had set off bombs underneath the terminal to try to destroy it. The area is now much more strongly protected, but the potential for a conflagration involving Iran, leading not necessarily to a blockage of the strait of Hormuz, but at least to attacks on facilities, urban centres or bases in the area, is great. We as an international community therefore need to be careful and measured and to send out clear signals, whether in relation to mad speeches by Newt Gingrich or to the Israeli Government, that the use of language referring to military action is not necessarily the best solution to the crisis.

I can understand why politicians in Israel are worried. I would be worried if not just the President of a country but a succession of its leaders had said that they wanted to wipe out my state, which they regarded as a cancer, but we need also to point out, as senior figures in Israel have, that military action by Israel will not be in its own long-term interests regarding its relations with the Arab world.

Bob Stewart: Military action would be extremely difficult. There are at least 10 different nuclear sites in Iran, and trying to obliterate them would be almost impossible for Israel alone, so military action by Israel alone is probably very unlikely or, at the very least, unwise.

Mike Gapes: I agree, and that allows me to move on to what I think is actually happening.

Somebody once said that war was diplomacy by other means, but we have a third way, which is Stuxnet, targeted assassinations and unexplained events. I am not sure whether we can attribute blame or responsibility in any particular direction, but it is quite clear that over recent months and years various things have happened to aspects of Iran’s nuclear programme, and events have occurred which might indicate that, without having a war, attempts are being made to delay the nuclear programme, the development of centrifuges and other things.

If the Iranian regime is really determined to get nuclear weapons, and I fear that elements of it are, it will do so at whatever cost, but others in Iran, including some in the regime, recognise that there are benefits to be gained not by acquiring nuclear weapons but by saying, “We are a proud country and we want to be noticed, so we will give the impression that we are moving in that direction so that people notice us, states in the Gulf region become fearful of us and the rest of the world says, ‘Iran is a country that matters.’”

The Foreign Affairs Committee went to Iran in 2007. Mention has been made of its chief nuclear negotiator, Mr Jalili. I was involved in an hour-long exchange with him in a meeting. It was a fascinating exchange, because he started off by explaining that having a nuclear weapon was un-Islamic and forbidden. We went on to have a long discussion about the additional protocol, the non-proliferation treaty and various issues to do with the IAEA. I came away realising that he was very intelligent and calculating. He must be a tough person to negotiate with. I was not involved in real negotiations. Speaking with me was like practice for him before he dealt with the Ministers. It was apparent that Iran is clear in the way that it uses the arguments.

I suspect, as the Foreign Affairs Committee said in 2007, that Iran will at some point get to breakout capability. However, as was said earlier, that does not necessarily mean that it will have a nuclear weapon. It will have the capability to get a nuclear weapon quickly when it gets to that technological position. However, it might choose not to go that far, but to have just the potential, because that will make people notice it. Iran is a country that wants to be noticed.

The tragedy is that Iran has a young, dynamic population that wants to engage with the rest of the world. Anybody who has been to Iran knows that. People come up to visitors in the street and talk to them openly. They criticise their Government openly in a way that does not happen in all other countries in the region; and yet, at the same time, Iran has a theocratic regime at its cap. I do not think that it matters who succeeds Ahmadinejad, because he is not the power in Iran. The power is Ayatollah Khamenei, who is the supreme leader. It is he who rejected the approach from President Obama. It is he who determines where the political process goes, including who can run as a candidate and who can stand for election. Iran has a quasi-pluralistic and quasi-democratic system, but with a theocratic cap. Somehow or other, that system will have to change. Revolutions run out of steam. At some point, the voice of the Iranian people will come through. We have to be clever and not undermine that in the way that we handle this crisis.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con):> It is a great pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Ilford South (Mike Gapes), who, as ever, made some perspicacious and penetrating points.


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