RAF’s Support for Israel Stretches Concept of Self Defence

Richard Norton-Taylor looks at Britain’s latest military intervention in the most volatile region in the world.

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak with a staff member on April 14, before holding a call with leaders from the G7 nations in response to the Iran missile strikes on Israel. (Luca Boffa / No 10 Downing Street)

By Richard Norton-Taylor
Declassified UK

U.K. Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s decision to deploy RAF warplanes to shoot down Iranian drones heading for Israel raises serious questions about international law and the spectre of Britain’s involvement in a widening conflict in the Middle East.

The contents of Britain’s military cooperation agreement with Israel signed in 2020, and a defence pact signed a year later, are secret but they are not believed to require Britain to protect Israel if it comes under attack.

A more recent “2030 roadmap for U.K.-Israel bilateral relations” vaguely commits London to “tackle shared threats” with Tel Aviv.

Sunak justified the RAF’s deployment as “saving lives not just in Israel but in neighbouring countries like Jordan as well.”

His defence secretary, Grant Shapps, went further and described Iran’s combined drone and missile attack on Israel as posing “a threat to civilian lives in the Middle East.”

They delivered these sweeping justifications of British military activity seemingly unaware that this rationale would also oblige them to intercept Israel’s air strikes into Gaza, which have killed many thousands of civilians.

Shady Business

Britain’s contribution to the downing of Iranian drones appears to have been minimal, more a self-serving diplomatic effort than one of military necessity. 

Tellingly, Tehran gave advanced warning of its attacks, and said it was aimed at military targets.

These were Nevatim Air Base (which houses the F-35 jets that bombed Iran’s consulate) and Mount Hermon spy station in the illegally occupied Golan Heights. 

Iran inflicted limited damage, with the Israeli Defense Forces claiming to have shot down 99 percent of the projectiles.

Israeli Air Force F-15I preparing to respond to Iranian drone strikes inside Israel on April 14. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 3.0)

Significantly, Sunak suggested that the decision to order RAF Typhoons based in Cyprus to destroy “a number” of Iranian drones over Syria and Iraq was an extension of Operation Shader.

That’s Britain’s ongoing, but largely unseen, campaign of air strikes against the remnants of Islamic State group.

In a late-night statement on April 13, which raises more questions than it answers, the Ministry of Defence said: 

“In response to increased Iranian threats and the growing risk of escalation in the Middle East, the U.K. government has been working with partners across the region to encourage de-escalation and prevent further attacks.”

It added: 

“We have moved several additional Royal Air Force jets and air refuelling tankers to the region. These will bolster Operation Shader. …In addition, these U.K. jets will intercept any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions, as required.”

As Drone Wars has long warned, there is a threat of “perpetual war” if the RAF adopts an ever expanding mission statement for Operation Shader.

‘Not Our Quarrel’

This comes amid a dangerously creeping definition of “self defence”. British ministers suggest it can now encompass any potential threat — direct or indirect — to U.K. interests, especially but not only in the Middle East.

Thus, the Conservatives can justify military responses to Houthi attacks on commercial shipping in the Red Sea, and its bizarre decision to deploy an aircraft carrier to the South China Sea.

The development of modern weapons systems and surveillance technology could make such “self-defence” sorties easier and easier, however distant the alleged threat.

By contrast, Iran says launching missiles and drones against Israel was in response to a more proximate threat: Israel’s attack on its consulate in Damascus that killed seven senior Iranian figures, including two top generals.

Asked what the British government would have done if a hostile state flattened one of its consulates, U.K. Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron admitted: “We would take very strong action.”

He added: “Countries have a right to respond when they feel they’ve suffered an aggression.”

Sir Richard Dalton, former U.K. ambassador to Iran, has said Israel’s attack on the consulate in Damascus was “unlawful.” 

Going further, he said he would “rather” British forces had not taken part in the operation against Iranian missiles. “This is not our quarrel,” the retired diplomat insisted.

Israel’s bombing of the consulate was widely criticised, although Britain failed to condemn it – a step that Iran says would have reduced its need to retaliate.

No Change Ahead

Labour Leader Keir Starmer in Parliament on March 20. (UK Parliament/Flickr, Maria Unger, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The government’s notion of Britain revisiting its historic role as “world policeman” seems to be wholeheartedly shared by the Labour leader, Keir Starmer. 

Last week he chose the right-wing Daily Mail to declare what he called his “Unshakeable… Absolute…Total” commitment to the Trident nuclear “deterrent.”

That’s a weapon’s system which is neither independent nor a deterrent. 

It would not function without continuing U.S. support and it will not deter a hostile state in any foreseeable conflict.

Hundreds of billions of pounds – the new Trident system is estimated to cost more than £200 billion – are being diverted from desperately-needed spending on Britain’s civil society.

It also takes money from other weapons systems, such as drones and countering cyber attacks, so much cheaper and more effective than an arsenal of nuclear warheads.

Their possession by Britain, as former Prime Minister Tony Blair himself wrote in his memoir, A Journey, amounts to more of a status symbol than a remotely usable British weapon.

The National Audit Office and the Commons Public Accounts Committee, time and again (and most recently on April 15) point to the MoD’s hopelessly optimistic estimates of the cost of both nuclear and conventional weapons projects, estimates sabotaged as much by mismanagement as by over-ambitious plans.

Sunak told the House of Commons on April 15 it was “not a time for hyperbole”, ignoring his own advice as he enthusiastically defended Britain’s latest military intervention role in the most volatile region in the world. 

Judging by his own recent rhetoric, not least by shamelessly championing a most horrendous waste of public money, Starmer will have the same approach to the military and foreign affairs should he win the next election.

Richard is a British editor, journalist and playwright, and the doyen of British national security reporting. He wrote for the Guardian on defence and security matters and was the newspaper’s security editor for three decades.

This article is from Declassified UK.

Views expressed in this article may or may not reflect those of Consortium News.

11 comments for “RAF’s Support for Israel Stretches Concept of Self Defence

  1. Tony
    April 22, 2024 at 08:49

    Nothing will change under a Starmer-led Labour government.
    This is something that is recognised by a significant part of the electorate.

    Ahead of the 1997 general election, there were, even then, important differences between Labour and the Conservatives. That is not the case today.

    In by elections, the number of people voting Labour actually went up. Not so today.

    It is hard to think of anything the current Conservative government has done that Starmer’s Labour Party has actually opposed.

  2. wildthange
    April 21, 2024 at 16:33

    The military industrial complex of the entire world’s military establishment is in a runaway process condition taking more resources from civilization while endangering all of civilization. The NATO alliance is the same empires now in collusion for world dominance and led by the deficit spending of the US for more expensive technology for permanent war profits.

  3. Francis (Frank) Lee
    April 21, 2024 at 05:40

    The British Protestant Ruling Class has always been viewed as its mission to rule the world by all means possible.

    Firstly came the subjugation of the the Irish catholics (and Sinn Fein) whom Oliver Cromwell regarded as sub-humans: He stated:

    “There isn’t a tree to hang a man, water to drown a man, nor soil to bury a man”.

    The Irish were regarded as the catholic unter-menschen similar to today’s Palestinians. This was and is part of the long history of British impartial legacy. But Ireland was the start of the Empire, in Africa (From Capetown to Cairo) the conquest of India (including Pakistan) , the Caribbean, China, Singapore, and so on and so forth. Empire Closed.

    The UK is now is appointed spear-carrier for the US hegemon.

  4. wildthange
    April 20, 2024 at 20:37

    The military industrial complex is a protection racket in a runaway permanent war and arms race process for its own professional and corporate profit motives. It is lead in technology by US deficit spending that is forcing the alliance of old western empires to chip in for wasting world resources better used for keeping civilization functional. The NATO powers collectively suffer from their historical record of inhumanity in economic and military excesses.

  5. wildthange
    April 20, 2024 at 19:01

    Human civilization is being raped by the world military industrial complex for the profits of war and arm races just to perpetuate their existence at the risk of all of human civilization in this age. It is the medieval knights protection racket for god and nobles that is not noble and extremely ungodly. They have become a runaway process likely to collapse our entire human system for short term profits.

  6. anon
    April 20, 2024 at 14:37

    Maybe this RAF Air Marshal Biggles should just paint Stars of David on his planes – or swastikas.
    Another good little shabbos goy.

  7. CaseyG
    April 20, 2024 at 12:19

    Oh My—–UK and others:

    I think nations are getting dumber and dumber in supporting Israel.

    And so, I offer these wise words from a movie character YODA.

    “Do or do not—There is no try.”

  8. Lois Gagnon
    April 20, 2024 at 09:30

    I just heard on George Galloway’s Mother of All Talk Shows that Britain has a secret agreement with Israel to support it militarily. Apparently, the public has been kept out of the loop as to what details this agreement actually binds them to. Wonder what the secret agreement with Washington says?

    • MeMyself
      April 22, 2024 at 08:47

      Whenever we bend over you pucker up.

  9. Piotr Berman
    April 20, 2024 at 07:02

    Trident missile test fails for second time in a row | BBC News YouTube · BBC News Feb 21, 2024

    Embarrassment for Ministry of Defence as Trident missile test … YouTube · Sky News Feb 21, 2024

    “Launched from the submarine HMS Victorious, a malfunction in the system caused the missile to spin out of control. Instead of flying over the Atlantic, the missile flew over the US and later self-destructed [in 2016].Feb 26, 2024” – Declassified UK
    https*://www.declassifieduk.org/trident-missile-failure-exposes-folly-of-nuclear-weapons/ [The Sunday Times in 2016 reported it was fired from a different ship: “The Sunday Times says the test fire was launched from HMS Vengeance off the coast of Florida.It says the Trident II D5 missile was intended to be fired 5,600 miles (9,012 km) to a sea target off the west coast of Africa but veered towards the US,” reported the BBC. https*://www.bbc.com/news/uk-68355395

  10. Jeff Harrison
    April 19, 2024 at 15:29

    Britain still has a load of imperial arrogance. They’re going to do what they want to do, not what they should do.

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