The Right Honorable Liam Fox, former UK Secretary of State for Defence and Chair of the Conservative Party
Good morning and thank you very much for inviting me to take part in this very important debate with such a stellar array of other speakers.
The Iranian people have a proud and distinguished history. Parishes cultural artifacts are scattered around the world’s great museums, including here at the British Museum in London. Its rich legacy and literature, music, dance and poetry have affected cultures across the world from Omar Khayyam to chess. It pains us to see what it has become in the hands of narrow minded, bigoted fanatics. Iran’s history did not begin on the 1st of February 1979 with Ayatollah Khomeini’s return from exile in Paris. Iran’s identity was not created by the Islamic Revolution, nor will its future be defined by it. In the meantime, we have to deal with a dangerous, draconian and destabilizing regime which oppresses its own people and exports, fanaticism, and instability to its own region and beyond. The Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khomeini has never wavered in his hatred of the United States, his contempt for the existence of the State of Israel, and his belief in the purity of the Islamic Revolution free from cultural influences from outside. Only half jokingly, to his critics’ claim, that he’s more afraid of McDonald’s than Mossad. Under his leadership, the IRGC has tightened its grip on Iranian society, and especially its economic infrastructure, locking out the opportunity to themselves and to the whole nation that the natural innovation of the Iranian people could bring. None of us have any quarrel with the Iranian people, but with the regime that increasingly oppresses them, that exports violence and instability to its neighbors, and which threatens to provoke conflict through its attempt to become a nuclear weapon state. It’s a surprising, not to say, troubling phenomenon that so little criticism of Iran’s internal behavior appears in our liberal media. While they’re very quick to condemn neighboring states, such as Saudi Arabia, literally said about the oppression of critics of the Iranian leadership or the fact that so many of Iran’s brightest and best, including many of its media, and political activists, lie languishing in its presence.
The persecution of minorities, the hanging from cranes of young gay men, and it’s forced gender reassignment to largely overlooked by many of those who claim to be champions of human rights of political opponents, and even their family members, often simply disappear. Let me say today, that for some of us, they will never be forgotten. The root of Iran’s exports of instability lie in the ambition of harmony and his cronies to be the leaders not only of Shia Islam, but of Islam itself. There is a carefully crafted strategy, whose design is to replace national identity with religious fervor aimed at creating a new radicalized generation. In neighboring states like Bahrain, they tried to persuade young men that they are not Bahrainis first with their own national identity, but they are Shia first all in the religions to religious leaders in Iran, rather than to the culture and laws of the nation in which they have been brought up. It is a pattern that is repeated over and over again in the region. Better examples can be seen and their willingness to spread division and violence in Iraq and Syria as a means of fostering the ambitions of Iran’s leadership. But their own malign influence is not confined to their immediate neighbors. Even as European countries sought ways to try and finance trade with the Iranian regime, Iranian inspired terror groups are increasing their activities across the European continent. In the Netherlands, two Iranian diplomats were expelled in June 2018 for plotting political assassinations in the country. A bomb plot to target a rally of opposition groups in Paris was foiled by French intelligence. And here in the UK, a terrorist cell with links to Iran was caught stockpiling tons of ammonium nitrate explosives on the outskirts of London at a secret bomb factory.
Iran has been a consistent supporter of US designated Palestinian terrorist organizations, including Palestinian islamic jihad and Hamas. Lebanese Hezbollah remains Iran’s primary terrorist proxy. The group’s General Secretary, Hassan Nasrallah, bluntly declared that Hezbollah gets its money and arms from Iran. And as long as Iran has money, so does Hezbollah. And of course through its proxies, Iran continues both direct attacks on Israel itself and on its real targets in other parts of the world. They give effect to the hatred of the supreme leader for the very existence of these real estate. How galling It must have been for him to see the signing of the Ebrahim accords between Israel, the United Arab Emirates, and Bahrain. Internationally, the great piece of unfinished business is the JCPOA, the attempt to stop Iran becoming a nuclear weapon state. I always believed that the agreement was fundamentally flawed. It was neither credible nor responsible to see Iran’s nuclear ambitions outside its support and encouragement or its terror proxies. And the original aim of stopping Iran from becoming a nuclear weapon state had morphed into a deal merely to put its ambitions on hold for a decade or so even before the deal was completed. Iran was immediately rewarded for signing and not implementing the agreement by the immediate unfreezing of $150 billion worth of Iranian assets. The effect of the financial settlement was that Iran got what it wanted in terms of economic relief at the start with new promises of delivery later on. Repeated breaches of international law on the development of ballistic missile systems begs the question, but if a nation has nothing that it wishes to deliver by such a system, why would it spend so much money at a time of great hardship for its own people on such technology? An agreement with Iran may be possible but it must take account of Iran’s human rights abuses, its exports of terror, its explicit threat to the security of Israel, and its attempt to destabilize its regional neighbors. Above all, we must return to the position that we will stop not to delay Iran’s nuclear weapon ambitions. Wishful thinking, may be an attractive idea, but it’s a very poor basis for foreign or security policy.