British PM: Now is not the time to strike Iran

An excerpt from the British prime minister’s address to a UJIA fund-raising dinner in London.

David Cameron 370 (photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
David Cameron 370
(photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
I want to talk about three key steps to secure Israel’s future.
  • Standing up to Iran.
  • Seizing the opportunities presented by the Arab Spring and the spread of democracy in the wider region.
  • And making the hard choices needed to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
Let me take each in turn. First, Iran.
Let’s be clear about the facts. Iran is flouting six United Nations resolutions.
The regime’s claim that its nuclear program is intended purely for civilian purposes is not remotely credible.
And it has shown its violent agenda by exporting terror and violence to Iraq, to Syria, to Gaza, to Lebanon and to many peace-loving countries across the world.
Iran is not just a threat to Israel. It is a threat to the world.
Now there are some who say nothing will work – and that we have to learn to live with a nuclear armed Iran.
I say we don’t and we shouldn’t.
But at the same time I also refuse to give in to those who say that the current policy is fatally flawed, and that we have no choice but military action. A negotiated settlement remains within Iran’s grasp.
But until they change course, we have a strategy of ever-tougher sanctions.
Just today, Britain has secured a further round of new sanctions through the EU Foreign Affairs Council. And these relentless sanctions are having an impact that very few expected a year ago.
They have slowed the nuclear program.
Iranian oil exports have fallen by 45 percent. That’s 1 million fewer barrels a day and $8 billion in revenues lost every quarter.
The rial has plummeted – losing around half its value between May and September.
Inflation is soaring – thought to be as much as 50%. And the Iranian regime has had to establish an economic austerity task force to manage the pressure they have brought on their own people.
Most significantly, there are signs that the Iranian people are beginning to question the regime’s strategy, with even pro-regime groups protesting at the actions of the government.
It’s frankly mind-boggling that the leaders of a nation so rich in oil have succeeded in turning their country into a banana republic desperately trying to put rockets into space while their own people suffer.
The Iranian regime is under unprecedented pressure and faces an acute dilemma. They are leading their people to global isolation and an economic collapse. And they know it.
They know too that there is a simple way to bring sanctions to an end: By giving the international community the confidence we need that they are not and will not develop a nuclear weapon.
I have said to Prime Minister Netanyahu that now is not the time for Israel to resort to military action.
Beyond the unpredictable dangers inherent in any conflict, the other reason is this: At the very moment when the regime faces unprecedented pressure and the people are on the streets, and when Iran’s only real ally in Syria is losing his grip on power, a foreign military strike is exactly the chance the regime would look for to unite its people against a foreign enemy.
We shouldn’t give them that chance. We need the courage to give these sanctions time to work.
But let me also say this. In the long term, if Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing – and I mean nothing – is off the table. A nuclear-armed Iran is a threat to Israel. And a threat to the world.
And this country will work unwaveringly to prevent that from happening.
Let me turn to the changing events in the wider region. I have no illusions about the dangers that political transition can bring in the Arab Spring countries.
And I understand why instability can be a great cause for concern. I understand how dark things were for Israel when surrounded by enemies on every border. And I understand how Israelis feel when gas masks are handed out to families, and car parks are converted into bomb shelters.
But I passionately believe that what we are seeing through the Arab Spring need not be a new threat to Israel’s security. Democracy and open societies are not the problem – they can be a big part of the solution.
Yes, there are those who believe that in a volatile region only an authoritarian strongman can maintain stability and security. But when brutal dictators suppress their people in the name of stability, the end result is a region that more dangerous – not less.
More dangerous because these regimes abuse the Palestinian cause to smother their own people’s hopes and aspirations, dealing with frustration at home by whipping up anger against their neighbors, Israel and the West. And more dangerous, too, because people denied a job and a voice are given no alternative but a dead-end choice between dictatorship or extremism.
Now, of course, many fear that elections can open the door to Islamist parties whose values are incompatible with truly open societies.
But the answer is not to oppose elections. The answer is to respect the outcome of elections. And then judge governments by what they do.
For example, there are big questions facing President Morsi in Egypt.
We want to know if he will live up to his commitments to protect the rule of law for all citizens, defend the rights of minorities and allow women to play a full role in society.
And I challenged him personally on these points when I met him in New York last month.
But when he re-launches Operation Eagle to try and do something about the lawlessness in the Sinai, we should welcome that. And when he goes to Tehran and speaks the truth to that regime about its despicable actions in Syria in support of Assad, we should welcome that too.
But if the Islamists attempt to undermine the stability of other countries or encourage terrorism instead of peace and conflict instead of partnership then we must and will oppose them. And that is why we will not waver from our insistence that Hamas gives up violence and that the rockets from Gaza must stop. Hamas must not be allowed to dictate the way forwards for Israelis and Palestinians.
Of course, the Arab Spring presents huge challenges. But if we can show the strength and courage to engage with new democratic governments, their chance to establish the building blocks of democracy, fair economies and open societies offers the greatest opportunity for stability and peace in a generation.
That brings me to the Palestinian territories and the peace process. We can’t advocate democracy and open societies in one breath and then cite the need for stability as an excuse for why the Palestinians shouldn’t renew their democracy too.
It’s now seven years since Palestinians voted for a president and six since parliamentary elections. The Palestinian leadership needs to refresh its mandate and show it has the consent of its people, starting with municipal elections later this month. And it needs to resolve the situation in Gaza and restore to Palestinians a unified leadership able to deliver peaceful resolution of the conflict with Israel.
So Palestinian reconciliation and Palestinian elections are key points on the path to peace – because without consent there can never be credible negotiation.
It will require great strength and courage to take the hard choices needed to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
And let me say this: I know it takes two to negotiate.
So let me tell President Abbas something very clearly: There is no path to statehood except through talks with Israel.
So if the Palestinian plan is simply posturing with the UN rather than negotiating with Israel, Britain will never support it.
And let me say this to the Palestinians, too. Britain will never support anyone who sponsors a football tournament named after a suicide bomber who killed 20 Israelis in a restaurant. We will not tolerate incitement to terrorism.
But in the search for peace both sides have to make hard choices. And just as President Abbas has followed through his commitment to nonviolence with real progress on the West Bank, so Israel needs a real drive to improve life for ordinary Palestinians.
That means more support for economic development in the West Bank, relaxing restrictions on Gaza, ending the demolition of Palestinian homes, and yes, it means meeting Israel’s obligations under the road map and under international law to halt settlement building.
Britain’s position will not change.
Settlements beyond the Green Line are illegal.
I know how hard the concessions needed for peace can be. But the truth is, I believe that time is running out for a two-state solution – and with it Israel’s best chance to live in peace with its neighbors.
For now, Israel will continue to face acute threats and a hard road to peace. But with strength and courage we can, together, stand up to Iran.
We can, together, seize the opportunities presented by the spread of democracy in the wider region. And we can together take the hard choices needed to resolve the conflict with the Palestinians.
David Cameron is the prime minister of Britain.