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Military Action in Syria


3rd December 2015

The question as to whether the UK should join our allies in the bombing of Daesh in Syria was one that I considered carefully prior to the 2 December vote when I supported the Government’s decision to extend our air operations from Iraq into Syria.

It is important to note that this war is not the start of a new war, but rather a cross border extension of existing RAF operations in support of our allies and to save British lives from terrorism here in the UK.

Many of you will recall that I had made my opposition to bombing clear, at the time of the 2013 vote, when I felt that there was no definable objective to our taking action; indeed at a time before the United States had even declared its hand. I was also concerned that attacking Daesh, without an anti-Assad strategy, might strengthen the Syrian government’s position against the moderate Free Syrian Army rebels.

But all of that was before the involvement of the US, Russia and a comprehensive UN resolution to remove Daesh. It is also becoming increasingly clear that Daesh, with its “capital” in Syria, is planning ongoing operations against civilian targets in the UK, Europe and worldwide. The argument that bombing Syria may increase Daesh attacks in the UK simply doesn’t make sense to me. Firstly, because the Iraq/Syria border is not one recognised by Daesh themselves and we are currently bombing Daesh in Iraq. But secondly, because we know that the terrorists
have already planned seven (failed) terrorist operations in the last year in the UK alone. We are already under attack.

I am therefore of the opinion that Daesh poses a very direct threat to the UK, such that even if the UK does not have the resources to destroy Daesh alone, we have the right and obligation to join other nations as we believe that it is necessary to defend our citizens’ lives.

But I strongly believe that the Syrian military action can only be part of a necessary wider plan of action against Daesh, not least because their terror operations go much wider than Iraq and Syria. Furthermore, it is clear that no war has ever been won by airpower alone; so we need to ask questions and receive answers as to who is going to go in “on the ground”. I take some comfort in the Prime Minister explaining the growing capability of the anti-Assad moderate Free Syrian Army. But wouldn’t it be good to see regional powers, like Turkey and Saudi, getting more directly involved?

The complexity of the situation in Syria had given me concerns that by weakening Daesh, Assad may be strengthened, unless an alternative is there to fill the void. A similar void which proved to be disastrous in the post Saddam Hussein Iraq. However with the unfortunate involvement of Russia, I do now feel that the game rules have changed. To think that any diplomatic situation could be achieved without Russia is potentially unrealistic. Russia has been mainly targeting the same moderate anti-Assad fighters that we wish to support (rather than bombing Daesh). To my mind, this means that the allies do need to attack Daesh, support moderate alternative forces, as well as engage in diplomacy with Russia. The Russian’s interests in the region are ultimately their own rather than those of the Assad regime. In the medium term, it looks like they may be prepared to allow an exit for Assad and his murderous regime if their own interests are not damaged. From our point of view we must be wary that Mr. Putin does not try to leverage a deal over Syria, to relieve Russia of sanctions caused by its unacceptable behaviour in Ukraine.

The threat of Islamic extremism does of course go beyond military operations and diplomacy. It involves the rebuilding of Syria and Iraq after the war and how we deal with the refugee issue. In addition to this, we must realise that much of the threat comes from our own backyard. There are some 500 returned jihadists who potentially pose a threat in addition to significant numbers of Islamic extremists brought on by fanatical preachers in our own country. Whatever happens in Syria, we have a major task in the UK to encourage the Muslim communities (who are overwhelmingly peaceful and moderate) to speak up for moderation and against extremism. Muslim and non Muslim British people need to work within and between our communities and with our security services to root out the potential terrorists here in the UK.

Air operations are by no means the only answer to these issues but I do believe that they are one section of the answer and that Britain should play its part with our allies.

Jonathan Djanogly



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