UK's Ben Wallace says West must wake up to Iran's threat

Former defence secretary says Tehran's activity has dashed his hopes 'reformers would triumph'

Ben Wallace suggested Britain could use its air defence of Israel as leverage to gain support against Russia. PA
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The West needs to “wake up” to Iran's threat after its drone and missile attack on Israel, the UK's former defence secretary Ben Wallace has said.

Mr Wallace said Iran's behaviour in the region had dashed his own hopes that reformers “would one day triumph over the hardliners”.

He called for Israel to side with the West against Russia to “help defeat these Iranian drones” falling on the Middle East and Ukraine.

Israel previously rebuffed Mr Wallace's calls to come to Ukraine's aid despite him warning in private that it would “feel the consequences” of Russian investment in Iran's drone programme, he says.

“I have learnt, working against Britain’s adversaries, that the only way to deal with a bully is to retaliate,” he wrote in the Daily Telegraph.

Mr Wallace, who was defence secretary from 2019 to 2023, said Britain had treated Iran cautiously “like a child having a tantrum in a restaurant”.

“We have tolerated the proxies and the malign influence,” he said. “And many of us, including me, hoped that the 'reformers' would one day triumph over the hardliners.

“But the charge sheet of Iranian aggression is growing. They have armed, trained and directed Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah. They have hosted Al Qaeda leaders, seized ships and taken hostages.

“To date, we have done almost nothing in response. In Iran’s eyes we are weak, and we need to wake up.”

British Royal Air Force planes intercepted some of Iran's drone barrage after stepping in to help US forces defend Israel.

Allies of Israel, including the UK, are urging it to “take the win” and not go overboard in responding to Iran's attack.

A former head of Britain's foreign intelligence service, MI6, said the Israelis “know that they have to manage their US relationship”, with the White House signalling it wants to see restraint.

“The Americans played an absolutely crucial role in helping Israel defend itself. [Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu has to manage that dimension,” Sir John Sawers told BBC Radio 4's Today programme on Tuesday.

Mr Wallace likewise suggested Britain could make demands “now that RAF pilots have quite rightly gone to the defence of Israel”.

He proposed Prime Minister Rishi Sunak could push Mr Netanyahu to “decide it is time to help Ukraine in its hour of need and we can see off both Russia and Iranian aggression”.

Mr Sunak promised his former colleague he would be “taking up his points with all our allies in urging them to do more to support Ukraine”.

Amid renewed calls to ban Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, he said security services “have the powers they need” to disrupt state-backed terrorism.

Sir John said he had not heard “professionals” such as the head of domestic intelligence agency MI5 say they needed the IRGC banned.

“I think it’s more of a rhetorical position of people in various parts of the political spectrum looking for something to do, without really thinking through the substance of it,” he said.

Laura Farris, a Home Office minister, suggested Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron wanted to maintain the ability to speak directly to Iran, something which could be jeopardised if the IRGC was banned.

The leadership is keen to preserve diplomatic ties with Tehran to minimise the risk of a miscalculation in the Middle East which could ignite a wider war.

“Nobody is denying that they are a malign force," she said. "We have repeatedly sanctioned both individual commanders and the IRGC more generally, so that puts very severe restrictions on their ability to move and on other freedoms that they would have had.

"We are not suggesting they are not a problem.”

Senior Conservatives including former leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith and ex-home secretary Suella Braverman have urged the Prime Minister to proscribe the group as a terrorist organisation.

Updated: April 16, 2024, 9:09 AM