May 23, 2024

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak of Britain on Monday combined a strong condemnation of Iran’s weekend attack on Israel with a call for restraint from “all sides,” adding that he was working with allies to lower tensions in the region.

Speaking to the British Parliament, Mr. Sunak described Iran’s assault as a “reckless and dangerous escalation,” confirmed that British planes had destroyed an undisclosed number of Iranian drones, and said that — faced with such threats — “Israel has our full support.”

But in a finely calibrated set of comments to lawmakers, Mr. Sunak also said that “all sides must show restraint.” He said he plans to speak soon by phone with his Israeli counterpart, Benjamin Netanyahu, and added: “We are working urgently with our allies to de-escalate the situation and prevent further bloodshed. We want to see calmer heads prevail.”

British condemnation of Iran was clear. Mr. Sunak said the government in Tehran was “intent on sowing chaos” in the region, and had shown its “true colors.”

But in a two-hour question and answer session, Mr. Sunak urged restraint on Israel as it considers its next steps, noting that the government in Tehran was increasingly isolated on the international stage. Given that Iranian drones and missiles mainly failed to reach their targets, Mr. Sunak urged Israel to “take the win and avoid further escalation.”

Earlier, in an interview with Sky News, Britain’s foreign secretary, David Cameron, also condemned Iran but appeared to concede that the Iranians had the right to respond to a missile strike on April 1 on its embassy compound in Syria, which killed top commanders in Iran’s armed forces and has been widely blamed on Israel.

Asked what Britain would do if one of its consular buildings were attacked, Mr. Cameron said that it “would take very strong action,” adding that “countries have the right to respond when they feel they have suffered an aggression.”

But Mr. Cameron also described Iran’s reaction as disproportionate. “Look at the scale of that response, had those weapons not been shot down there would have been thousands of casualties,” he said.

In Parliament, Mr. Sunak faced relatively little direct criticism over Britain’s role in the defense of Israel, and several lawmakers pressed him to take further action and proscribe Iran’s Revolutionary Guard Corps as a terrorist group.

There was a continuing focus on the plight of Palestinians in Gaza, however. Keir Starmer, leader of the opposition Labour Party, said that while he supported British military involvement, and that there was no justification for Iran’s actions, “we cannot be naïve to the fact that one of the drivers of tension in the region is the ongoing war in Gaza.”

“I urge the government again to use every ounce of diplomatic leverage that we have, to make sure aid to Gaza is unimpeded and drastically scaled up,” he added.

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