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Middle East

Volume 548: debated on Monday 16 July 2012

2. What recent assessment he has made of the defence situation in the middle east; and if he will make a statement. (116891)

Demands for greater political, social and economic participation continue in the middle east and north Africa. The situation in Syria continues to deteriorate and we are supporting efforts to deliver a political solution to the conflict. The UK also remains concerned over Iran’s nuclear programme and continues to work with other countries to achieve a diplomatic solution to Iran’s nuclear ambitions. On that basis, we assess that the regional security situation will remain fragile.

As the security situation in the Sinai peninsula deteriorates, weapons bound for Gaza’s terrorists are being freely smuggled, and two cross-border terror attacks have left nine Israelis dead. What assessment have the Government made of the Egyptian authorities’ efforts to tackle the security threat emanating from this no man’s land?

The Government remain concerned about the security situation in Sinai and we regularly raise it with the Egyptian authorities. There continue to be credible reports of significant quantities of weapons—particularly rockets—being smuggled into Gaza. The UK recognises that Israel has legitimate security concerns and that the people of Gaza are suffering at the moment, which does not serve Israel’s long-term security interests.

The Minister will be aware that the last nuclear non-proliferation review conference agreed on a strategy of a nuclear weapons-free middle east and that, because Israel is not a signatory to the non-proliferation treaty, a special conference, hosted by the Finnish Government, will be held in Helsinki at the end of this year. Will he assure the House that the British Government remain fully behind the process, will be represented at that conference and will do their best to ensure that both Israel and Iran are also present, to bring about a nuclear weapons-free region?

We continue to support that initiative, and I assure the hon. Gentleman that we will be represented at that conference. We would like it to make progress, but we do not underestimate the inherent challenge.

My hon. Friend has already indicated by his answers that there is an inextricable link between the military and political situations in the middle east. It is also the case that there is still consideration—the possibility—of a strike by Israel against Iran. Have my hon. Friend and the Government made any assessment of the political fallout of such a strike?

The Government remain committed to finding a diplomatic solution to the problem of Iran’s nuclear ambitions, and we continue to work with international allies and others around the world to try to bring it about. We stand ready to help the international community in the event of any general security deterioration in the region, but it is important above all else that we find an international solution to what is a very tricky problem.

Within the last 24 hours, the International Committee of the Red Cross has stated that the situation in Syria has now developed into a civil war. What are the implications for us of such a statement, and has the Secretary of State spoken with his US or any other NATO counterparts about what practical measures need to be taken to alleviate the pain and suffering of the Syrian people?

The Foreign Office is in constant dialogue with international communities and our allies about the grave situation in Syria. Nobody underestimates the difficulty that will be involved in trying to secure any international consensus in favour of action there. The recent events that we have seen are deeply shocking. The Government want to see an end to violence and an orderly transition to a more representative form of government, but the efforts being made so far are certainly hitting a lot of obstacles.