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What would Britain's relations with Saudi Arabia, Iran and Israel be if the workers won?

2019-12-02

Will the British government change lead to a change in the kingdom's security and intelligence relations?

Yes and no. The answer may seem misleading because there are many backgrounds to this question.

When an attack like the one in London Bridge on Friday, parties unite in condemning the crime, pointing to the radical ideology that prompted him to commit his crime.

But when it comes to contentious issues of human rights, international humanitarian law, intelligence partnerships, and who should be Britain's allies around the world, there are big partisan differences, especially with regard to the Middle East.

Britain's strongest intelligence ally is the United States.

 

MI6 is working in coordination with the CIA on several issues. The British government liaison office shares much of the data with the US National Security Agency. In practice, many concerned say that this will remain the case no matter how governments change. Operations will continue as usual.

Domestically, the three British intelligence agencies (MI5, MI6, and UK Government Communications Offices) are subject to parliamentary oversight and administrative inspection to ensure their political neutrality. Lord Carlyle, the former independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, says this will continue regardless of which party comes to power after the December 12 election.

"Administrative and parliamentary inspections on the neutrality of institutions are very deep," he told the BBC. "I think this approach will continue."

"I believe that cooperation will continue at the highest levels and based on the extent to which the British government has adopted common policies with the other party. But there will be a period of testing and consultation, in which allies seek a clear understanding of any policy change."

Impact on relationships

But politics continues to play a role in national security and foreign policy, and the directives often come from above. When workers came to power in 1997 under Tony Blair, there was little change in the Middle East. One of his first overseas trips was to visit Saudi Arabia, where he received a warm welcome. But Jeremy Corbin's political speeches signal a dramatic shift in foreign relations, especially with Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states in general.

John Rainey, a former national security official, says that if "radically different political approaches and a host of radically different international partnerships are adopted, the security and intelligence relations will be influenced."

The UK has a range of security, defense, and intelligence partnerships with the Middle East, which could be subject to much scrutiny once the government changes. This could change if power moves to another hand, Rainey said.

"Once governments are in power, and having access to talks and consultations that they never had before, they may end up with less revolutionary plans than when they are out of power," says Mr. Rainy.

What difference will a change of government make in the Middle East?

This is perhaps one of the most striking differences between the two parties in relation to British relations with the Middle East. Changing government often means a complete shift in relations.

Saudi Arabia is an ally of Britain, despite its poor human rights record, and its air strikes on Yemen, which have been the subject of much condemnation. Government officials say the partnership is important for strategic and commercial reasons.

Over the years, the Saudis have been Britain's largest trading partner in the Middle East. Their purchases of British arms are worth billions of pounds and provide tens of thousands of jobs in the UK, and Saudis have hundreds of investments and partnerships in the UK.

Saudi Arabia also shares the West's distrust of Iran and shares intelligence on jihadists as part of counterterrorism efforts.

In 2010, a Saudi spy inside al-Qaeda in Yemen provided information that helped British police find a bomb hidden inside a printer ink at an airport in the east of the country, which was to explode when it arrived on the east coast of the United States.

The UK's relations with Saudi Arabia are intertwined with Britain's relations with neighboring Gulf states, namely Bahrain and the UAE. British Air Force planes depart from military bases in the UAE. The Royal Navy now has a permanent base in Bahrain called HMS Juffair. Any change in British-Saudi policies will affect the rest of the Gulf.

The current British policy is an extension of a decades-long British approach, pursued by labor and conservative governments, aimed at concluding defense and trade deals with Gulf states and avoiding public criticism as much as possible of the human rights situation in these countries. The UK took little action when Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed in 2018.

Today, the opposition, the Labor Party, takes a different approach. Indeed, arms deals were suspended in accordance with the ruling of the Court of Appeal. Senior Saudi officials said that once the deals were permanently suspended, they would look for other destinations to buy weapons.

Israel - Regional Intelligence Network

The UK and Israel regularly share intelligence. Israel's relations with the Gulf have recently improved due to a shared fear of growing Iranian influence and its nuclear program. Especially since Israel has an incomparable intelligence network in the region.

Government officials have said on special occasions that this intelligence coordination will be restricted if Corbin takes office. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, a former British national security adviser, says monitoring change must be put in a global context.

"Israeli intelligence is very important and highly regarded by British intelligence, but in no way comparable to a partnership with the United States," he says.


Since the outbreak of the Islamic revolution in Iran in 1979, the relationship between London and Tehran has fluctuated between tension and outright hostility. Royal Navy personnel were detained from the sea and photographed before being returned. For four years (between 2011 and 2015), the British Embassy in Tehran was shut down after angry crowds raided it. This year, the West has many suspicions that Iran was behind the attack on tankers and refineries in the Gulf.

In today's conflict between Saudi Arabia and Iran, Britain and the West have largely supported Saudi Arabia. Iran is a target of British intelligence services, mostly because of its nuclear program. But it may also be due to the operations of the Quds Force of Iran's Revolutionary Guards led by Qasem Soleimani.

What will change with a new government?

In any case, any future government will direct the Joint Intelligence Committee to continue to spy on Iranian nuclear activity. There will also be continued doubts about Iran's worsening human rights record and the detention of dual nationals such as Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe.

The expert on Iran in the European Council on Foreign Relations, Ali Giranmaye, says that the human rights file alone makes it difficult for any British government to normalize relations with Iran. But she pointed out that the Corbin government would be more balanced between the two major rivals in the Middle East "(Saudi Arabia and Iran) and I think that at the geopolitical level, we will at least see a more balanced British position regarding the Saudi-Iranian competition in the region."