By Joe Murphy & Robert Fox
Evening Standard – 2 July 2015
Britain moved closer to launching air strikes in Syria today as some senior MPs, who voted against bombing two years ago, said it was now "the lesser of two evils". But MPs and former military chiefs were divided, as Defence Secretary Michael Fallon signalled the Government wants to target Islamic State assets in Syria. He was expected to tell the House of Commons there would be no strikes without a vote in Parliament. No 10 sources indicated that no vote would be sought until a new Labour leader was elected.
Some experts agreed with Mr Fallon that it was "illogical" to bomb IS in Iraq but not Syria. However, there was also scepticism that it could make any difference because the United States was already carrying out intense aerial action in Syria.
Julian Lewis, chairman-designate of the Defence Select Committee, said the Government had changed its position completely since it sought consent to attack Syrian government targets in 2013, which was rejected by Parliament.
"What they are now proposing does have the logical implication that Assad will remain in power,"
said Mr Lewis, who was one of the key figures who voted against the Government in 2013.
"Unpleasant though that is, it is the lesser of two evils."
However, fellow Conservative Crispin Blunt, new chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, was not convinced it was a "battle-winning decision" because air strikes alone could not beat IS. He said attacks in Syrian airspace would put Britain in a legal "grey area".
"We should be concentrating on getting the battle-winning decision – which is actually getting the regional states to co-operate around the mission, which is to defeat ISIL [IS]."
The former Chief of the General Staff, Lord Dannatt, told BBC radio that Mr Fallon was "absolutely right" about the illogicality of targeting IS in Iraq but not Syria.
"Frankly it has been illogical for the last year that our forces have been engaged just in the air above Iraq and not above Syria,"
he said. But Tory MP John Baron warned:
"We should be very wary of conducting air strikes in Syria. The more we intervene, the more we take responsibility for events on the ground. I am also not convinced we fully understand what is happening, as illustrated by the fact that within 18 months we have now, in effect, swapped sides in the Syrian civil war."
General Lord Richards, former Chief of Defence Staff, said:
"While Mr Fallon's instincts are to be applauded this is yet another small-scale tactical reaction to a threat that requires a large-scale and internationally co-ordinated strategic response. And air alone will not eradicate the existential threat posed by ISIL."
Air Vice Marshal Mike Harwood, commander of Harrier forces in Iraq in 2003, said:
"The enemy recognises no borders on the ground, so why should we ?"
The Prime Minister was scarred by defeat in 2013 on his plan to target the forces of Assad in the wake of the use of chemical weapons.