OPINION: More sanctions not proscription for Iran – a bad year for the Foreign Office

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OPINION: More sanctions not proscription for Iran – a bad year for the Foreign Office

The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office has never been known for its friendliness to Israel and is responsible for blocking efforts to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps

IRGC tank in 2012 military parade in Tehran (Wikipedia)
IRGC tank in 2012 military parade in Tehran (Wikipedia)

As we approach Rosh Hashanah, Jewish and Zionist organisations are likely to be reflecting on all they have achieved over the past year. Successes will rightly be celebrated, with key lessons being identified so that we can apply them to our work over the next year.

While communal organisations should rightly be proud of themselves, the same cannot be said for the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO), who are responsible for blocking efforts to proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC), and currently attempting to suppress the publication of documents which would establish if UK aid is helping fund the Palestinian Authority’s notorious “Pay for Slay” scheme.

The FCDO has never been known for its friendliness to Israel, either now or in its various historic incarnations. Recent experiences seemingly validate that that position.

The IRGC’s primary roles are to protect Iran’s Khomeinist revolutionary ideological nature while exporting and projecting its influence abroad, both through Tehran’s proxies such as Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad, and Hezbollah, and directly targeting its enemies. The IRGC raised and trained Hezbollah in Lebanon, propped up the Assad regime during the early days of the Syrian Civil War, and brutally suppressed domestic dissent through its Basij militia.

Members of Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps (IRGC) training in 2015

Particularly alarmingly, the IRGC has attacked diaspora Jews and Israelis abroad. These include bombing the AMIA Jewish community centre in Argentina in 1994, and a bus carrying Israeli tourists in Bulgaria in 2012. These attacks alone claimed almost a hundred lives, while scores of others attacks around the world have thankfully been prevented by local security services.

The IRGC also targets anti-regime dissidents abroad, with threats against the Iran International TV channel’s London office leading to armed police protection in November 2022.

Given this threat, it is hugely disappointing and indeed weak for the FCDO to merely settle for increased sanctions on senior figures linked to the IRGC rather than full proscription. The FCDO is believed to be arguing that proscription would result in the closure of the UK’s embassy in Tehran, curtailing its ability to pursue diplomatic avenues with Iran. Given Tehran’s confirmed attempts to conduct acts of terror on UK soil, this desire for diplomacy is naïve and misplaced. Proscription would significantly hamper the IRGC’s ability to operate in the UK, yet this seems to be no concern of the FCDO.

Closer to home, the FCDO are also studiously attempting to avoid scrutiny over their aid provision to the PA. Motivated by Lucy, Maia, and Rina Dee’s tragic murders over Passover, ‘We Believe in Israel’, along with B’nai B’rith UK, submitted an FOI (Freedom of Information) request asking the FCDO for audit reports on aid to the PA, as well as copies of the auditors’ terms of reference.

Luke Akehurst

This was with a view to establishing whether or not taxpayers’ money was funding the “pay for slay” scheme which disburses generous payments to convicted terrorists or their families, incentivising terrorism.

Disappointingly, the FCDO refused our request at both first ask and review stage, so we have now been referred to the ICO (The Information Commissioner’s Office).

This refusal was unexpected, because in 2019, the ICO ordered the now defunct Department for International Development (DFID) to release very similar documents to ‘UK Lawyers for Israel’. This extremely strong regulatory precedent should certainly apply in our case too as the wording we used with the FCDO was identical to UKLFI’s with DFID.

The FCDO’s behaviour indicates a strong aversion to scrutiny, particularly with regards to its relationship with the PA and whether any aid it gives is audited to make sure it doesn’t directly or indirectly fund incitement to terrorism.

It’s imperative that we hold the government accountable for its actions or inactions. At ‘We Believe in Israel’, we will continue to campaign for the IRGC’s full proscription, as well as transparency around aid provision to the PA and urge you to join our campaigns to do so.

For more information or to sign our petitions, please visit www.webelieveinisrael.org.uk

  • Luke Akehurst is director of We Believe In Israel
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