When British troops were on patrol in Iraq and Afghanistan, we faced many enemies, from jihadis to press-ganged civilians. But he most terrifying ones lay buried. Bullets usually miss. Improvised explosive devices – IEDs — don’t. They are frighteningly simple. Old munitions wired together or plastic bottles packed with fertiliser and ball-bearings could destroy a vehicle and kill its passengers.
During the four years I served in Afghanistan, I saw IEDs evolve: first came remote triggers, then pressure plates and then low-metal-content devices. Curiously, IEDs evolved in a similar way in Iraq. This should be no surprise, since the groups trying to kill British troops shared one common resource: Iranian support.
For years, Tehran has armed insurgents. Through the Quds Force, the special forces unit of the regime’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, it has killed British troops and plotted to assassinate diplomats in Washington DC. The ayatollahs have nurtured terrorists around the world. Their war has never been declared, but has cost many lives.
Qassem Suleimani, the commander of the Quds Forces, has waged a secret war against Britain for years. Seeking to limit our options, his forces, Russian allies and Syrian and Hezbollah proxies, have slaughtered the more moderate Syrian rebels. What’s more, he is trying to split us from our allies. By smuggling weapons into Bahrain and Kuwait to encourage violence, he’s trying to force the Royal Navy from its principal base in the Persian Gulf.
Serving in the armed forces across the region, I learned how Iran spreads its malign influence. In Lebanon and Syria I saw how its Revolutionary Guard Corps supported fighters and shaped regional leaders. Today, we are watching Russia join Tehran in military adventurism in Syria — not just to secure Assad but to challenge our interests. And now they have won the end of sanctions in exchange for little more than a ten-year delay in nuclear production.
The recent nuclear deal sent a clear message to our allies: Iran is winning. For the first time since Egypt stopped receiving Russian support in 1970, the US is on the back foot and Moscow is back in - on the Shia side.
Yes, it was an American deal. Britain's leverage was removed by the flood of businesses pushing to get around sanctions and the Obama administration’s determination to reach a deal. But to our allies among the Gulf countries, we are part of the group who pushed Iran hard for years - and then blinked.
Obama’s carried further than that of Britain in the negotiations over the Iran nuclear deal, but we cannot rely on Washington to ensure the agreement works. The deal should have banned acts of terror and subversion. It should have included a real end to the nuclear programme; it should have stopped Suleimani and his Quds Force undermining the positions of our allies.
If Iran falls short and seeks to use subterfuge to undermine our allies, we must stiffen America’s resolve. We had to do so before, when Margaret Thatcher ensured President George H.W. Bush defended Kuwait in 1990. We must be prepared to do so again.
Tom Tugendhat served with the British Army in Iraq and Afghanistan, and is now Conservative MP for Tonbridge and Malling. This is an abridged version of an article which first ran last October.