Britain is ‘now involved’ in Middle East conflict, warns Ellwood

UK has refused to say whether its jets intercepted any drones
UK has refused to say whether its jets intercepted any drones - JULIAN SIMMONDS

Britain must accept “we’re now involved” in the Middle East conflict after RAF warplanes joined the mission to shoot down Iranian drones targeted at Israel, a former defence minister has said.

Tobias Ellwood, a former defence minister and former chair of the Commons defence committee, warned “nobody was in full control” of the escalating conflict as increasing numbers of countries were sucked into it.

His comments came after Iran mounted an unprecedented attack on Israel by firing more than 300 drones and cruise and ballistic missiles into Israel on Saturday night.

The Ministry of Defence (MoD) confirmed UK warplanes in Iraq and Syria had been deployed to intercept “any airborne attacks within range of our existing missions.”

Mr Ellwood said: “It’s very clear that Britain will stand with Israel to help defend its guys and its soil along with the United States as well. But we need to recognise we’re now involved in this too.”

No single power in control 

He said the Iranian strikes on Israel took the regional conflict into “new dangerous territory”.

“There’s no doubt that this conflict in the Middle East is escalating with no single power in control of where this is heading,” he said.

“Iran has long engaged in a shadow war with Israel, but both sides usually carefully avoid direct engagement. So this attack by Iran, rather than using its proxies, takes us into a new, dangerous territory. A new worrying precedent has now been set.”

Speaking on Sky News, Victoria Atkins, the Health Secretary, called on Israel and Iran to “de-escalate” the conflict.

She said the UK Government was putting “all of our efforts” into de-escalation in the Middle East, saying no one wanted to see a “miscalculation or an escalation.”

Her appeal came ahead of a call between G7 leaders on Sunday, as she confirmed the Prime Minister had already been engaged in calls with his international counterparts over the morning.

She disclosed an emergency Cobra meeting had been held on Friday with the Prime Minister being updated on the Iranian attack through Saturday night as well as being briefed on the deployment of the RAF jets.

Speaking on Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Ms Atkins said: “All of our efforts at the moment are on de-escalating this. We do not want a miscalculation or an escalation in events because we know that that will take its toll.”

She repeated the UK Government’s call for an immediate humanitarian pause to allow the return of hostages held by Hamas following the Oct 7 terrorist attack and for aid to be sent into Gaza.

Tobias Ellwood described the new events as pushing the conflict into a new dangerous territory
Tobias Ellwood described the new events as pushing the conflict into a new dangerous territory - Jordan Pettitt/PA

Ms Atkins refused to say whether UK jets had shot down any drones, adding that she could not provide a running commentary on a “live operation.”

“The Prime Minister held a Cobra meeting on Friday, he was kept updated throughout yesterday and last night and has had calls already this morning, and there is planned to be a G7 leaders call later today,” Ms Atkins said.

Ms Atkins said the “circle of knowledge” on the conflict in the Middle East has to be “very, very tight”, when asked whether the Cabinet was consulted before RAF planes were deployed to protect Israel.

Speaking to the BBC’s Sunday With Laura Kuenssberg programme, the Health Secretary added: “Of course there are relevant Cabinet ministers in that (Cobra) meeting.

“You will appreciate the circle of knowledge on this has to be very, very tight because of the sensitivities and the danger that is involved for everyone in the region.”

Asked whether the Government would proscribe the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, she said: “We keep all of these issues under constant review.”

‘Edge of a precipice’

Iran has taken the Middle East to the “edge of a precipice” with its overnight attack on Israel, German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock said on Sunday.

She said Tehran had “plunged an entire region into chaos” and asked all sides to show restraint, adding that the spiralling tensions needed to end.

Nato on Sunday condemned Iran’s attack as “escalation” of regional unrest and urged restraint on all sides.

“We condemn Iran’s overnight escalation, call for restraint, and are monitoring developments closely. It is vital that the conflict in the Middle East does not spiral out of control,” spokesperson Farah Dakhlallah said.