The debate was led by Hendon MP Dr Matthew Offord, and featured contributions from Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, CFI Vice-Chairman John Howell OBE MP, CFI Officers Bob Blackman MP and David Burrowes MP, Caroline Ansell MP, Dr Daniel Poulter MP, Sir David Amess MP, James Morris MP, Seema Kennedy MP, and Oliver Dowden MP.
Opening the debate, Dr Offord asserted: “I believe that Iran is a leading sponsor of state terrorism, providing financial and material support to extremist Islamist terrorist groups across the Middle East, including Hamas, Hezbollah and the insurgency in Afghanistan and Iraq. Iran actively sponsors international terror groups committed to the destruction of Israel, which act as proxies for the Islamic Republic”.
Dr Offord said that the lifting of sanctions on Iran following the Iran nuclear deal “released an estimated $100 billion and empowered Iran’s hard-liners to fund their regional hegemonic ambitions”.
He added: “There appear to be no mechanisms in place to stop the released fund from reaching Hamas, Hezbollah, the Houthis and President Assad. Just a fraction of the $100 billion of sanction relief would be enough to triple the annual budget of terrorist organisations such as Hezbollah, Hamas and Islamic Jihad”.
Speaking about Iran’s influence in Syria and involvement in the Syrian civil war on the side of Preisdent Assad, Dr Offord said: “The Iranian leadership has cited Syria as being Iran’s 35th province… Although the IRGC’s Quds force remains the primary extraterritorial fighting force, and the primary force in Syria, IRGC ground forces, as well as those of the regular Iranian army, have also been employed in the conflict”.
Dr Offord explained that “Iran operates a complex network of weapon-smuggling routes throughout the region in defiance of four Security Council resolutions, which are resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835″.
Regarding Iran’s support of the Houthis in Yemen, the Hendon MP said: “Iran operates a complex network of weapon-smuggling routes throughout the region in defiance of four Security Council resolutions, which are resolutions 1737, 1747, 1803 and 1835. In October 2016, Reuters reported that Iran had significantly increased weapons transfers to the Houthis, the militia fighting the Saudi-backed Government in Yemen”.
Dr Offord detailed Iran’s historic support for the Taliban and Al Qaeda, stating that “evidence has revealed that it has financed and equipped forces that have claimed the lives of UK special forces” in Afghanistan and Iraq.
MP for Central Suffolk and North Ipswich, Dr Daniel Poulter, criticised the Iran nuclear deal, stating in an intervention to Mr Offord: “Does he agree that many of us were disappointed with the Iran nuclear deal? It dealt with Iran’s nuclear capacity, but there was a missed opportunity to tackle some of the state-sponsored terrorism and other underlying causes of instability in the Middle East. That is something that we will look to America to do now with a new President”.
Former Northern Ireland Secretary, Rt. Hon. Theresa Villiers MP, condemned Iran’s support of proxies and terror groups across the region, stating that “Hezbollah boasts of the funding it receives from Iran. It is believed to have amassed a stock of about 150,000 rockets, including hundreds of long-range Iranian-made missiles capable of striking civilian targets around the region”.
In her speech, Ms Villiers highlighted the regime’s “appalling” human rights record, including its execution rate and discrimination against minorities, stating “it is a matter of serious regret that the Iran nuclear deal includes nothing at all on human rights”.
She said: “Many throughout the Middle East are suffering as a result of Iranian involvement in funding and arming hard-line and extremist groups, but the House should be in no doubt of the suffering that the Iranian Government inflict on their own people”.
James Morris MP highlighted in an intervention the “catastrophic failure” of Western policy to allow Iran to operate “with impunity in the Middle East”.
Sir David Amess MP said that Iran’s “influence in the Middle East is dreadful” and added that Iran’s threats of “wiping the State of Israel out of existence is absolutely disgraceful”.
CFI Officer Bob Blackman MP underlined in his speech that his is “encouraged” by the US Administration’s initiation of a review process “whereby the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) could finally be listed as a foreign terrorist organisation”.
Mr Blackman said that the IRGC “as a whole unquestionably fits the legal criteria for designation as a terrorist organisation, given its proven involvement in terrorist attacks abroad”.
Seema Kennedy MP, spoke about her family’s experiences in Iran, and called for more engagement with the country. She said: “It is still a country with very high rates of execution. That is due to a lack of engagement. We need positive engagement from Britain and other partners. That will be better for the people of Iran and better for us”.
CFI Vice-Chairmain John Howell OBE MP covered Iran’s blacklisting by the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), due to its financing of terrorism. He said, however that despite the FATF suspending mandatory counter-measures on Iran for a year, Iran has “declined to abandon its continued support for Hezbollah, Hamas and other terror organisations”.
CFI Officer David Burrowes MP in his speech deplored Iran’s persecution of minorities, particularly Christian converts who have been imprisoned “simply for having a Christian faith”. He said: “There is a litany of human rights abuses, including multiple sessions of prolonged interrogation, coupled with physical and mental abuse and death threats”.
MP for Eastbourne, Caroline Ansell, emphasised that “Since the signing of the nuclear deal in July 2015, Iran’s regional aggression has continued unabated”, and said “it is reported that at least 14 ballistic missile launches have taken place”.
Ms Ansell underlined that the West should stand by Israel in response to this increasing threat: “At a time when Israel faces greater threats than ever before on both its northern and southern borders, from Iranian proxies Hezbollah and Hamas, the support of its neighbours is paramount. Allies such as the UK and the United States must stand firmly by our friend Israel in these turbulent times and do all we can to continue to support and facilitate regional dialogue, which may finally counter Iran’s influence in the Middle East”.
Speaking in response to the points made by MPs, Middle East Minister Tobias Ellwood MP said he “remained concerned” that Iran is “destabilising the region and threatening wider security”.
Mr Ellwood said that Iran along with Russia was “instrumental in the Aleppo campaign and must take responsibility for the suffering caused there”. He stated: “We will continue to hold those responsible to account”.
Click here to read a full transcript of the debate.