Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt has said the US assassination of Iran’s top general could be “a bold move” that quells instability in the Middle East.
Mr Hunt, who served under Theresa May, told Sky News the killing of Iran’s most “hardline radical” could mean a softening in tactics from Iran – but warned it was a big gamble.
The streets of Tehran have filled up as Iranians mourn the death of Major General Qassem Soleimani, the country’s effective second-in-command, who was assassinated in a US airstrike on his motorcade as it left Baghdad airport on Friday morning.
His replacement, General Esmail Ghaani, has vowed to take revenge, the Iranian government has abandoned its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, and Iraq has called for the expulsion of all US troops from its soil.
Image: Mourners gather to pay homage to top Iranian military commander Qassem Soleimani
Donald Trump has said the US will target 52 sites, including cultural landmarks, in Iran if the country retaliates.
Mr Hunt said: “I think it’s easy to underestimate why it could have been a bold move that actually pays off because if there’s one person who’s responsible for regional instability – in Lebanon, in Syria, in Iraq, in Yemen – it was Soleimani.
“He was the hardline radical inside the Iran regime who had the ear of the Supreme Leader.
More from Iran
“The politicians who I dealt with as foreign secretary were the moderates. I could never get access to Soleimani when I was foreign secretary, maybe he could have got (British-Iranian imprisoned national) Nazanin freed and sent home. He had that power.
“It may be he’s irreplaceable. It may be the counteraction we get from Iran plunges us into instability. Only time will tell.”
Image: Major General Qassem Soleimani ‘had the ear’ of Iran’s supreme leader, Mr Hunt said
Image: Soleimani’s successor Esmail Ghaani cries over the general’s coffin
The former foreign secretary said he does not think there will be war because “neither Iran nor the US wants a war or can afford a war”.
“The risk we’ve got at the moment is both sides are underestimating the resolve on the other side,” he said.
Former defence minister Tobias Ellwood also said he does not think there will be a war.
“I can’t see US Congress approving this,” he told Sky News.
Iranian MPs chant ‘death to America’
“In Iran, they don’t want this to happen either. They’re bruised, they’re hurt and want to retaliate but they don’t want a war.”
He said the West needs to say: “Iran, you’re welcome to re-join the international stage but you must abide by the rules.”
Sir Richard Barrons, former commander of the Joint Forces Command, which manages the UK’s three armed forces, said “it is absolutely the case” that Iran cannot take on the military power of the US.
He said Iran is bound to retaliate but it will not be “a massive military response” – and the UK will be involved as Iran sees it as a “co-partner” of the US.
Image: Mr Hunt described Soleimani as ‘the hardline radical inside the Iran regime’
Sir Richard told Sky News: “Iran is really good at asymmetric warfare so it will retaliate another way – cyber, proxy forces, actions against trade and finance.
“It will be painful but not military
“What’s ridiculous is this dispute between two powerful countries, which will affect many other countries, is boiled down to retaliation.
“Iran must know in calibrating its response it needs to give the US a bit of a ladder to climb down.”
He added that Iran sees the UK as a softer target than the US so it may target UK forces as that would not necessarily mean the “full force of the US” would go up against Iran.
European leaders reacted with concern to Soleimani’s killing, with Boris Johnson, German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron issuing a joint statement urging Iran to “withdraw all measures” not in line with the 2015 nuclear agreement.
Mrs Merkel’s office announced earlier she will travel to Moscow on Saturday to meet Russian president Vladimir Putin to discuss Iran in a continuation of both their attempts to salvage the 2015 deal after the US withdrew in 2018.
Source : Sky News