UK 'Smart' To Keep Out Of Escalating US-Iran Tensions

Defence expert Dr Karin von Hippel's comments come as Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined European leaders in calling for de-escalation.

A defence expert says the UK has been "smart" in staying out of the escalating tensions between the United States and Iran.

Dr Karin von Hippel, Director General of think tank the Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), says it was unusual for the UK not to be consulted by Washington ahead of the air strike which killed a top Iranian General.

General Qassem Soleimani, who was in charge of Iran's military operations abroad, was killed in an operation at Baghdad airport on Friday.

Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned of "harsh retaliation", labeling the General's death "martyrdom" and describing him as the "international face of resistance".

In response, US president Donald Trump has warned that the US will hit 52 Iranian targets "very fast and very hard" if Iran does indeed retaliate.

According to Dr von Hippel, Iran "miscalculated" and "just assumed something like this wouldn't happen".

General Qassem Soleimani's death resulted in protests across Iran.
General Qassem Soleimani's death resulted in protests across Iran.

RUSI's Director General predicted that Iran will respond and that "the question is when and how and where... it could be anything from a cyber attack to killing US troops, to bombing a western hotel somewhere.

"It could even be attacks on western troops - not just US troops but British troops or French troops or other Allied troops in the region."

The UK is now reviewing its "force protection" in the Middle East, while Prime Minister Boris Johnson joined fellow European leaders to release a statement calling for de-escalation.

Around 400 British Army personnel are deployed in Iraq, across three bases - Camp Taji near Baghdad, Union III in Baghdad, and Erbil in Iraqi Kurdistan. 

The UK also has six Royal Navy ships in the Gulf - Type 45 destroyer HMS Defender, Type 23 frigate HMS Montrose and four minehunters, as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessel.

Dr von Hippel said not consulting the UK shows the Trump administration "thinks they can do everything on their own, and then later they'll call for help".

"Why would the UK want to clean up the US's mess unless there's a very good reason for the UK to get involved?" she continued.

Dr von Hippel says another notable feature of the situation, is how President Trump's actions have seemingly contradicted his views on US action in the region.

"Don't forget he voted against doing anything more in the Middle East, pulling out of the Middle East," she said.

"He's much more focused on geo-strategic issues such as China, Russia etc.

"This really goes against his own stated national security policy."

The Iraqi parliament passed a resolution to expel foreign troops, including British military personnel, from the country.

The vote followed an announcement the US-led coalition in Iraq had "paused" its training mission, saying the focus was for troops, including British personnel, to now protect the bases.

The expulsion from Iraq, Dr von Hippel says, would be "an own goal" for the US as it would give Iran "even more control" inside Iraq.

She went on to say the exodus of coalition troops could also facilitate the resurgence of so-called Islamic State (IS), which still maintains sleeper cells inside Iraq and Syria.