The Foreign Affairs Committee of the UK parliament during a session on the UK’s international counter-terrorism policy, April 30, 2024

UK Committee Examines Counter-Terrorism Policy With Iran Focus

Wednesday, 05/01/2024

The UK Foreign Affairs Committee convened a session Tuesday where experts provided insights on threats posed by Iran as part of the Committee's inquiry into the UK’s international counter-terrorism policy.

Those testifying included Younger and University of St Andrews Professor of Iranian History, Ali Ansari.

During the initial panel, former MI6 chief Sir Alex Younger discussed the evaluation of the UK's counter-terrorism policy, focusing on the global threat landscape and factors contributing to terrorism. Leveraging his experience in intelligence and security matters, Younger emphasized the intricate nature of the global threats and underscored the pivotal role of state sponsorship in amplifying the impact of terrorist activities. 

When questioned about the complexity added by Iran's involvement with organized crime, Younger emphasized the significant challenge posed when a state supports such activities. “I think all of these do take on a different character if you've got the state behind them.”

Regarding Iranian terrorism, particularly within the Middle East and North Africa region, Younger was asked about the most effective actions the UK should take to mitigate threats to its security emanating from the destabilizing activities of the Iranian State. Younger suggested a "full-court press" approach, highlighting not just Iran but also Russia's activities, further adding:

"They've taken every aspect of state power, proxies, subversion, and cyber and bent all that to a single strategic purpose without regard for law or values and deployed them across the spectrum.”

Younger further stressed the need for a comprehensive response to these hybrid threats, acknowledging the necessity of retaining ethical and legal principles while learning from adversaries' teamwork strategies:

"We've got something to learn about the teamwork aspects of this and the rigor of prioritizing it against key strategic objectives."

In the second panel, University of St Andrews Professor of Iranian History, Ali Ansari addressed the Committee on Iran and its proxies, particularly focusing on the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC). Ansari highlighted concerns about Iran's ideological expansion and propaganda efforts, stressing the need for proactive measures against the IRGC and its activities:

"One of the areas the UK is less prepared and able to contend with is the Iranian regime's ideological expansion and education which is being carried out in a professional and serious level."

Regarding the potential of proscribing the IRGC as a terrorist entity in the UK, Ansari asserted that to effectively address the threat posed by the IRGC, its proxies, and their activities, a more proactive and engaged approach is needed and that simply proscribing it as a terrorist organization is not sufficient to solve the problem. Ansari further proposed that unilateral action might not be as effective as a coordinated approach with European partners and a broader coalition:

"It'd send a stronger signal if it's done with European partners and a broader coalition."

Moreover, Ansari advocated for a more assertive stance against Iran's regime, stressing the imperative of confronting its ideology and enhancing capabilities to effectively counter its activities. He urged:

"We need to start challenging, pushing back and confronting [Iran's regime] in a way the ideology and the toxicity that comes along with it."

Furthermore, Professor Ansari highlighted Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei's recent endorsement of "various campus demonstrations in the US”, to show how they are "following his lead". Ansari further suggested that this move by Khamenei is also sending a message to his critics inside Iran and an attempt to show his influence abroad.

Ansari also highlighted the necessity for bolstering language and cultural expertise within security services:

"We need a lot more Persian language speakers and people who understand the language and culture of the land our security services are dealing with. We need to enhance our capabilities, and then be able to push back with a response."

The next session of the Foreign Affairs Committee inquiry into the UK’s international counter-terrorism policy is scheduled for May 7, 2024.

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