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David Cameron had a chance to redeem his foreign policy career, but Gaza once again exposes his hypocritical incompetence

April 18, 2024 at 12:00 pm

U.K. Foreign Minister David Cameron speaks during a press conference at the State Department in Washington, DC on 09 April, 2024 [Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency]

There were all kinds of reasons for expressing extreme surprise at the appointment of David Cameron as Britain’s current foreign secretary. In the sweep of the country’s rich history, he will be remembered as the prime minister who resigned after calling the referendum that led to the UK leaving the European Union. Few expected him to recover from this personal failure, yet when he took on his new role in November, it was also a good time to pinpoint his disastrous policy in Libya.

It is one that we should certainly recall, as Cameron’s hypocritical approach to the Israel-Hamas conflict once again guarantees death and destruction for thousands of Arab Muslims, while he turns a blind eye to Israel’s consistently murderous misconduct.

In 2011, at the height of the Arab Spring, Cameron suggested action against Libya’s long-term dictator, Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, was somehow in Britain’s “national interest”.

Just before joining a reckless adventure with French President Nicolas Sarkozy – now a twice-convicted criminal – Cameron claimed: “If Gaddafi’s attacks on his own people succeed, Libya will once again become a pariah state… A state from which literally hundreds of thousands of citizens could seek to escape, putting huge pressure on us in Europe.”

British and French fighter jets supported by other North Atlantic Treaty Organization forces soon ended any hope Gaddafi had of survival – he was murdered by a mob following weeks of intense bombardment – and initial celebrations over a pyrrhic victory soon fizzled out. A damning British parliamentary report concluded that Cameron had rushed into the conflict with no proper intelligence analysis, assisted in regime change without authority and shirked all moral responsibility towards helping rebuild Libya.

READ: UK Foreign Secretary refuses to say Israel occupies Gaza

The result was a failed state that is still referred to as the “Mediterranean Somalia” – one that remains a base for international terrorist groups and people smugglers, while abandoning all of its late Gaddafi-era development as an international business hub. Before the bloody intervention, Libya was attracting big companies and banks, including many from the UK. In the meantime, Cameron has continued to come out with the kind of weasel words that usually bear no relation whatsoever to his realpolitik.

Disingenuous rhetoric certainly appears to be the only thing he has to offer the people of Palestine. As far back as 2010, he described the blockaded Gaza Strip as a “prison camp”, while also criticising the Israeli military for killing nine Turkish aid workers as they delivered aid to Palestinians. Speaking more truthfully about Gaza than any other British prime minister before or since, Cameron said: “People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison.”

Such honesty might well have given Cameron a chance of some kind of rehabilitation when, 14 years on, he finds himself in a highly influential diplomatic role at a time when Israel’s offensives in Gaza have turned into what is being described as a full-blown genocide. There is ample evidence that Gaza is now an open-air morgue, with more than 33,500 Palestinians massacred, including 14,000 children and 76,000 severely wounded at the time of writing. Such figures are set to multiply as the Israelis force an entire besieged population into a worsening humanitarian crisis, pushing some 1.7 million displaced people to the brink of starvation.

What is absolutely clear is that the Israelis are exacting barbaric revenge for the Hamas surprise attack of 7 October last year, when some 1,200 Israeli military personnel and civilians were killed – some by Israeli helicopter fire – and 250 taken hostage. Since then, the asymmetrical nature of a conflict that has been going on since Palestinian land was colonised by exceptionally violent forces in 1948 continues unabated.

Yet, Cameron’s words are never backed up with concrete action, and his expressed views soon change as the Israeli military is involved in the kind of atrocities that have triggered an International Court of Justice genocide investigation.

Speaking on a trip to Lebanon in February, Cameron said: “What we need to do is give the Palestinian people a horizon towards a better future, the future of having a state of their own.” But even when three British aid workers were killed in cold blood by the Israelis in Gaza, Cameron refused to consider an arms sales embargo.

A halt on the selling of UK weapons would make little practical difference to the most heavily subsidised war machine in the Middle East, but it would at least display long overdue opposition to the billions the US pours in to enable Israel’s mass killing. Some 600 members of Britain’s legal profession, including former judges, called for a ban on sales this month, saying they made the UK complicit in genocide.

OPINION: UK rhetoric shows that retaliation is of greater concern than genocide

In turn, Cameron simply shut down the idea with the words: “The latest assessment leaves our position on export licences unchanged.” Such jargon always replaces any hint of idealism in Cameron’s shallow and also grotesquely irresponsible attempts at coherent policy. Following the killing of the three British aid workers, along with four others of different nationalities, Cameron wrote an elaborate opinion piece when he claimed that British support of Israel is “not unconditional”.

Yet, a few days later, the Israelis were undoubtedly behind a precision missile strike on sovereign Iranian territory, and Cameron was uninterested in condemning them. Instead, he said the 1 April attack on the Iranian Consulate in Syria that killed more than a dozen people – including two high-ranking generals – was no reason for Iran to retaliate.

On 13 April – the day Iran did actually strike back on Israel, with a calibrated drone and missile attack – Cameron had been speaking to Benny Gantz, acting as defence minister in Tel Aviv, and tweeted: “Further escalation in the region is in no-one’s interest and risks further loss of life.”

Cameron offered unflinching support to Israel, saying: “I am deeply concerned about the potential for miscalculation leading to further violence,” while calling for Iran to “de-escalate and prevent further attacks.”

It even emerged that British Royal Air Force jets helped to shoot down Iranian drones over Jordanian airspace. In words that sum up Cameron’s abysmally incompetent and cynical position, he even said: “I’m not getting into what Israel has or hasn’t done.”

Meanwhile, Israel appears to be determined to escalate its never-ending wars with as many neighbours as possible within the Middle East cauldron.

Beyond Brexit, Cameron’s appalling conduct in places such as Palestine and Libya will ensure his legacy as one of the worst foreign ministers ever. At a time when an increasingly dangerous, murderous world is crying out for ethical, dynamic and enlightened political leaders, he brings nothing but ignominy to the UK.

READ: Mr Cameron, do the Palestinians have the right to defend themselves?

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.