WHEN the Iranian government chillingly vowed “severe revenge” for the American drone assassination of top general Qasem Soleimani last week, it wasn’t immediately clear what the vengeance would mean for Britain.
But now a senior commander has threatened to kill UK troops in retaliation, it appears Brits won’t be able to escape the conflict — which could have serious consequences for everyday civilians too.
Although the execution was ordered by Donald Trump, the former head of the British navy Lord West has warned the UK is a “softer target” for a retaliatory Iranian attack.
The risk of an all-out attack on America and its staggering military firepower might be seen as a more dangerous move than hitting smaller British forces to exact revenge.
And the rising tensions could have consequences for Brits in all sorts of other ways, from the price you pay for petrol at the pumps to potentially facing massive delays in A&E.
Cyber attack threat on NHS
Hackers claiming to represent Iran launched a cyber attack on a US government website at the weekend where they posted a warning to Donald Trump.
A doctored image showing the American president being punched in the face and bleeding from the mouth was posted on the Federal Depository Library Program’s website.
But that threatening propaganda is just a tiny example of the havoc Iran is capable of wreaking in cyberspace — which could include using harmful software to disrupt vital public services.
You can be damn sure that if they see a softer underbelly by targeting the UK rather than the US, then that’s what they will do
“That is always at the forefront of what the Iranian Revolutionary Guard have tried to do, particularly against the US,” says Stephen Burke, CEO of Cyber Risk Aware.
“But if they are saying the UK and the US are allies and the two of them are in cahoots together, well then you can be damn sure that if they see a softer underbelly by targeting the UK rather than the US to make their point, well then that’s what they will do.”
Burke points out that any cyber attack that Iran would target the UK with would most likely be more severe than anything we’ve seen before — including one which brought the NHS to its knees.
An edited image of President Donald Trump with blood coming from his mouth was seen on a US government website Saturday evening[/caption]
The WannaCry attack in 2017 paralysed hospital computers across Britain, costing the NHS £92million and causing 19,000 appointments to be cancelled.
The attack, which infected over 230,000 computers globally, worked by demanding a BitCoin ransom to unlock the victim’s files.
But Burke says an even worse threat we could now face involves Iran deploying “disk-wiping” cyber weapons, which cause all the data on an infected computer to be lost forever.
“I dare say that they have already got this type of disk-wiping code at their disposal,” he adds. “They’ve used them in the past.”
In 2012, oil company Saudi Aramco was hit by a disk-wiping cyber attack called Shamoon, which has been attributed to Iranian hackers as a retaliation against previous US cyber attacks.
The $2.1trillion company, which is worth more than Apple, had to spend months restoring its services after 30,000 workstations were hit by the attack.
An attack like that on the NHS or other public services in the UK could be devastating.
Fuel price hikes
As with the shipping crisis last summer, fuel prices are set to go up as tensions with Iran increase.
The price hike comes as a result of fears that supplies from the Middle East could be disrupted in the crisis.
“We were already seeing the wholesale price of petrol heading up. Now, obviously, the Iran situation adds a lot more fuel to that situation,” says Luke Bosdet, the AA’s fuel price spokesman.
“From the consumer’s point of view, the possibility of petrol going back up to 130p-per-litre, which is what it did in April and May when oil was at $70 a barrel, is obviously bad news — particularly when they’re all trying to pay off their credit card bills from Christmas.”
The price of petrol has the potential to rise to 130p-per-litre, which is around 10p-per-litre more than it was in January 2019.
That would also mean forking out an extra £5 more per tank every time you fill up.
And even if the wholesale price of fuel falls again for petrol station companies, consumers could still be paying higher prices for a long time.
“We will probably see a fairly rapid increase in the price of fuel, but when the wholesale price comes down, it will take months (sometimes) for that to be reflected,” Luke says.
“The retailers hope the price is going to go up to justify their bloated pump prices — and that’s what happened last year.”
World Cup worries
The 2022 World Cup is set to take place in Qatar — Iran’s only major ally in the Gulf.
In the wake of the attack, commentators are fearful that relations between countries in the region will remain tense ahead of the competition.
Fifa had hoped that the Saudi-led blockade of Qatar, which has ended direct flights into the country from neighbouring states, might be lifted before the World Cup in 2022.
But rising tensions make that unlikely — which means travelling fans wouldn’t be able to stay in other countries and make a short hop over into Doha.
And teams might not be willing to travel to Qatar if it becomes a dangerous region.
The FA would wait for Foreign Office advice nearer the time, although Brits have been warned this weekend not to travel to either Iran or Iraq unnecessarily.
In 2002, nine months after the September 11 attacks on New York, the USA and England teams were guarded by elite military units in Korea and Japan over fears they could be the subject of terrorist attacks.
A similar situation could occur at the 2022 World Cup if the escalation continues.
Last July, a British oil tanker was seized by the Iranian Revolutionary Guard in the Strait of Hormuz off the coast of Iran.
The extremely tense situation led to the Royal Navy’s involvement in the region to protect British vessels.
Now UK warships are back in the Persian Gulf to “take all necessary steps to protect our ships and citizens” amid the new tensions.
A source at the UK Chamber of Shipping told Sun Online: “The threat level remains unchanged, so although we’ve seen a rise in tensions, this government hasn’t risen the threat level.”
The threat level was lowered in November as the summer’s crisis faded, but it’s possible that the current situation might cause a reversal in that decision.
It’s believed that around 40 British-flagged vessels are currently in the area, which is a critical part of Britain’s oil and gas supply chain.
“If we look back to what happened last summer, obviously if tensions do rise then that can have a knock-on effect on the British economy,” the source added.
British troops in Iraq
There are currently at least 1,400 military and UK government civilian personnel in Iraq as part of Operation Shader, the UK mission to train Iraqi and Kurdish forces to defeat Isis.
Senior commanders fear British nationals could be targeted by Iranian-backed Shia militia groups based inside Iraq.
One senior UK defence source said: “Soleimani was an enemy combatant in a war zone who was deploying to oversee and orchestrate Iranian operations in a foreign country which would have resulted in the deaths of US soldiers, civilians and potentially British personnel as well.
“He knew the risks and took his chances as all troops do and he paid the price.”
Reports on Saturday indicated that an additional 50 members of the SAS have been sent to Iraq to help evacuate Brits from the region if the situation worsens.
UK prisoners in Iran
There are thought to be around 15 UK and US prisoners in Iran who could be used as political hostages in further escalations.
Ex-Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt this morning said that the killing of Soleimani represents a “hammer blow” to the hopes of Brits trying to get their loved ones home.
Among those caged in Iran is Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, a dual British-Iranian citizen, who has been locked up in Tehran since 2016 when she was accused of spying.
Her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, now fears the assassination of Soleimani has damaged her chances of freedom.
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“For all of us who are caught between Iran and the West, it will make things more difficult,” he said on Good Morning Britain.
“How we get out of the situation, goodness knows at this point.”
He added: “I sit here partly worried for what that means for Nazanin, partly worried what that means for my in-laws, sat in their ordinary living room in Tehran where they’re all really worried.”