The irony of a predominantly Conservative government acting in a way that its supposedly pro-Palestinian Labour predecessor never did has not been lost on observers.

One does not need to have a long memory to remember how Britain reacted to Israel's invasion of Lebanon in the summer of 2006: the then prime minister Tony Blair refused to publicly criticise Israel for its disproportionate use of force or call for an immediate end to military strikes insisting that Hezbollah rather than Israel was the guilty party.

How a Labour administration would have responded to Israel's recent controversial action — its commando raid on a Gaza-bound aid ship in international waters resulting in the deaths of nine activists — can only be speculated about, but nobody can accuse Britain's new Conservative-Lib Dem government of pulling its punches.

Even the coalition's worst critics have been impressed by its quick and robust reaction. Indeed, seldom in recent years has Britain taken such a tough line against Israel and the irony of a predominantly Conservative government acting in a way that its supposedly pro-Palestinian Labour predecessor never did has not been lost on observers.

Its condemnation of Israeli's actions has been sharp, unapologetic and free from Labour-style equivocation or attempts at moral equivalence. Terms like “unambiguous,” “absolute” and “clear” have characterised statements of senior government figures from Prime Minister David Cameron to his Foreign Secretary William Hague downwards. It is striking that the Tories have been more vocal than even their Lib Dem peers, normally regarded as more sympathetic to the Palestinian cause.

Strongest remarks

In by far the strongest remarks on Israel by a British (let alone a Tory) prime minister in recent years, Mr. Cameron effectively told Israel that its policies had started to test the patience of even its friends. Demanding an immediate end to the blockade of Gaza, he said Israel's “friends” must remind it that such tactics were counter-productive.

“Friends of Israel — and I count myself a friend of Israel — should be saying to the Israelis that the blockade actually strengthens the Hamas' grip on the economy and on Gaza. And it's in their own interest to lift it and allow these vital supplies to go through,” he told the Commons reminding Israel that the United Nations Resolution 1860 of January 2009 was “absolutely clear about the need to end the blockade to open up Gaza.”

In a strongly-worded statement that was seen as a departure from his Labour predecessors' softly-softly Israel policy , Mr. Cameron made clear that the raid on the aid ship was “completely unacceptable” and that Britain would do everything to make sure that “this doesn't happen again.”

The right-wing Conservative Foreign Secretary has been equally strong in his condemnation of Israeli actions repeatedly “deploring” them and insisting that Israel must immediately and fully implement the U.S. resolution calling for a “credible” and “transparent” inquiry.

Mr. Hague demanded that Israel allow “unfettered access for aid to Gaza, and address the serious concerns about the deterioration in the humanitarian and economic situation and about the effect on a generation of young Palestinians.”

Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt, once a leading figure in the Conservative Friends of Israel lobby group, put his private feelings aside to attack the Israeli conduct. Britain, he made clear, had no trust in an internal Israeli investigation into the flotilla deaths and was working with other countries to make sure that the inquiry was “independent” and had a “credible international element.”

Mr. Burt, who held a special briefing for South and West Asian journalists to highlight the government's tough line, was asked whether this represented a hardening of Britain's Israel policy. His diplomatic retort: don't expect me to answer that.

Keywords: GazaBritainIsraelBlair

More In: Comment | Opinion