16/09/2012 07:26 BST | Updated 16/09/2012 07:27 BST

The Lib Dem Minister, The Reshuffle And A Possible Attack On Iran

The decision to sack Nick Harvey, the respected armed forces minister, from his post in the Ministry of Defence in the recent reshuffle came as a surprise to veteran Westminster watchers. What had provoked Nick Clegg to dismiss a very experienced and quietly effective minister - who was handed a knighthood a few days later - and leave the MoD without Lib Dem representation?

Today's Mail on Sunday suggests the decision may have been geopolitical, rather than merely party-political.

From Mark Nicol and Brendan Carlin's report:

A Liberal Democrat Defence Minister has claimed he was sacked to avoid a damaging Coalition split over a pre-emptive strike on Iran.

Former Armed Forces Minister Sir Nick Harvey told friends that he was fired in the reshuffle to allow Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg to sign Britain up to an Israeli-US preventive strike to take out Iran’s nuclear installations.

Friends of Sir Nick – who was handed a knighthood just days later – say that he could have embarrassed the Lib Dem leader by being too critical of Israel’s actions if he had still been in the key Ministry of Defence post.

The row broke as sources confirmed that British intelligence agents are already deeply involved in attempts to discover Iran’s nuclear secrets.

It is also understood that the US has asked Britain to provide frigates to patrol the Straits of Hormuz, through which much of the world’s oil passes.

The sacking of the respected Minister took MPs and Army top brass by surprise.

On Wednesday, it was revealed that MI6 chief Sir John Sawers had made a rare and secret visit to Israel to try and persuade the Netanyahu government not to launch a unilateral and pre-emptive strike on Iran's nuclear facilities in the coming weeks or months. The Israeli prime minister has been making increasingly belligerent statements in recent days.

Meanwhile, the Huffington Post has learned that the new "senior minister of state" at the Foreign Office, Baroness Warsi, who is Muslim, was denied the FCO's "Middle East and North Africa" portfolio, which remains with junior minister Alistair Burt, because of concerns over how she might handle the government's response to an Israeli attack on Iran. A hawkish David Cameron claimed in March that Iran was developing nuclear missiles capable of hitting London.

Sir Nick confirmed to the Mail on Sunday that he had originally considered his sacking to be linked to the growing speculation about an Israeli attack on Iran and the belief that British forces would be drawn into any conflict - but then claimed he had now changed his mind.

"I have cast my mind over the issues that might have led the party leader to this decision," he said. "But having toyed with that one, I have decided it could not have played any part in it."

In an interview in February, Clegg refused to rule out Lib Dem participation in a US-Israeli attack on the Islamic Republic but senior party sources have since pointed out that the party's 2010 election manifesto explicitly commits the Liberal Democrats to opposing military action against Iran.

However, there is of course a rather simple and obvious two-word response to this point: tuition fees.