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Middle East News
U.K. to Boost Gulf Military Presence
From the Wall Street Journal of Sat, 06 Dec 2014 09:08:54 EST
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the U.K. will establish a navy base in Bahrain on Saturday.
British Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond said the U.K. will establish a navy base in Bahrain on Saturday. European Pressphoto Agency

MANAMA, Bahrain—Britain’s top diplomat said Saturday that his country has signed a deal with Bahrain that will bolster the United Kingdom’s military presence in the island nation and give it a more permanent naval base in the oil-rich Persian Gulf region.

The agreement marks a strategic shift for Britain, which formally withdrew from its major Gulf military bases in 1971. It comes as the U.K., the U.S. and their allies seek to push back Islamic State group militants that have taken over large parts of Iran and Syria and as world powers work to forge a lasting nuclear deal with Iran, which sits just across the Gulf from Bahrain.

U.K. Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond emphasized his country’s historic links to the Gulf in announcing the plans at a security conference in the Bahraini capital, Manama.

“In a globalized world, our domestic security and prosperity depends on developments beyond our shores,” Mr. Hammond said. “Your security concerns are our security concerns.”

Tiny Bahrain already hosts the U.S. Navy’s Fifth Fleet, which is responsible for operations around the Arabian Peninsula as well as parts of the Indian Ocean.

The deal ensures a permanent footing for the Royal Navy in the oil-rich Gulf, Mr. Hammond said. The Strait of Hormuz, which is the Gulf’s only exit and is bounded by Iran and Oman, is the route for 30% of world oil supplies carried by tanker ships.

The agreement calls for improved onshore facilities at Bahrain’s Mina Salman port that will give the Royal Navy a base to plan, store equipment and house military personnel.

Four British minesweepers are already based in Bahrain, and other British ships rely on facilities in the kingdom. Those operations were carried out on an ad hoc basis, and left personnel relying on “frankly very poor temporary accommodation,” Mr. Hammond said.

He didn’t say how much the expanded operation would cost.

Defense Secretary Michael Fallon described the facility as “a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy’s footprint” that will ensure Britain can send more ships and bigger vessels into the Gulf.

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