The UK is sending one of its most lethal warships to the Gulf to deter growing threats to shipping from Iran and Iranian-backed groups in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas.
The deployment of HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, with the ability to shoot missiles out of the sky, comes after Houthi rebels in Yemen hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea last week and the US military had to rescue another vessel on Sunday.
Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, said he was beefing-up a long-standing Royal Navy maritime security operation in the Gulf to reduce the risk of the current crisis between Israel and Tehran-backed Hamas escalating into a regional conflict.
“This is a response to what’s happening in the region,” he told a group of reporters.
In a statement, the senior minister added: “It is critical that the UK bolsters our presence in the region, to keep Britain and our interests safe from a more volatile and contested world.”
The dispatching of a destroyer is the most substantial, publicly-declared military move by Britain since a Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October triggered war.
It follows the deployment of two support ships and surveillance aircraft to the region.
But the most significant attempts to de-escalate the crisis and deter Iran have come from the US, which has sent two huge aircraft carrier strike groups to the region and very unusually flagged the presence of a submarine.
The UK’s HMS Diamond will join a long-standing mission, dubbed Operation Kipion, which operates out of Bahrain and works with allied navies to provide additional maritime security to commercial shipping in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The operation was particularly active in 2019 amid escalating tensions between the US, the UK and other allies with Iran when Donald Trump was the US president.
Equipped with a Wildcat helicopter, the Royal Navy destroyer will be joining HMS Lancaster, a Type 23 frigate, as well as three smaller minehunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship, the Ministry of Defence said.
Mr Shapps said Arab leaders would welcome the enhanced British footprint as a stabilising presence. “We will be working in the region really to assure our many partners there.”
Concern about the security of vital commercial shipping routes in the region was heightened last week when Houthi militants seized the Galaxy Leader cargo ship.
A video released by the militants showed at least seven masked men, carrying what appeared to be AK-47s, drop from a helicopter and land on the top deck of the ship.
It purportedly showed the rebels successfully capturing the vessel raising both the Yemeni and Palestinian flags on board.
Israeli officials said the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. But ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest men in Israel.
Mission in Europe
Separately to the Gulf mission, the defence secretary also announced that a Royal Navy task force of seven ships will deploy with allies early next month on a mission in European waters to protect critical underwater infrastructure such as cables, which are known to be a high-value target for hostile states such as Russia.
The joint patrols will be the first operation by a UK-led grouping of 10 like-minded European nations called the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
The mission will cover a wide area from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea.
The aim will be to deter threats to a mass of undersea communications lines, oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure that criss-crosses over the seabed.
The UK contribution to the deployment will include two Royal Navy frigates, two offshore patrol vessels and mine countermeasures vessels, as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship – supported by a Royal Air Force P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.