The Royal Navy is to have its first permanent base in the Middle East since it’s apparently premature 1971 withdrawal masterminded by Labour prime minister Harold Wilson.
Mina Salman Port in Bahrain is part of an “expansion of the Royal Navy’s footprint” and will “reinforce stability” in the Gulf, the British government say.
It will host ships including destroyers and aircraft carriers, essential for patrolling the area and for ongoing military operations in the region the BBC reports.
The Kingdom of Bahrain is an ideal location for a UK military base, being a central point in the Persian gulf and close to both Iran and Iraq. The UK have some presence already in the region as part of a rota of minesweepers but without their own port have had to ‘piggyback’ off the US facilities.
The deal was signed by Foreign Secretary Philip Hammond at a security conference in the country’s capital, Manama. He said it was “just one example of our growing partnership with Gulf partners to tackle shared strategic and regional threats” which “builds upon our 30-year track record of Gulf patrols”.
On top of patrols, the base will be used for operations against piracy and for aerial surveillance. Mr Hammond told reporters that the new facility would be one of the most important Royal Navy bases in the world with its strategic significance meaning it can be used to support UK operations in Iraq, where RAF jets have been taking part in air strikes in Islamic State militants.
The initial £15million to build the base will be paid for by Bahrain but the UK will pay maintenance and other ongoing costs.
UK Defence Secretary Michael Fallon said: “This new base is a permanent expansion of the Royal Navy’s footprint and will enable Britain to send more and larger ships to reinforce stability in the Gulf.”
Bahrain’s foreign minister Sheikh Khalid bin Ahmed bin Mohammed Al-Khalifa said: “Bahrain looks forward to the early implementation of today’s arrangement and to continuing to work with the UK and other partners to address threats to regional security.”
There will be some in the country who will be opposed to having a western military power permanently based there. But with the threat of IS, many Gulf monarchies may be comforted to know that should they need help, both America and Britain will be close at hand.