Royal Navy plans to deploy marines to Gulf
Tensions at their highest since Eighties warship conflict as US points the finger at Iran over attacks
THE Royal Navy is drawing up plans to deploy 20 marines to the Persian Gulf to protect British ships after a series of Iranian attacks on oil tankers.
It is understood the plans were first drawn up weeks ago amid rising tensions with Iran, but the Ministry of Defence mission has not been formally announced. Whitehall’s Cobra security committee is expected to meet this week to discuss the escalating situation and proposals to dispatch 20 Royal marines.
It comes as Iran summoned Britain’s ambassador in Tehran after Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, said it was “almost certainly” behind the attacks.
Jeremy Corbyn had earlier questioned whether there was credible evidence Iran was responsible for this week’s attacks in the Strait of Hormuz.
Mr Hunt called the comments “pathetic and predictable”. “From Salisbury to the Middle East, why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?” Mr Hunt said. Two senior US officials said Washington is discussing with its allies a range of options on how to protect international shipping.
The plans involve sending marines from 42 Commando based near Plymouth to form a rapid reaction force called the Special Purpose Task Group 19, according to The Sunday Times.
The MoD last night said: “This is a pre-planned training deployment and is in no way related to the ongoing situation in the Gulf of Oman.”
IRAN last night summoned Britain’s ambassador in Tehran after Jeremy Hunt blamed the country for an attack on two oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
The Foreign Secretary has pointed the finger firmly at Iran, saying it was “almost certainly” behind the attacks – one of the most robust responses to the crisis from the international community.
Mr Hunt was taken to task by Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, who questioned whether there was credible evidence that Iran was responsible for this week’s attacks, which took place in the Strait of Hormuz.
The US released a video which it said showed Iranian forces trying to hide evidence of attacking the tankers, and the British government said it was “almost certain” that Iran’s Revolutionary Guard was responsible.
“Without credible evidence about the tanker attacks, the Government’s rhetoric will only increase the threat of war,” Mr Corbyn said.
Mr Hunt called the comments “pathetic and predictable”. “From Salisbury to the Middle East, why can he never bring himself to back British allies, British intelligence or British interests?” Mr Hunt said.
Three other Tory leadership candidates – Dominic Raab, Michael Gove, and Sajid Javid – also criticised Mr Corbyn’s comments. Mr Raab said he was allowing “his anti-American prejudice to skew his moral compass and political judgment”.
The response from Britain’s allies has been more muted. Heiko Mass, the German foreign minister, also said the grainy video released by the US was “not enough” to prove Iran was behind the attack. The UN called for an independent investigation.
Shinzo Abe, the Japanese prime minister, condemned the attack on a Japanese-operated ship “no matter who acted”, but he urged “all related countries” to avoid an accidental confrontation.
Meanwhile Russia warned against rushing to assign blame for the attacks and accused the US of stoking tensions in the region with its accusations against Iran.
Its foreign ministry said that the America’s “Iranophobic” stance had “artificially” fuelled tensions and urged all involved to show restraint.
Iranian officials “strongly condemned” Mr Hunt’s comments during last night’s meeting with the British ambassador and demanded an explanation for why the UK was the only nation to echo US accusations, the country’s news agency ISNA reported. The spate of attacks have raised global fears of a return to the “Tanker Wars” of the Eighties, when US warships fought catand-mouse battles with Iranian forces to protect oil tankers.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia, one of Iran’s main regional foes and a major US ally, said yesterday that there must a be a “swift and decisive” response to the attacks.
US officials said Iranian forces had attempted to shoot down an American drone in the Gulf of Oman shortly before beginning their attack on two oil tankers on Thursday, according to CNN. Hassan Rouhani, Iran’s president, repeated his threat yesterday to breach the 2015 nuclear agreement by resuming enrichment of the kind of high-grade uranium which could be used in a nuclear weapon.
“Iran cannot stick to this agreement unilaterally,” Mr Rouhani told Russian, Chinese and other Asian leaders at a conference in Tajikistan.
Two senior US officials said that the US is discussing with its allies a variety of options on how to protect international shipping. “You could see other powers sending navy ships eventually. It is a slower process now as moves are explored within the United Nations and to build a coalition,” one of the officials said. Britain has four Royal Navy minehunters, a Type-23 Frigate and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary logistics vessel in Bahrain as part of a 33-nation Maritime Coalition Force.
Military sources said the Navy’s special task force will embark from the naval base in Bahrain on a Royal Fleet auxiliary ship to protect navy ships as well as British merchant vessels.
It is reportedly hoped that the deployment of marines will enhance the Navy’s ability to detect the small boats Iran is accused of using to attack the tankers. But the MoD last night insisted that the deployment is a pre-planned training exercise drawn up several weeks ago.
‘You could see other powers sending navy ships eventually. It is a slower process now as moves are explored within the United Nations and to build a coalition’
Richard Ratcliffe at the Iranian embassy in London yesterday, where he began a hunger strike in solidarity with his wife Nazanin, who is being held as a spy