The ‘routine’ deployment of HMS Illustrious and two bustling frigates to Gibraltar, en route to the Gulf of Aden, has excited the morning papers. And the evacuation of the American consulate in Lahore gets lots of attention, following the closure of consulates and embassies across the Middle East last weekend.
Neither story is the most interesting defence news item today. The Telegraph’s Con Coughlin reports that a huge defence contract could see the establishment of a permanent British military presence in the Gulf. He writes:
‘If a deal can be agreed – and detailed negotiations have been under way for more than a year – then the six states (Saudi Arabia, Oman, the UAE, Qatar, Bahrain and Kuwait) would sign a multi-billion-pound contract to buy Typhoons and military equipment. In return, those countries would like to see Britain strengthen its military ties, with a permanent garrison of troops and an RAF combat squadron stationed in the Gulf.
Apart from securing lucrative trade links, the revival of Britain’s influence east of Suez would reassure those states, such as Bahrain and the UAE, that are still fighting attempts by Islamist militants to overthrow their governments. In spite of Bahrain’s recent political reform programme, dissident groups linked to Iran have been blamed for two car bombs in the capital, Manama, in recent weeks. And last month 68 Islamists were jailed in the UAE for plotting to overthrow the government, despite efforts to introduce a more democratic system.’
There has been talk about this redeployment before. Nonetheless, it’s striking that it is being repeated. At a time when America is, apparently, de-coupling from the Middle East, we might be re-engaging – and with a diminished defence budget. What did Ike say about the ‘military industrial complex’?