Britain is considering stationing warplanes in the Persian Gulf as the confrontation with Iran over its nuclear program continues, The Independent reported on Thursday.
The possible deployment of the Eurofighter Typhoons follows talks with the United Arab Emirates to bolster the UK’s presence in the region, said the newspaper.
The decision on whether to send the planes at such a volatile time will be made by British Prime Minister David Cameron, after further talks with the rulers of Dubai and Abu Dhabi. An announcement is expected to be made in the near future, the report said.
The arrival of British aircraft is bound to fuel the Iranian sense of insecurity even if there are assurances that the move is not aimed at them, said The Independent. Defense Secretary Philip Hammond said on Wednesday that European nations must be prepared to “take a bigger role in relation to North Africa and the Middle East.”
According to The Independent, Israel, whose Defense Minister Ehud Barak is in London at the moment with the Iran crisis the main topic of discussion, is said to be “fully aware” and supportive of the discussions over the warplanes.
UK military commanders are looking at the possibility of sending British jets to a base in Abu Dhabi, which is currently being used by American and French forces, as a confidence building measure but also, crucially, in case there are attempts by the Iranians to block the Strait of Hormuz.
The Ministry of Defense said in a statement quoted by The Independent, “The UK regularly deploys Typhoon to UAE as part of our routine exercise program and to demonstrate our military commitment to UAE and the security of the wider region. We have a mutual interest with our GCC [Gulf] partners in ensuring peace and stability in the region, and exercises such as this allow us to practice working together.”
The statement added. “These deployments are not due to our concerns over Iran’s nuclear program. As we continue to make clear, the Government does not believe military action against Iran is the right course of action at this time, although no option is off the table.”
However, The Independent has learned from highly senior military and diplomatic sources that the Al Dhafra airbase, 20 miles south of Abu Dhabi, is being looked at as a possible station for the Typhoons. The base is in use by French Mirage fighter-bombers as well as the 380th Air Expeditionary Wing of the US Air Force with jets and Patriot missile batteries and well located for operations in the Gulf.
The report comes a week after the British government reiterated that it does not believe military action against Iran would be appropriate at the moment.
The statement was made following the disclosure by The Guardian that Britain has rebuffed U.S. requests to use UK military bases to support the buildup of forces in the Gulf.
Cameron recently urged Israel not to launch a military attack on Iran over its contested nuclear program and said sanctions should be given time to work.
In a speech to the United Jewish Israel Appeal in London on October 15, Cameron said that a military strike against sites in Iran would only serve to rally the Iranian people around the regime at a time when the sanctions were starting to bite.
He warned the Iranians, however, that if they failed to halt uranium enrichment, then "nothing is off the table".
Cameron’s comments were made as European Union foreign ministers, meeting in Luxembourg, agreed on a host of tough new financial and trade sanctions against Iran aimed at forcing a breakthrough in stalled talks on the nuclear program.
He refuted claims that the sanctions strategy was "fatally flawed", saying they had helped to slow the nuclear program and reduced Iranian oil exports by 45 percent.
"Most significantly, there are signs that the Iranian people are beginning to question the regime's strategy with even pro-regime groups protesting at the actions of the government," Cameron said.