Britain is due to set up its first permanent military base in the Middle East in four decades, ministers announced on Friday. Under an agreement with the Persian Gulf state of Bahrain, facilities at Mina Salman will be expanded to accommodate aircraft carriers, destroyers and frigates.
Britain currently bases four minehunter warships at Mina Salman.
“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,” said Michael Fallon, the defense secretary.
“We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term.”
Bahrain also houses the headquarters of the United States’ Fifth Fleet which operates in the Middle East.
Into the 1950s, Britain was the dominant naval power in the region. It had military bases at Aden and Malta and 60,000 troops stationed at Suez. The Jordanian army was led by a British officer and the small Arab principalities in the Persian Gulf, including Bahrain, were British protectorates, owing to treaties they had signed with the United Kingdom in the previous century.
Decolonization and economic decline at home forced Britain to withdraw most of its forces from Asia in the decades after the Second World War. The Americans had allied with Saudi Arabia during the war and took over the protection of the smaller monarchies on the peninsula in the 1970s. However, they are now in the process of rebalancing their armed forces to the East.
Britain and the United States were the major allies in the 2003-2011 occupation of Iraq and are currently both involved in military operations against Islamic State militants in the same country.