The UK is returning to its naval base in Bahrain, a former British protectorate, after more than 40 years. The base will serve as the main British hub for operations in the Persian Gulf.
Under an agreement with Bahrain, the Royal Navy will be able to deploy ships of larger deadweight and in greater numbers.
The base will become the Royal Navy’s largest center of operations outside the UK.
“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,” British Defense Secretary Michael Fallon said.
“We will now be based again in the Gulf for the long term,” he said.
Bahraini Foreign Minister Sheikh Khalid said the deal “reaffirms our joint determination to maintain regional security and stability in the face of challenging circumstances”.
Construction of the new UK Maritime Component Command (UKMCC) complex in Bahrain began in April.
Britain’s Defense Ministry is constructing new facilities at Mina Salman port, the Royal Bahrain Naval Force’s primary military installation used by the British military for over 30 years. Today, Mina Salman serves the base for four British mine-hunter warships.
The work at Mina Salman is due to be completed by mid-2015.
Immediate plans include using the Mina Salman facility in operations against the terrorist Islamic State organization occupying large territories in Iraq and Syria.
The UK, together with the US, Canada and a number of other states of the anti-Islamic State coalition, is already conducting airstrikes against the IS starting September, but uses its air base in Cyprus as its major airfield.
Bahrain used to be Britain’s primary naval stronghold in the Persian Gulf region. Starting from 1935 it hosted the Royal Navy’s whole Middle Eastern command and for nearly four years, from 1967 until gaining formal independence from the UK in 1971, Bahrain was Britain’s main regional naval base.
Bahrain already host the region’s largest naval base, which is dominated by the American military.
Naval Support Activity Bahrain (or NSA Bahrain) in Manama is actually a former installation of the Royal Navy, transferred to the US government in 1971, the year when Britain withdrew from the Gulf. The NSA Bahrain is homeport to the US Fifth Fleet and headquarters to the US Naval Forces Central Command in the region.
The US has major bases in every country in the Persian Gulf, save Iran.
Britain has been one of the only countries, which has openly supported the repressive government in Bahrain, Nabeel Rajeeb, a leading Bahraini protest leader and activist told RT.
“I think you will see a lot of people opposing this base in Bahrain, especially as its coming from a government that is not a friendly government to our struggle for democracy and human rights and totally supports the repressive regime here in Bahrain,” he said.
He added that he did not think the presence of the base would play a positive role in drawing attention to the human rights situation in Bahrain as the US naval base has been there for years and has not had any impact on events in Bahrain itself.