UK sends warship to Gulf over fears of Iran-backed escalation of Gaza conflict

HMS Diamond, one of the world's most advanced warships, can detect and destroy airborne, surface and sub-surface threats

The UK Navy destroyer HMS Diamond leaves Portsmouth harbour. PA
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Britain is sending a second warship to the Gulf to serve as a deterrent against the Israel-Gaza war spiralling into a wider conflict.

UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said the deployment of destroyer HMS Diamond was essential after the “unlawful and brazen” seizure by Yemen's Iran-backed Houthi rebels of an Israeli ship in the south of the Red Sea and the increase in activity by Somali pirates.

He said the destroyer will join Operation Kipion, the UK’s maritime presence in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean, to help ensure the freedom of navigation in the region, reassure merchant vessels and ensure the safe flow of trade. HMS Lancaster has been in the Gulf since last year alongside three minehunters.

The mission also aims to prevent regional tensions escalating once the temporary truce ends, when Israel’s ground invasion could become more intense and potentially drag Iran or linked groups into the conflict.

“Recent events have proven how critical the Middle East remains to global security and stability,” Mr Shapps said.

“From joint efforts to deter escalation, following the onset of the renewed conflict in Israel and Gaza, to now the unlawful and brazen seizure of MV Galaxy Leader by the Houthis in the Red Sea – it is critical that the UK bolsters our presence in the region, to keep Britain and our interests safe from a more volatile and contested world.

“Today’s deployment will strengthen the Royal Navy’s patrols, help to keep critical trade routes open and prove that our commitment to regional security not only endures but enhances.”

HMS Diamond, which the Royal Navy describes as one of the most advanced warships in the world, is equipped with cutting-edge military sensors and a range of sophisticated weapons systems, which can detect and destroy airborne, surface and sub-surface threats.

The ship’s primary role is to provide air defence using the Sea Viper anti-air missile system, which detects enemy threats at range, interrogating them, and neutralising them if required, according to the Royal Navy.

It will also have a Wildcat helicopter on board and provide support for HMS Lancaster and mine-hunting ships already in the area and working to keep shipping lanes open.

The UK previously sent a logistics support vessel, RFA Lyme Bay, and RFA Argus, the Royal Fleet Auxiliary’s emergency medical ship, to the area in a show of support for Israel.

On Thursday it was revealed a US Navy warship sailing near Bab Al Mandeb had shot down a drone launched from Yemen, in the latest in a string of threats from Iranian-backed Houthi rebels.

US Central Command said the USS Carney, a navy destroyer, downed the drone – an Iranian-made KAS-04 – which was launched from a Houthi-controlled area of Yemen and was heading towards the warship.

The ship was operating in the southern Red Sea and was moving towards the strait.

The interception came a day after an Iranian drone flew within 1,500 metres of the USS Dwight D Eisenhower aircraft carrier as it was conducting flight operations in international waters in the Arabian Gulf.

The Red Sea, stretching from Egypt’s Suez Canal to the narrow Bab Al Mandeb separating the Arabian Peninsula from Africa, is a key trade route for global shipping and energy supplies.

The US Navy has stationed several ships in the sea since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, which has heightened tension in the region.

Updated: November 30, 2023, 11:44 AM