UK to send 100 elite Royal Marines to Gulf amid Iran tensions

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said Iran was 'almost certainly' behind the oil tanker attacks

DUNDRENNAN, SCOTLAND - APRIL 26:  Royal Marines come ashore as they take part in Exercise Joint Warrior on April 26, 2018 in Dundrennan,Scotland. The exercise is involving some 11,600 military personnel from seventeen nations, in one of the largest exercises of its kind in Europe, operating out of Her Majesty's Naval Base Clyde. The bi-annual exercise is running from the 21st April to 4th May and incorporates all three UK services as well as forces from 16 other nations including Denmark, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Spain, Sweden, and the US.  (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

The UK will send 100 elite Royal Marines to the Arabian Gulf to protect naval ships as tensions with Iran increase following an attack on two oil tankers last week.

According to British newspaper The Sunday Times, the soldiers make up a rapid reaction force operating on ships patrolling the region from a new base in Bahrain.

The marines are likely to be equipped with machine guns on deck to deter the threat from Iranian small boats.

The defence ministry has yet to formally announce the move, however, saying: “This is a pre-planned training deployment and is in no way related to the ongoing situation in the Gulf of Oman.”

Experts will also be sent to give technical support. "A ballistics analysis will be carried out to determine the type of explosives used," an official told The Sunday Times. "British experts will be on hand to provide technical support and help with forensic analysis."

On Friday, UK Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said “responsibility for the attacks almost certainly lies with Iran”.

On Sunday, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood said the UK was working to defuse tensions.

"We have a substantial presence in the Middle East that looks after our interests there. We understand the Middle East, we have a number of allies there as well," he told Sky News.

“We will be working with the United States to make sure this area is safe and to make sure that we actually deescalate the tensions there but I don’t think Iran should be under any doubt [about] that fact that we will be determined to protect our assets and our interests in the region.”