Israel-Gaza: UK sends military ships and planes to Eastern Mediterranean

Surveillance planes will begin flying in the region from Friday

The RFA Argus, right, will be sent to the Eastern Mediterranean. PA
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British Royal Navy vessels and surveillance aircraft are being sent to the Eastern Mediterranean to support Israel, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced on Thursday.

He said the British forces would “support efforts to ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation” in the conflict between Israel and Gaza.

Maritime patrol and surveillance planes will begin flying in the region from Friday to track threats, including activity such as the “transfer of weapons to terrorist groups”, the government said.

“We must be unequivocal in making sure the types of horrific scenes we have seen this week will not be repeated,” Mr Sunak said.

“Alongside our allies, the deployment of our world-class military will support efforts to ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation.

“Our military and diplomatic teams across the region will also support international partners to re-establish security and ensure humanitarian aid reaches the thousands of innocent victims of this barbaric attack from Hamas terrorists.”

A Royal Navy task group will be moved to the Eastern Mediterranean next week as a contingency measure to back humanitarian efforts, the government said.

The military package includes P8 aircraft, surveillance, two Royal Navy ships – Royal Fleet Auxiliary vessels Lyme Bay and Argus – three Merlin helicopters and a company of Royal Marines.

The British armed forces will be on standby to “deliver practical support to Israel and partners in the region, and offer deterrence and assurance”, Downing Street said.

The package appears to represent a shift in approach to Britain's military involvement, after Mr Sunak's official spokesman this week said there were “no plans to redeploy UK military assets to Israel”.

Mr Sunak has also asked for all British military teams in Israel, Cyprus and across the region to be bolstered.

“The Royal Navy Task Group, RAF operations and our wider military support will be an undeniable display of the UK's resolve to ensure Hamas's terrorist campaign fails, while reminding those who seek to inflame tensions that the forces of freedom stand with the Israeli people,” Defence Secretary Grant Shapps said.

John Healey, Labour's shadow defence secretary, said his party “backs these military moves” as part of the UK's response to Hamas's incursion that left hundreds of Israelis dead.

“We stand in solidarity with Israel at this dark hour,” Mr Healey tweeted.

The military move comes before Mr Sunak's trip to Sweden for the Joint Expeditionary Force summit, where he is due to speak with northern European leaders about the situations in Israel and Ukraine.

He has spoken to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to reaffirm support for Israel.

“The Prime Minister passed on again the deep condolences of the British people for all those killed, injured or kidnapped in this unconscionable tragedy, the true scale and horror of which is only just becoming clear," a government spokesman said.

The spokesman said Mr Sunak also gave an update on his call with Egypt’s President Abdel Fattah El Sisi.

Included in their discussion was the importance of opening the Rafah crossing to allow for humanitarian access and provide a route for British and other nationals to leave Gaza.

Mr Sunak's attention has also been on the conflict's effects on British communities, having announced an extra £3 million ($3.6 million) to provide extra security for the UK's Jewish population.

Updated: October 13, 2023, 7:40 AM