Grant Shapps has ordered a warship to the Gulf region amid fears of missile escalation from Iran.
HMS Diamond, a Type-45 Destroyer, will bolster other Royal Navy assets in the area as concerns grow over Iranian-backed proxy attacks from groups like the Houthis.
Last week the USS Thomas Hudner, an American Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer, shot down multiple drones over the Red Sea that had been fired towards Israel by Houthi rebels.
Another attack in the area on Nov 19 saw a commercial vessel, the MV Galaxy Leader, hijacked by fighters from the Yemen-based group.
The Defence Secretary said the deployment would “send a very clear message to Iran in particular and their proxies not to get involved” in the Gaza conflict.
“With the activity in the Red Sea [and] the Houthis from Yemen, not just firing missiles, but also now intervening with vessels, we think it’s the right time to step up that force presence… to really assure our many partners there.
“They [our partners] have been asking for it. They want us to be there. They want us to provide that level of reassurance.”
HMS Diamond, one of six Royal Navy destroyers that specialises in combating aerial threats, will join HMS Lancaster, a frigate which deployed to the region last year, as well as three mine hunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship.
Each Type 45 destroyer is equipped with the Sea Viper air-defence system which can track over 2,000 targets and simultaneously control multiple Aster missiles in the air at once.
Western leaders fear Israel’s war against Hamas in Gaza could spill into a regional conflict if actions by groups backed by Iran, such as Hezbollah in Lebanon and the Houthis, are not countered effectively.
They fear missile or drone strikes in Saudi Arabia or other Gulf states from groups funded by Iran could rapidly escalate the crisis.
The Government has also acted in response to increasing concerns over security of strategic maritime chokepoints, such as the Strait of Hormuz, through which over 100 major merchant ships pass daily, and the Bab-el-Mandeb, connecting the Red Sea to the Gulf of Aden, with a daily transit of around 50 similar vessels.
Warship will conduct operations
As well as protecting against missile and drone threats, the Type 45 destroyer will conduct operations to ensure freedom of navigation in the region and ensure the safe flow of trade.
The accidental blockage of the Suez Canal in 2021, caused by the merchant vessel Ever Given, cost global trade more than £280 million per hour, or £6 billion per day.
Grant Shapps said: “Recent events have proven how critical the Middle East remains to global security and stability.
“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.”
Tom Sharpe, a former Royal Navy commanding officer, said HMS Diamond was “an ideal platform to deploy to the Red Sea as a missile picket or onto the Gulf of Aden on anti-piracy duties”.
“It shows genuine commitment to the task and will provide welcome relief to the US navy.”
Royal Navy vessels have been permanently deployed to the region since 1980 and have fallen under Operation Kipion since 2011, commanded from Bahrain.
However, Britain always used to have two ships allocated to Op Kipion, usually one destroyer and one frigate.
A defence source told The Telegraph: “Our strategy then was right. Now we’re being forced back to it.”