In the Shadow of Ignominy: UK Military Heads Back to Suez

In the Shadow of Ignominy: UK Military Heads Back to Suez

EUROPE 20:15 23.12.2016

The UK is eyeing renewed military engagement east of Suez in a significant shift of British foreign policy. More than four decades after the UK’s humiliation in the 1956 Suez Crisis, which prompted the withdrawal of British troops in the region, military bases are to be re-opened and established in Bahrain, Oman and Dubai.

The UK is to re-open a naval facility in Bahrain, create a permanent army presence in Oman and set up new defence centres in Dubai.

The decision has been made despite the long shadow of a dark chapter in British foreign policy history. 

A cargo ship crosses a new waterway at the Suez Canal during its opening ceremony on August 6, 2015, in the port city of Ismailiya.

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AFP 2016/ Mohamed El-Shahed

The Suez crisis of 1956 remains infamous as one of the UK’s worst foreign policy disasters. A secret deal between the UK, France and Israel to overthrow the Egyptian Dictator Colonel Nasser, in order to take control of the Suez Canal, failed spectacularly.

The prime minister of the day, Anthony Eden, resigned in disgrace and on the world-stage, the UK suffered a major loss of prestige and credibilty.

Diplomats at the Foreign Office at the time have spoken of how the episode dented the confidence of the UK for at least a generation.

​Now, the Foreign Office’s new boss, the effervescently optimistic Boris Johnson, is hoping to turn a new page.

The revelationss about the UK stepping up its defence engagement in the Gulf and Asia come two weeks after Mr. Johnson gave a speech in Manama in Bahrain, in which he indicated that there has been a significant shift in the UK’s view of the Middle-East.

​It’s triumphalist title was “Britain is back East of Suez.”

​​Johnson referenced a decision in 1968 made by then Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer, Roy Jenkins. Jenkins had wanted to save money, cut defence and focus on the Common Market. It was a decision that Boris Johnson says was a mistake.

“The flag came down; the troops came home, from Borneo, from the Indian Ocean, from Singapore, and yes from the Gulf and we in the UK lost our focus on this part of the world,” Johnson said.

“I want to acknowledge that this policy of disengagement East of Suez was a mistake and in so far as we are now capable, and we are capable of a lot, we want to reverse that policy at least in this sense: that we recognize the strong historical attachment between Britain and the Gulf, and more importantly, we underscore the growing relevance and importance of that relationship in today’s uncertain and volatile world.”

​The Royal Navy is already operational in Bahrain, with the HMS Middleton being visited by Prince Charles earlier in 2016.

​The UK’s impending military expansion is being seen as recognition of the region’s growing global importance.

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