Fears of Iran war spark UK Gulf evacuation plan
Published 29/12/2010 | 05:00
Armed Forces are drawing up contingency plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of British residents and tourists from Dubai and other Gulf cities in the event of war with Iran.
In a growing indication of escalating tensions, the British coalition, under David Cameron, ordered an immediate review of British military planning in the Gulf after the election last May.
It has now emerged that new proposals are being drawn up to co-ordinate military activity in the region with local allies hostile to Iran, particularly the United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Planners realised they had to tear up existing emergency plans for local British residents.
Since the previous review in the 1990s, the expatriate population has grown to more than 100,000 in the UAE alone, while a million British tourists, from businessmen on stopovers to England footballers on holiday, travel to Dubai every year.
It is feared they might be at risk if, as it has promised, Iran was to retaliate for any strikes on its nuclear sites with missile attacks on "western interests" in the Gulf.
Royal Navy warships regularly patrol the Gulf and dock at UAE ports. Iran has threatened to mine the strategically crucial Strait of Hormuz.
In the past year, the United Nations, the US and Europe have all imposed heavy sanctions on Iran.
The Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, was one of a number of regional Arab leaders revealed in WikiLeaks cables to have been pressing for even tougher action.
Diplomats say he has also been the key mover, along with William Hague, the British foreign secretary, in demanding an upgrading of Britain's traditional military ties with its former colonial protectorates in the Gulf. He has personally raised the issue of the safety of the foreign population, which makes up 70pc of the UAE's 4.5 million residents.
The new military co-operation plan, the full terms of which remain secret, will be signed off in the first half of 2011, when Mr Cameron is expected to visit. It is such a priority that it is protected from defence cuts.
The plan is expected to include an offer from Britain to help to keep vital infrastructure, such as electricity and water desalination plants, running in a war.
Proposals are being drawn up to organise evacuation runs for civilians across the border to Oman, which is not currently in Iran's sights, and other neighbouring countries. Cruise liners could be posted in the Gulf of Aden, with Royal Navy warships shuttling civilians from the small emirate of Fujairah.
Diplomats are keen to stress that embassies around the world are required to maintain contingency plans for British citizens for all kinds of disasters and emergencies.
In the Middle East, expatriates would usually be urged to stay put and maintain a low profile as in the Gulf War. "The physical requirements to move this many people means that we would try to delay evacuation as long as possible," said a Gulf-based diplomat.
But as Iran refuses to dismantle its nuclear programme, the potential for disaster is not being discounted. "It is a huge number of people who are affected here," the source said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)