UK raises threat level for British forces

The UK has raised the threat level for British forces and diplomats in Iraq and the Gulf because of a heightened security risk from Iran.

The Ministry of Defence refused to confirm the new threat level but said in a statement that: “We keep the security of our deployed personnel and assets under constant review. There is a range of threats to UK and coalition forces in this part of the world and that is why we have a very robust range of force protection measures. The UK has long been clear about our concerns over Iran’s destabilising behaviour in the region.”

One Whitehall source said Britain believes there is an increased likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against British, US or other allied interests in the region in a way that can be plausibly denied so as to avoid triggering an all-out war. The heightened state of alert covers 400 personnel in Iraq, who provide training and support in the country, as well as soldiers and their families based in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar.

Earlier this week, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that he and US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo shared: “The same assessment of the heightened threat posed by Iran. As always we work closely with the US”. His comments came after the leading British general in the coalition against ISIS had disagreed with the American assessment of the Iranian military threat in the region, earning him a rare rebuke from the US.

On Wednesday Hunt spoke with his Omani counterpart and “exchanged views on what is going on” with a source saying the Foreign Secretary urged Oman to use its influence to push for calm.

US President Donald Trump said on Thursday that he hoped the US would not go to war with Iran, as tensions between the US and Islamic republic have recently escalated. As he stood outside the West Wing waiting to meet Swiss President Ueli Maurer, Trump was asked by a reporter whether the US was going to war with Iran. He replied: “I hope not.” Switzerland serves as a “protecting power” in Iran, meaning it represents the US in Tehran.