Israel-Hamas war: UK sending one of its most lethal warships to Gulf to deter Iran-backed groups
The UK is sending one of its most lethal warships to the Gulf to deter growing threats to shipping from Iran and Iranian-backed groups in the wake of Israel’s war against Hamas.
The deployment of HMS Diamond, a Type 45 destroyer, with the ability to shoot missiles out of the sky, comes after Houthi rebels in Yemen hijacked an Israeli-linked cargo ship in the Red Sea last week and the US military had to rescue another vessel on Sunday.
Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, said he was beefing-up a long-standing Royal Navy maritime security operation in the Gulf to reduce the risk of the current crisis between Israel and Tehran-backed Hamas escalating into a regional conflict.
“This is a response to what’s happening in the region,” he told a group of reporters.
In a statement, the senior minister added: “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.”
The dispatching of a destroyer is the most substantial, publicly-declared military move by Britain since a Hamas attack on Israel on 7 October triggered war.
It follows the deployment of two support ships and surveillance aircraft to the region.
But the most significant attempts to de-escalate the crisis and deter Iran have come from the US, which has sent two huge aircraft carrier strike groups to the region and very unusually flagged the presence of a submarine.
The UK’s HMS Diamond will join a long-standing mission, dubbed Operation Kipion, which operates out of Bahrain and works with allied navies to provide additional maritime security to commercial shipping in the Gulf and the Indian Ocean.
The operation was particularly active in 2019 amid escalating tensions between the US, the UK and other allies with Iran when Donald Trump was the US president.
Equipped with a Wildcat helicopter, the Royal Navy destroyer will be joining HMS Lancaster, a Type 23 frigate, as well as three smaller minehunters and a Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ship, the Ministry of Defence said.
Mr Shapps said Arab leaders would welcome the enhanced British footprint as a stabilising presence. “We will be working in the region really to assure our many partners there.”
Concern about the security of vital commercial shipping routes in the region was heightened last week when Houthi militants seized the Galaxy Leader cargo ship.
A video released by the militants showed at least seven masked men, carrying what appeared to be AK-47s, drop from a helicopter and land on the top deck of the ship.
It purportedly showed the rebels successfully capturing the vessel raising both the Yemeni and Palestinian flags on board.
Israeli officials said the ship was British-owned and Japanese-operated. But ownership details in public shipping databases associated the ship’s owners with Ray Car Carriers, founded by Abraham “Rami” Ungar, who is known as one of the richest men in Israel.
Mission in Europe
Separately to the Gulf mission, the defence secretary also announced that a Royal Navy task force of seven ships will deploy with allies early next month on a mission in European waters to protect critical underwater infrastructure such as cables, which are known to be a high-value target for hostile states such as Russia.
The joint patrols will be the first operation by a UK-led grouping of 10 like-minded European nations called the Joint Expeditionary Force (JEF).
The mission will cover a wide area from the English Channel to the Baltic Sea.
The aim will be to deter threats to a mass of undersea communications lines, oil and gas pipelines and other critical infrastructure that criss-crosses over the seabed.
The UK contribution to the deployment will include two Royal Navy frigates, two offshore patrol vessels and mine countermeasures vessels, as well as a Royal Fleet Auxiliary landing ship – supported by a Royal Air Force P-8 Poseidon maritime patrol aircraft.
Three women killed in brothel in Austria
Police have arrested a man after three women were killed in a brothel in the Austrian capital Vienna.
The women were found with “cuts and stab wounds”, police said.
Police found a fourth woman inside the brothel and she was being questioned by the police as a witness.
A 27-year-old man was arrested in the vicinity of the brothel while carrying a knife, which is suspected to be the weapon.
Police said the suspect is an asylum-seeker from Afghanistan and will be questioned by police later on Saturday.
A witness had discovered traces of blood outside the building, located near the Danube River, and alerted police on Friday evening.
The identities of the three victims remains unclear.
Brothels are legal in Austria.
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‘Significant progress’ in Paris hostage talks – Israeli media
There has been “significant progress” in hostage talks in Paris, according to Israeli media.
Negotiators have been ramping up efforts to secure a ceasefire in Gaza, in the hope of heading off an Israeli assault on the Gaza city of Rafah where more than one million displaced people are sheltering.
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh met Egyptian mediators in Cairo to discuss a truce this week on his first visit since December.
A Hamas official said yesterday that the militant group had wrapped up ceasefire talks in Cairo and were waiting to see what mediators bring back from weekend talks with Israel.
It comes after the Gaza’s health ministry said death toll from the nearly five months of war has risen to 29,606. The total number of wounded rose to nearly 70,000.
Speaking on Friday, Hamas political official Osama Hamdan said the militant group has “dealt positively with the proposals and initiatives of the mediators” but that Israel’s position “poses many obstacles to reaching an agreement”.
He said the Israelis had refused the main demands put forward by Hamas to “stop the aggression, to withdraw from the Gaza Strip, to return displaced people to the north (of Gaza), and to make a real reciprocal deal” on exchanging the Israeli hostages for Palestinian prisoners in Israel.
Mr Hamdan said his group is sticking to these demands.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has called the militant group’s demands “delusional”.
Israel wants open-ended control over security and civilian affairs in Gaza, according to a long-awaited post-war plan drawn up by Mr Netanyahu.
UK and other NATO allies urged to consider conscription as Ukraine war enters third year
Any move to introduce conscription by Britain and other NATO allies would make a difference to Europe’s defences against Russia, Latvia’s foreign minister has said.
Krisjanis Karins said the larger the country, the bigger the difference.
Asked whether he was advocating such a step, the top diplomat told Sky News that he is “happily sharing” with colleagues the experience of his own nation, which reinstated mandatory military service last year in the wake of Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine.
“We think it’s a very good idea for us,” the foreign minister said, speaking on the sidelines of a recent security conference in Germany.
“I think other NATO allies could consider it as well.”
Follow latest: Sunak and Starmer pledge support ‘for as long as it takes’
Latvia, one of the three Baltic states who are members of the NATO alliance, scrapped conscription almost two decades ago.
But it decided to reintroduce the draft as part of a plan effectively to double the size of its armed forces – professionals and reserves – to 61,000 by 2032.
“The point of the draft is to beef up capable, equipped and trained reservists,” Mr Karins, a previous Latvian prime minister, said.
“It’s not replacing the professional army. It’s augmenting the professional army.”
Asked whether he thought it would make a difference if the UK started conscription, the foreign minister said: “I think it would make a difference if any European country [did] – and of course, the larger countries, it would make a bigger difference.”
As for whether this was an idea he was pushing, he said with a smile: “It’s the experience that we have that I’m happily sharing with all of my friends and colleagues.”
But UK Defence Secretary Grant Shapps, who also spoke to Sky News at the Munich Security Conference last week, sounded less than keen about even training citizens voluntarily – an idea the head of the British Army appears to support – let alone mandatory military service.
“We have a professional army of professional armed forces. It’s really important that they are trained to the highest possible standards,” Mr Shapps said in an interview.
“Everyone knows that in a wartime – First World War, Second World War – scenario, of course, countries have to make other arrangements.
“That’s not the position we’re in now. We have absolutely no plans to do that now. And so that’s not something which is on the agenda currently.”
Yet a Latvian general explained how conscription is about much more than simply generating fresh boots on the ground – it is also about growing a sense of national service and a desire for each citizen to do their bit to help protect the country.
“Everyone has the right to serve – an obligation to serve – the nation,” said Major General Andis Dilans, the Chief of the Joint Staff of the National Armed Forces, Latvia’s second most senior commander.
“This is really the cornerstone of democracy,” he said in an interview in the Latvian capital Riga.
“Therefore, we looked at this not just as a war-fighting force of the conscription, but looking at the connection between the public and the military in case of crisis, in case of war.”
Sky News was invited to visit a training base in southeast Latvia, close to its border with Belarus, a close Russian ally, where a mix of conscripts and other recruits were going through a three-week basic training course with the National Guard.
The National Guard is a branch of the armed forces that is made up of volunteers. At a time of war, they would offer support to the professional military.
“Bam! Bam! Bam!” the recruits shouted, rifles raised, mimicking the sound of gunshots, as they practised a response to an ambush on a muddy shooting range surrounded by forest.
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One group of soldiers provided cover, as a second group moved forward, stopped and then took their turn to provide cover as their colleagues advanced.
Edging close to the site where their pretend enemy had launched the ambush, the troops lobbed an imaginary grenade and hit the ground to brace for what would – if done for real – be a deadly impact, before scrambling forward to press on with their counterattack.
Eduard, 18, was one of seven conscripts among the group of about 20 on the range. All seven were voluntary conscripts, rather than being ordered to serve.
“I think that every man in the world needs to at least try military life,” said Eduard.
Conscripts can choose to go through a solid 11 months of training or stretch it out during five years, in between their civilian lives.
Eduard said he had decided to do the latter so he could continue his studies as well.
As for what he would do if Russia attacked, the young man said: “I will defend my country.”
Maxim, 21, a second conscript, was also enthusiastic about his limited time in uniform.
“I’d recommend that everyone samples the emotions and experiences of military life, then – if they like it – maybe they will seek to join the armed forces full time,” he said.
A total of 39 trainees were going through the basic training course at the Meza Mackevici base of 3rd Latgalian Brigade, National Armed Forces
Split into smaller units of nine to 12 people, they train, eat and sleep together.
Each day starts at 6am and ends at 11pm.
The trainees sleep on bunkbeds in makeshift dormitories that line a one-storey hangar. A canteen is in a second hanger, serving up breakfast, lunch and dinner.
Each morning, they sing the national anthem on a parade ground before three tall flag poles displaying the colours of Latvia, NATO and Ukraine – the war in that country, a constant reminder of why all three Baltic states are doing so much more to mobilise their people.
One instructor, a professional soldier who was sipping soup from a bowl during his lunchbreak, offered his perspective on conscription.
“I think that the most important thing is to awaken the desire to protect and defend your country,” said Staff Sergeant Gunars Brencis, 36.
“[It is] to awaken the patriots in them so that they have the courage to stand up against the enemy if needed.”
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