Britain opened its first permanent military base in the Middle East in more than four decades on Thursday in the Gulf country of Bahrain, giving the UK an expansive presence along key international shipping routes.
The UK Naval Support Facility can house up to around 500 Royal Navy personnel, including sailors, soldiers and airmen, in a region where maritime security ensures oil shipments and goods make it from Asia to Europe. British officials have described it as the first permanent British base east of the Suez Canal since 1971.
Bahrain, located off the coast of Saudi Arabia and just west of its rival Iran, also plays host to the US Navy’s 5th Fleet.
Tense encounters have occurred between US and Iranian naval forces in the Gulf, though military officials say provocations of US navy ships in recent months have halted.
The new British hub makes it easier for the Royal Navy to conduct longer-term deployments in the Gulf and will offer engineering and logistical support for ships.
The facility includes sleeping accommodation, sport facilities, a chapel, and recreational areas for troops.
The port would also be able to service mine sweepers and aircraft carriers, though carriers like the HMS Queen Elizabeth will not be able to dock there because the water is too shallow.
The Duke of York, Prince Andrew, and Bahrain’s Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa were on-hand for the ceremony in Salman Port.