Britain is considering sending unmanned aircraft to the Persian Gulf, according to reports. The drones would aid military patrols in the region purportedly aimed at protecting British vessels from Iranian naval forces.
The Royal Air Force (RAF) has a number of Reaper drones stationed in Kuwait, which are currently participating in missions over Iraq and Syria. These aircraft could soon be re-assigned to provide surveillance as tankers are escorted by the British Navy through the Strait of Hormuz, Sky News reported.
A senior British naval officer told the outlet that Britain believes Tehran poses a threat to merchant vessels. “The direct threat to those British merchant vessels still stands. We’ve seen nothing to suggest that Iran is going to abide by its international obligations,” Commodore Dean Bassett said.
The UK launched patrols in the Gulf following a series of maritime incidents with Iran. In early July, an Iranian oil tanker allegedly bound for Syria was boarded by British marines off the coast of Gibraltar. Iran denounced the act of “state piracy” and retaliated by seizing a UK-flagged vessel as it entered the Strait of Hormuz.
The Iranian tanker was released in late August, while the British-flagged ‘Stena Impero’ is still in Iranian custody.
London responded to the seizure of the UK vessel by launching naval patrols of the waterway. The US is currently forming a coalition to protect Western tankers traveling through the strait – although several notable allies, including Germany, have declined to participate in the military operation.
Tehran has argued that the presence of American and British forces in the region will lead to further insecurity, and has suggested forming its own coalition of neighboring states to guarantee security in the Gulf.