The UK has officially opened a massive naval base in Bahrain, the first time in four decades that London is opening such a facility in the Persian Gulf region.
Britain’s Prince Charles inaugurated the Naval Support Facility (NSF) in the Bahraini capital of Manama on Thursday, marking the 200th anniversary of mutual relations with the Arab kingdom.
London plans to make the NSF its second busiest center of operations for the Royal Navy after Portsmouth, allowing its warships to resupply and undergo repair in the region without having to return to the UK.
Over the past few months, the UK navy’s advanced Type 45 warships deployed to the Persian Gulf have been forced to return home because of their inability to cope with the warm waters of the region.
The NSF will host around 600 military forces and warships tasked with patrolling the surrounding waters.
The UK’s Royal Air Force (RAF), which has been using Bahraini air bases for over 90 years, is the UK military’s other element of presence in the region.
In his visit to London last month, Bahrain’s monarch King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah called for closer ties between the two kingdoms as he met with Queen Elizabeth, Prime Minister Theresa May and other British officials.
He also invited May to the upcoming (Persian) Gulf Cooperation Council summit, which would be held in Manama next month.
The UK’s willingness to expand ties with Bahrain comes at a time when the repressive regime is under international pressure to end its years-long crackdown on a popular uprising.
Since 2011, the year that saw the eruption of peaceful anti-regime protests in Bahrain, the UK has sold 55 million dollars worth of arms to the Al Khalifah regime.
Scores of people have been killed and hundreds of others injured or arrested in the Bahraini crackdown on the anti-regime activists, who have been holding protests on an almost daily basis since February 14, 2011.
The UK has also provided training and intelligence to Bahraini security forces, who have been aided by their Saudi counterparts in their violent crackdown.