What is the purpose of Rishi Sunak’s Government deploying a notably smaller naval task group in the Middle East compared to the United States, if not to project a larger presence on the international stage?

A s Israel lashes out, Britain is busy with pointless grandstanding on a stage that’s really far too big and busy for it.

Even as the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) issued a shock warning overnight to around a million Palestinians in northern Gaza to “evacuate south for your own safety”, news emerged from London that Britain was sending surveillance aircraft, two Royal Navy support ships and about 100 Royal Marines to the eastern Mediterranean to support Israel.

As the world reeled at an impending humanitarian calamity, some started to ask what is the point of British gestures such as sending warships and suchlike?

According to UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the intention is to “support efforts to ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation”, and to “ensure humanitarian aid reaches the thousands of innocent victims of this barbaric attack from Hamas terrorists”.

“Alongside our allies, the deployment of our world-class military will support efforts to ensure regional stability and prevent further escalation.
“Our military and diplomatic teams across the region will also support international partners to re-establish security and ensure humanitarian aid reaches the thousands of innocent victims of this barbaric attack from Hamas terrorists.”

PM Rishi Sunak

Britain’s Ministry of Defence said this was “a contingency measure” to support humanitarian efforts, although it was not immediately spelled out who they would be assisting.

There was no suggestion that Gaza, which is subject to an Israeli blockade, would receive humanitarian aid because of the British warship.

It does not minimise the suffering of those targeted by Hamas to point out that “humanitarian aid” does not appear to be impeded on its way to them.

It is not unfair to anyone to ask why governments think these sorts of grand gestures show them as anything less than smoke and mirrors, cosplay intended to convey majesty.

Remember that the U.S. aircraft carrier, the Gerald R Ford, arrived in the eastern Mediterranean earlier this week, complete with a cruiser and four destroyers in support. This too was aimed at deterring any actor from “seeking to escalate the situation or widen this war”.

The U.S. footprint is forbidding enough. What is the point of the UK sending a significantly smaller naval task group other than to make itself look larger on the world stage?

PMP Magazine



Text: This piece was first published in Medium and re-published in PMP Magazine on 17 October 2023. | The author writes in a personal capacity.
Cover: Flickr/Number 10. (Licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.)
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