Defence sources have revealed that the Americans only relented and allowed a Royal Navy frigate to join the mission following an intervention from Nicolas Sarkozy, the French president.The revelation that US defence chiefs saw little military value in UK participation will raise new questions about Britain’s international clout after Coalition defence cuts.
Amid rising tensions in the region, the Royal Navy last month deployed HMS Argyll, a Type 23 frigate, to the Gulf.The ship accompanied a US carrier strike group made up of an aircraft carrier with a full complement of fighters, a heavy cruiser and several destroyers.A French frigate, the La Motte-Picquet, was also part of the flotilla which sailed through the Straits of Hormuz. Iran has staged wargames in the area and threatened to block the straits, a vital supply route for oil exports. The US also has another carrier strike group in the Gulf and a third heading for the region.
The disparity in vessel numbers means the British and French presence in the flotilla was of greater diplomatic than military significance.The question of allied participation in the naval operation is understood to have triggered concern in Whitehall and led to a sudden shift in Britain’s stance.British ministers initially signalled they would accept the Washington’s conclusion that did not need allies to take part.
But the British position changed after Mr Sazkozy insisted to the US that a French warship must be present in the flotilla.Sources said that Philip Hammond, the defence secretary, concluded that if the French were sending a ship, Britain must do so too. His decision to was then endorsed by David Cameron, the Prime Minister.Failing to take part when the French were doing so might have raised questions
about the Special Relationship, which has come under doubt during Barack Obama’s presidency. Mr Obama last year described France as America’s closest ally.A diplomatic source revealed that US commanders originally planned for an all-American naval operation, any only relented after protests from European leaders.The source said: “The Americans originally planned to do it alone. They were clear that they saw no military advantage in having European ships taking part.
But after the President insisted that France had to be represented, ministers decided that “Britain must participate too, regardless of the military importance.”The source described the approach of France and Britain as “classic willy-waving”, accusing the two countries of posturing to conceal their military irrelevance to the confrontation with Iran.
A Whitehall confirmed the sequence of events and described the international negotiations over the flotilla as “humiliating” for Britain.After the French intervention, the UK Government “was basically forced to plead with Washington for the Navy to be allowed to tag along. “ said the source. – Thetelegraph