Syria crisis: Britain to keep RAF Typhoon jets in Mediterranean

Commanders fear Cyprus bases could be targeted if Assad launches counter-attack against any US intervention

Britain is to keep six RAF Typhoon fast-jets in the Mediterranean in case Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, retaliates against any American-led attack. A Royal Navy cruise-missile-carrying submarine, which was due to take part in any forthcoming operation, is also likely to keep station for now.

Though UK forces will not be involved in any missile strikes against the regime, commanders have lingering concerns Britain’s two sovereign bases on Cyprus might still be targeted if Assad decides to launch a counter-attack.

Cyprus has huge strategic value for the UK because it is the home of the Joint Service Signals Unit – one of the world’s largest surveillance and listening posts.

This supplies secret intelligence to the UK and US from across the Middle East and may have been involved in helping to select potential targets within Syria.

The Typhoons, which flew to Cyprus on Thursday, will be based at the RAF airfield at Akrotiri.

The Ministry of Defence refused to talk about its deployments, but in the aftermath of Thursday night’s parliamentary vote, Whitehall sources said it would be prudent for Britain to “let the dust settle” before taking any further decisions.

Their belief is the US will go ahead with missile strikes against Syria within the coming days and the lack of British involvement will not affect America’s military tactics because it has more than enough firepower in the region to compensate.

The US has four guided-missile destroyers in the Mediterranean, including the USS Gravely, which is the newest and most technologically advanced warship in the American fleet. Though the UK government’s failure to secure agreement for the principle of military action came as a shock to many senior staff within the MoD, sources suggested it was too early to predict how it would affect Britain’s relationship with the US.

They pointed out the UK is still the key partner for the US in Afghanistan, and the countries’ armed forces and intelligence-gathering agencies have been working side by side for decades.

“Britain and America share many of the same security interests and we are interwoven at many levels,” said one Whitehall source. “The game has changed, but it is too early to say by how much.”

Commanders are analysing whether Thursday’s vote has broader implications for the UK’s ability to move swiftly to war-footing – or whether all future campaigns will have to be sanctioned by parliamentary debate.

The former head of the army, General Lord Dannatt, told the Guardian it was important for the armed forces to know they had the support of the British public before being sent into conflict.

“The British people are clearly very uncomfortable about going to war against Syria. The mood was reflected in the Commons and the Lords. It was really good the motions were defeated. Coming to the right outcome was critical from the armed forces’ point of view. Soldiers, sailors, and air force personnel have got to think the people are …read more