French base in UAE to be European naval HQ for Gulf op


A French naval base in Abu Dhabi will serve as headquarters of a soon to be operational European-led mission to protect Gulf waters, France’s defence minister said.

France is the main proponent of a plan to build a European-led maritime force to ensure safe shipping in the Strait of Hormuz after tanker attacks Washington blamed on Iran.

Tehran denied the attacks in major global shipping lanes off the United Arab Emirates (UAE) in May which increased tensions between the United States, Iran and Gulf Arab states.

“We formalised the command post will be on Emirati territory,” Defence Minister Florence Parly told reporters at a French naval base in Abu Dhabi.

The command centre will host officials representing the countries involved, she said. In a speech to French military personnel, she said the next time she visited the base she hoped the mission would be operational and thanked the UAE for supporting it.

The UAE tempered its reaction to the attacks and called for de-escalation and dialogue with Iran.

On Saturday, Parly said the initiative could start early next year and around 10 European and non-European governments would join, pending parliamentary approval.

First announced in July, the plan is independent of a U-led maritime initiative which some European countries feared would make US-Iran tensions worse.

Parly said the missions would co-ordinate to ensure safety of navigation in an already tense area.

“We hope to contribute to navigation as safe as possible in a zone which we know is disputed and where there have been serious incidents,” she said. She condemned Iran’s latest violations of a 2015 nuclear deal.

Parly said Paris was sending Saudi Arabia defence equipment to confront low-altitude attacks after Riyadh requested help following a September assault on the kingdom’s oil facilities which Washington and Riyadh blame on Iran. Tehran denied involvement.