It’s 5,000 miles and a seven-hour flight from Scotland. But the Gulf region is home to 10,000 ex-pat Scots and acts as a gateway to the world for thousands more.
Rising tensions involving neighbouring Iran have threatened to escalate into a full-blown crisis and have cast a shadow over the area.
Add in the fact that a fifth of the world’s oil exports pass through the area and it’s clear why further escalation of conflict is a cause of huge alarm.
The immediate future of shipping in the Strait of Hormuz, at the entrance to the Gulf, the world’s most important oil and gas shipping lane, is at stake.
Iran has threatened to close the strait if its vessels are blocked from trading oil as a result of the Trump administration’s decision to reimpose tight sanctions.
On Thursday, in another flashpoint, Iranian boats tried to impede a British oil tanker near the Gulf before being driven off by a Royal Navy ship.
Yesterday it was announced HMS Duncan, one of the UK’s state-of-the-art destroyer fleet, was also being deployed to boost the security presence in the Gulf.
An estimated 10,000 Scots live in Dubai alone – working across petrochemicals, construction, retail and PR-related sectors.
More than 1.5 million British visitors also travel to the UAE every year and thousands transit through the region’s airports which have become major international travel hubs.
Aviation security analyst Tim Ripley said: “The area is a tinderbox at the moment and matters are approaching a crisis situation.
“There is potential for escalation of this crisis.
“If the situation gets out of hand, it could draw in many of the neighbouring countries around the Strait of Hormuz.
“This could place at risk British citizens who live there and travel through these areas. Iran has surface-to-air missiles which easily have the range to engage targets over much of the Arabian Gulf including Dubai.
“It also has ballistic missiles which could target these areas and has naval forces which are harassing maritime traffic. Any kind of escalation which reaches that level of conflict is clearly very dangerous. The Foreign Office will be looking very closely at the safety and security of Scots living in the region.”
Dr Martin Navias, a defence analyst at King’s College London, and author of Tanker Wars which analysed attacks on merchant shipping in the Gulf during the Iran-Iraq war in the 1980s, said: “The Gulf remains a flashpoint.
“If the situation escalates the locus will be the Gulf. There are expat Scots all over the United Arab Emirates, in Dubai, and in Saudi Arabia. If it becomes a total regional conflagration then the outcome remains to be seen.”
He said: “Iran is under real economic pressure because of US sanctions. Oil exports are significantly down, incomes have reduced and the population is beginning to feel it.
“The deteriorating economic situation in Iran is giving rise to domestic political tension which may manifest itself in a deterioration of the region including, for example, the Gulf and Iraq – and that is very dangerous.
“Iran is too weak to take on the US and its allies directly but what it seems to be doing is escalating in an anonymous way. There have been various attacks on shipping where we suspect it was Iran but we don’t know for sure. The gap in power is too great and the Americans, if the crisis escalated, could do serious damage to the Iranian naval and land forces as well as taking the chance to attack Iranian nuclear targets.
“The balance of forces is such that while the Iranians may try to target shipping or close the choke point at the Strait of Hormuz, they don’t have the strength to keep this up for a sustained period.
“I don’t think either side want this kind of action but in a crisis situation, things can escalate.”
Tensions have risen this year after the US pulled out of a deal agreeing to lift sanctions in return for assurances over Iran’s nuclear programme.
The Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action was reached in 2015 promising a reprieve in hostilities and outlining a way forward.
But President Trump last year announced he wanted to renegotiate the deal – seen by some as giving Iran too much scope to develop its nuclear programme – and withdrew the US.
Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the goal was “to deprive the outlaw regime of the funds it has used to destabilise the Middle East for four decades, and incentivise Iran to behave like a normal country”.
The US also condemns Iran’s role in Syria and Yemen’s wars.
Tehran has since begun to increase the levels of its enriched uranium.
A commander in Iran’s Revolutionary Guard issued a threat last week against US bases and aircraft carriers in the region.
Other incidents have included the seizure by Britain of an Iranian vessel alleged to be heading to Syria in breach of EU sanction.
The downing of a US surveillance drone by Tehran last month almost brought the countries to the brink of war. The US has blamed Tehran for attacks on tankers there in the past few months and said last week it is working to form a coalition to protect shipping in the Gulf.
Britain and other allies have been equally vehement that the strait must remain open and said that “all options” would be considered.
An MoD spokeswoman said: “We are monitoring the security situation there and are committed to maintaining freedom of navigation in accordance with international law.”
Dr Navias said: “The Americans are putting enormous economic pressure on Iran but to what end?
“Is it to get Iran to negotiate a new nuclear deal as they thought the deal negotiated by Obama was bad and gave Iran a kind of glide path to nuclear weapons?
“Or are the Americans trying to overthrow the regime in Tehran? I don’t think it’s the latter but the Iranians can never be sure.”
Professor Ali Ansari, founding director of the Institute for Iranian Studies at St Andrews University, said: “Iran is essentially trying to send a message – albeit not in a good way – to the Europeans to come to their assistance regarding the sanctions.
“What they really want is the Europeans to buy their oil, the output of which is perhaps 20% of what they were exporting a year ago.
“There is, of course, always the possibility of an accidental confrontation in the Persian Gulf or, for instance, in Iraq but again I suspect this will be contained.
“Ultimately, though not yet, the Iranians and the Americans will get round the table, if not bilaterally, in a multilateral forum.
“The Iranians don’t want to be seen to be rewarding Trump but if he gets re-elected, then will have to talk to him.”
A total of five flights leave Scotland every day for airports in the Gulf at Doha, in Qatar, and Dubai.
Up to three British-flagged ships travel through the Straits of Hormuz each day with around two dozen more present in the Persian Gulf area as a whole.
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