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Thursday, February 20, 2020

What's behind The Daily Telegraph alarmism?

by Khalaf Ahmad Al Habtoor

©istockphoto

Mr Khalaf Al Habtoor questions a recent article in The Daily Telegraph which suggests that Britain has drawn up a plan for its Gulf residents to be evacuated from the region in the event of a war with Iran

While browsing through the British newspapers recently, I was taken aback by an article by The Daily Telegraph’s Middle East correspondent Richard Spencer, a Dubai resident. 

“Britain forms plan for Gulf evacuation in event of war with Iran” was its panicky banner, which was accompanied by a photograph of sunbathers on a Dubai beach. As I read on, I noticed the story was focused almost entirely on the UAE, rather than on all Gulf states as was indicated by the headline.

Spencer’s contention that the UK Armed Forces “are drawing up contingency plans to evacuate hundreds of thousands of British residents and tourists from Dubai and other Gulf cities in the event of war with Iran,” has been sourced from unnamed “diplomats”.

“Proposals are being drawn up to organise evacuation runs for civilians across the border to Oman, which is not currently in Iran’s sights, and other neighbouring countries,” writes Spencer, suggesting that “cruise liners could be posted in the Gulf of Aden with Royal Navy warships shuttling civilians from the small emirate of Fujairah...”.

He also points out that British people could be at risk if Tehran keeps its promise to “retaliate for any strikes on its nuclear sites with missile attacks on ‘western interests’ in the Gulf”. Spencer further reveals that “new proposals are being drawn-up to co-ordinate military activity in the region with [Britain’s] local allies, hostile to Iran, particularly the United Arab Emirates”.

Whoa! Given that The Daily Telegraph is published in Britain, the first thing that struck me as odd about this supposed news piece was its preoccupation with the UAE – and, particularly with Dubai. It’s common knowledge that western interests are far more prevalent in other Gulf countries which have expressed concern about Iran’s nuclear programme in a far more forceful manner than the UAE.

To be frank, in the event that hostilities were to break out between Iran and the US-led western countries, its missiles would likely be pointed first at Israel and then at those countries which have large American bases. The UAE would most likely be the last target on Tehran’s list, if it were there at all.

A far more pertinent subject for an article other than Spencer’s would tackle how the British government intends to evacuate its citizens from Tel Aviv and its environs.

More importantly, most of what Spencer writes isn’t news. As he puts it himself, “embassies around the world are required to maintain contingency plans for British citizens facing all kinds of disasters and emergencies”.

And, in fact, the so-called new proposal, entailing that British citizens be driven to Oman where they would board ships, is not new at all. That plan is exactly the same as the one put in place during the 1991 Gulf War which, I believe, was devised by Britain’s then Consul General.  As it turned out, no British people were evacuated from Dubai or any other emirate, because Saddam reserved his scud missiles for Israel, and the American bases in the region. So what is behind the thrust of the article?

The ArabianMoney Newsletter has been very astute. Under the title ‘What does UK sabre rattling in the Gulf mean for investors?’ its website reads, “Such sabre rattling by the UK is surely part of the ongoing build up of pressure on Iran to abandon its nuclear program...”

The idea that UK officials deliberately leaked this non-story to pile pressure on Tehran to quit enriching uranium is plausible and especially given that this ‘news’ was broken by The Daily Telegraph, which is the go-to newspaper of the establishment, with both Conservative Party and pro-Israel leanings. If so, I strongly resent that the UAE – and Dubai in particular - has been highlighted and used so ruthlessly in such a diplomatic chess game.

Such an announcement could be highly detrimental to investor confidence at a time when the UAE economy is flourishing, following set-backs caused by the global downturn. Forecasts for 2011 indicate major improvement in all sectors, including tourism and real estate.

This kind of politically-driven scaremongering could also see the British and other nationalities rushing to the airport, only to arrive in their home countries and find themselves without jobs at a time when unemployment is high, thereby adding a further burden to floundering western economies. In my experience, the UAE’s foreign residents, whether owners of private companies or employees, feel a sense of commitment to this country and consider it home. It’s worthnoting that in 1991 during the Gulf War, while some did send their families abroad, most stayed behind out of loyalty to their companies and because they were anxious to maintain the kind of lifestyle not easily found elsewhere.

The British feel more at home in the UAE than just about anywhere else, and are appreciated as an important part of our multi-ethnic, multi-national, hybrid rainbow society.  

Naturally, like so many other journalists who see Dubai as fair game to be criticised, Spencer just couldn’t resist throwing in such media-favoured Dubai stereotypes as “footballers with marital problems”, suggesting that the majority live in “opulent expat villa compounds”, designed to characterise expats as spoilt, shallow and hedonistic, when most hardworking British residents don’t live in villas, opulent or otherwise.

Lastly, according to Spencer, Britain will offer to help the UAE with keeping “vital infrastructure, such as electricity and water desalination plants, running in the event of war”. How nice.

A far better offer from our long time ally would be a commitment to protect the UAE and all its people. In the meantime, the British government could prove its friendship by resolving never again to undermine my country for reasons of cheap political propaganda. When viewed in the context of the selective Wikileaks’ revelations, it’s not surprising that some believe there are certain elements in the Western world that are out to destabilise us.

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