Saturday 24 April 2021

Strait Talking

Oman is the last princely state of the British Empire, so of course it has an almost entirely British Privy Council with Alan Duncan on it. Indeed, everyone on it is exactly whom one would expect.

Even Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have passed as much into the American as the British sphere of influence. But Oman is practically a British colony.

Between 1957 and 1959, the RAF and the SAS were sent in to put down a rebellion in central Oman around Imam Ghalib Alhinai and against Britain's client, Sultan Said bin Taimur. Then Britain just never left.

When another rebellion broke out, this time in the southern province of Dhofar, and when it looked as if the Sultan might not defeat it, then MI6, the Foreign Office and the Ministry of Defence arranged to have the entirely British Officer Corps of the Sultan's Armed Forces replace him with his son.

Having been planned under Harold Wilson but signed off by Ted Heath, the coup was bloodless in the end. But it was staged as part of a British war that lasted for at least 14 years, yet which seems to have been forgotten despite having been one of the most important of the twentieth century, since it secured control of the Strait of Hormuz.

Britain began that war under a Conservative Government, and continued it under a Labour one, then under another Conservative one, and then under another Labour one. It was waged by a least four Prime Ministers, one of them twice. Yet who remembers it now?

Two important, but baleful, trends overlap here: the national amnesia about all Interwar and most post-War British conflicts, and the writing of Maoism out of the history of what is neatly misrepresented as "the Cold War". But Britain did win the war in Oman, and the place has been a giant British military and intelligence compound ever since.

Oman plays host to the three GCHQ bases of Timpani, Guitar and Clarinet, which tap into the undersea cables that pass through the Strait, before obediently passing on their findings to the United States National Security Agency. There is the British military base at Duqm. There is the Omani-British Joint Training Area. There is the training role of the Police Service of Northern Ireland. And so on.

So yes, Alan Duncan is on the Privy Council of Iran. Along with past and present Chiefs of MI6, past and present Chiefs of the Defence Staff, senior advisers to our own Royal Family, and a former Governor of the Bank of England. How could they possibly not be?

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