What's behind The Daily Telegraph alarmism?

Published: 02 January 2011
What's behind The Daily Telegraph alarmism?
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While browsing through the British newspapers last Wednesday morning, 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 accompanying 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 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 organize 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 Britons could be at risk if Tehran keeps it 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 ‘news’ piece is its preoccupation with the UAE – and, particularly with Dubai. It’s common knowledge that “western interests” are far more prevalent in some other Gulf countries which have expressed their concerns about Iran’s nuclear program in a far more forceful manner than the UAE.

To be frank, in the event that hostilities were to break out between Iran and US-led western countries, its missiles are likely to be pointed first at Israel and then at those countries which host large American bases. The UAE would likely be the last target on Tehran’s list, if at all.  A far more pertinent article 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 writes 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 proposals entailing British citizens being driven to Oman where they would board ships isn’t new at all. That plan is exactly the same as the one in place during the 1991 Gulf War which, I believe, was devised by Britain’s then Consul-General.  As it turned out, no Briton was evacuated from the Dubai or any other emirate because Saddam reserved his Scuds for Israel and American bases in the region.

So what is #behind the thrust of that article?

The Arabian Money 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 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 this 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 Britons and other nationalities rushing for the airport only to arrive in their home countries without jobs 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 worthwhile noting that in 1991, while some did send their families to safety, most stayed #behind out of loyalty to their companies and because they were anxious to maintain the kind of lifestyle not easily found elsewhere. Britons 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 that see Dubai as fair game, Spencer just couldn’t resist throwing in such media Dubai stereotypes such as “opulent expat villa compounds” and “footballers with marital problems” 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 peoples.

In the meantime, the British government can 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 that elements in the Western world are out to destabilize ours.

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