The United Kingdom has revealed that the Royal Air Force (RAF) is offering aerial surveillance support to Israel in its ongoing operation against Hamas militants in Gaza.
Minister of State for the Armed Forces James Heappey, addressing questions in the House of Commons on 13 November, revealed that 12 aircraft had been deployed to the eastern Mediterranean to assist Israel and address broader security concerns.
Heappey stated that these flights, involving RAF Boeing P-8A Poseidon MRA1 maritime multimission aircraft and other surveillance assets, aimed at enhancing situational awareness in the region and assuring regional partners.
While he did not disclose specific details of the surveillance flights due to operational security reasons, Heappey emphasized their role in preventing the transfer of weapons to terrorist groups and supporting regional security.
Since October 2023, online flight tracker services have documented the presence of RAF intelligence, surveillance, and reconnaissance (ISR) aircraft actively conducting operations over the eastern Mediterranean from RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s well-known air base in Cyprus.
Sightings of the classified Shadow R1 surveillance aircraft operating in the same region have also been reported. In addition to the surveillance efforts, Heappey mentioned the deployment of RAF Boeing C-17A Globemaster III and Airbus A400M Atlas airlifters for humanitarian flights.
These flights included the delivery of humanitarian aid into Egypt, contributing to the broader efforts in the region.
Heappey, underscoring the sensitivity of such missions, stated, “The UK has deployed P8 and other surveillance assets to enhance our situational awareness in the region and provide assurance to our partners.”
Despite acknowledging the deployment, he added, “For operational security reasons, I cannot comment on the specifics of this activity.”
Heappey also confirmed the presence of RFA Argus and RFA Lyme Bay vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean.
Elaborating on their role, he stated that RFA LYME BAY and RFA ARGUS were deployed to the region on November 8, establishing a UK presence. This deployment positions the UK to respond promptly to the humanitarian crisis as needed.
UK’s Support For Israel
Following the Hamas attack on Israel, the UK government announced the deployment of military assets to the eastern Mediterranean, including military vessels and surveillance aircraft.
The deployment, aimed at supporting Israel, preventing escalation, and contributing to humanitarian efforts, comprises Royal Air Force (RAF) P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, undisclosed surveillance assets, two Royal Fleet Auxiliary support ships, three Merlin helicopters, and a company of Royal Marines.
RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s major airbase in Cyprus, has played a pivotal role, with flight logs revealing daily military transport flights to Tel Aviv, Israel’s capital, from October 13 to 26.
Declassified, a UK-based media organization, has documented 33 RAF flights from Cyprus to Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion Airport since Israel began bombing Gaza. The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) acknowledged 17 flights into Tel Aviv but did not clarify the timeframe for this number.
The first recorded flight from Brize Norton, the RAF’s primary base in Oxfordshire, occurred on October 11, four days after the initiation of Israel’s bombing campaign in Gaza.
RAF Akrotiri, historically significant as a staging post for British bombing campaigns in the Middle East, is located 180 miles from Tel Aviv, with a mere 40-minute flight time.
An MoD spokesperson said that the 17 flights into Tel Aviv aimed to support the UK’s diplomatic engagement and assist with the departure of British nationals, explicitly stating that none of these flights transported lethal aid for foreign nations.
Britain, a member of the UN Security Council, has been supporting Israel, saying that it has the right to defend itself against what UK president Rishi Sunak described as “Hamas’ horrific act of terror.”
Similarly, since October 7, the Biden administration has been swift in delivering military support to Israel, a crucial regional ally and the largest recipient of annual US military aid for many years.
To prevent the conflict from escalating, the administration has deployed two US aircraft carriers to the region.
Under Washington’s direct commercial sales program, the military aid provided includes small-diameter bombs, kits for precision-guided munitions, and various types of ammunition.
Additionally, officials have disclosed plans to supply 155mm artillery shells from the War Reserve Stockpile in Israel. This reserve is strategically designed to arm the US military with a readily available weapons supply in the region and enables Washington to arm Israeli forces when needed swiftly.