Britain has raised the threat level for UK forces and diplomats in Iraq because of what sources say is a heightened security risk from Iran, Sky News can reveal.
The UK has also put its personnel and their families in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar on an increased state of alert.
The UK assessment appears to be similar to US claims of a heightened threat amid escalating tensions between Donald Trump’s administration and Tehran.
One Whitehall source said Britain believes there is an increased likelihood of Iran or its proxies taking action against British, US or other allied interests in the region in a way that can be plausibly denied so as to avoid triggering an all-out war.
The targets would most likely be soft such as oil infrastructure or other civilian targets, the source said.
The aim would be to cause disruption but not to do something that could be directly linked back to the regime and therefore trigger a hard US response.
The source said the goal would be to signal Iranian anger at renewed US sanctions on Iran, which are hurting, and to push for them to be eased.
This analysis was confirmed by two other sources with knowledge of the UK understanding of the situation.
The Ministry of Defence raised the threat level for service personnel in Iraq before a senior British military officer played down warnings of any new Iranian risk posed to British, US and other forces in the country, according to an informed source.
The comments on Tuesday by Major General Chris Ghika, the top UK military officer in the US-led coalition against Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, were seen by a number of media outlets as a sign of a rift between the threat assessments of the UK and the US on Iran.
But the informed source told Sky News that Major General Ghika had been aware of the increased security risk as he had seen a number of intelligence reports setting out the situation.
When asked to comment at a media briefing, he had not known whether he was authorised to disclose this information, which is why he instead struck a more cautious tone, the source said.
The heightened security risk spreads beyond Iraq, with British officials and a number of civilians working in sectors such as the oil industry in Saudi Arabia, Qatar and Kuwait also put on a heightened state of alert because of the Iranian threat, sources said.
Contingency plans in case the UK decides it has to remove personnel from all or any of these countries have started to be activated, though this is only at a very early stage and is currently precautionary in case the crisis escalates, a number of sources said.
In one example, families based in Kuwait have been advised against weekend days out in remote areas because of the heightened risk.
The Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s Iran unit is in “full crisis mode” because of the increased threat from Iran and the US response, with the movement of an American aircraft carrier task group, B-52 bombers and a missile defence system into the Gulf region.
Sky News understands that the government’s National Security Council discussed Iran as a “hot topic” on Tuesday.
A lot of diplomatic efforts by Britain are going on behind the scenes to try to resolve the standoff between the United States and Iran peacefully.
Jeremy Hunt, the foreign secretary, spoke on Wednesday evening by phone with his Omani counterpart. Oman has good relations with Iran.
They “exchanged views on what is going on”, a Whitehall source said.
The foreign secretary urged Oman to use its influence to push for calm, the source said.
“We all want to avoid escalation,” the source added.
The foreign office and the MoD declined to comment.
Saudi Arabia: Moderate Islamic scholars ‘to be executed’ | World News
Saudi Arabia is reportedly preparing to execute three moderate Islamic scholars despite the international outrage that followed the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.
Sheikh Salman al Odah, a Muslim preacher with a million strong social media following, will be killed after the holy month of Ramadan say reports.
Amnesty International says more than 100 people have been executed this year, some beheaded and some crucified, including some younger than 18 when they were arrested.
Many of them have been Shia Muslims. The three named as next in line for execution are all Sunni.
Under de facto ruler Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman the Saudi regime has been even less tolerant of dissent than before.
Several women driving activists remain in jail even though the government has now ended the ban on women being behind the wheel.
Their relatives say they have been abused and subjected to threats of torture and rape.
The murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul caused international outrage last year and led to intense pressure on the country’s leadership.
The CIA and other observers believe it was carried out on orders from Mohammed bin Salman.
In an interview with Sky News shortly before his death, Mr Khashoggi expressed intense concern about the arrest of the three now facing execution, pointing out they were supporters of the kind of reforms their government claimed to be implementing.
The UK has defended maintaining close ties with the Saudi regime. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has visited the country several times since the Khashoggi murder.
The Foreign Office says those ties help the UK influence the Saudis.
But if these latest reports are true, such influence has failed to change minds in Riyadh.
The Saudi leadership appears undeterred and determined to continue its policy of zero tolerance of dissent with lethal effect.
Two-metre sea level rise would have ‘profound impact on humanity’ | World News
Global sea levels could rise by more than two metres causing catastrophic consequences for the world, according to a team of scientists.
Such a rise could result in the loss of 1.79 million km2 of land, including critical regions of food production, and the potential displacement of up to 187 million people.
Traditional methods for predicting rising sea levels from the melting ice sheets in Greenland and the Antarctic are based on numerical modelling, but these remain challenging due to changing factors.
A team of international scientists used a technique called structured expert judgement to ask 22 ice sheet experts to estimate plausible ranges for future sea level rises.
They asked them to consider the projected melting of each of the Greenland, West Antarctic and East Antarctic ice sheets under low and high future global temperature rise scenarios.
Lead author professor Jonathan Bamber, from the University of Bristol, said: “Structured expert judgement provides a formal approach for estimating uncertain quantities based on current scientific understanding, and can be useful for estimating quantities that are difficult to model.
“Projections of total global subsequent sea level rise using this method yielded a small but meaningful probability of subsequent sea level rise exceeding two metres by the year 2100 under the high temperature scenario, roughly equivalent to ‘business as usual’, well above the ‘likely’ upper limit presented in the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.”
Prof Bamber added: “Such a rise in global sea level could result in land loss of 1.79 million km2, including critical regions of food production, and potential displacement of up to 187 million people.
“A subsequent sea level rise of this magnitude would clearly have profound consequences for humanity.”
The study is published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.
:: Sky’s Ocean Rescue campaign encourages people to reduce their single-use plastics. You can find out more about the campaign and how to get involved at www.skyoceanrescue.com.
Monks to resurrect ‘lost’ beer from 12th century – it’s 10.8% | World News
Monks at an abbey in Belgium will be brewing beer again after a 200-year break.
The Grimbergen Abbey was ransacked and the brewery smashed in 1795 by French troops and the monks stopped brewing their own beer.
But plans to build a new brewery have been approved and the monks expect to have their first ales by the end of 2020.
Father Karel Stautemas, one of 11 Norbertine canons living in the abbey, said he wouldn’t encourage people to drink too much of the beer, which is 10.8% alcohol by volume.
“One or two is okay,” said Grimbergen mayor Chris Selleslagh.
Father Stautemas took a brewing course in Copenhagen and will become one of five or six workers at the new brewery.
“For us, it’s important to look to the heritage, to the tradition of the fathers for brewing beer because it was always here,” he said.
“Brewing and religious life always came together.”
The monks spent four years researching the methods and recipe for the abbey’s traditional brew, as it was all thought to have been lost when it was ransacked.
But Father Stautemas told The Guardian no one could read the old books, because they were in old Latin and old Dutch.
He said: “We’ve spent hours leafing through the books and have discovered ingredient lists for beers brewed in previous centuries, the hops used, the types of barrels and bottles, and even a list of the actual beers produced centuries ago.”
But only some of the same methods and recipes will be transferred, as ale was a “bit tasteless” in those times.
Marc-Antoine Sochon, an expert at Carlsberg who will be the project’s brewmaster, said: “We will keep the same yeast, which will bring all the fruitiness and spiciness and we will start to dig into more innovations, such as barrel-ageing, dry-hopping.”
The abbey, which was founded in 1128, has been tied to commercial brewers since the 1950s, when brewer Maes asked the monks to use their name and their emblem, the phoenix, on its abbey beer.
That beer is still manufactured, by Heineken’s Alken-Maes for Belgium and Carlsberg for other markets. The abbey earns royalties.
The abbey has planted hops in the garden and plans to also open a visitors centre.
Monks will stick to the Trappist beer maker rules, even though they aren’t Trappist, and will brew within the abbey walls, control the brewing and put the profits into maintaining the abbey and supporting charitable causes.
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