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.
According to Sky News, the UK has also put its personnel and their families in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and Qatar on an increased state of alert.
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 told Sky.
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.
On May 8, Iranian President Hassan Rouhani warned world powers that unless they shield the country’s collapsing economy from crippling U.S. sanctions within 60 days, Iran would start enriching uranium at higher levels.
“If the five countries join negotiations and help Iran to reach its benefits in the field of oil and banking, Iran will return to its commitments according to the nuclear deal,” Rouhani said.
While EU foreign ministers insisted that they were still committed to the nuclear deal, they rejected any ultimatums from Tehran. The U.S. imposed further sanctions on Iran following those threats, this time on the country’s metals industry.
Meanwhile 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.