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Spain, UK Clash Over Gibraltar

In 1704, a joint Anglo-Dutch fleet with 2,000 Marines and Sailors took possession of Gibraltar from the Spanish during the War of the Spanish Succession. In 1713, Spain permanently ceded the territory to the British in the Treaty of Utrecht in return for Britain's withdrawal from the war. Since then, however, Spain has sought to regain sovereignty over what it sees as its rightful land. In 1779 through 1782, for example, one of the longest sieges ever recorded in history took place at Gibraltar, with the outnumbered British garrison on the Rock withstanding strong Spanish fire and the Royal Navy taking great risks to break the enemy blockade and provide support and relief.

During the Second World War, the Spanish government, although publicly neutral, routinely assisted German intelligence, the Abwehr, in intelligence collection and sabotage activities. The Abwehr were thus able to monitor Allied shipping and merchant traffic in and out of the Mediterranean, and prior to 1943, able to successfully impact operations at the Rock's naval base.

Today, Gibraltar is currently home to over 33,000 civilians and roughly 1,200 of the United Kingdom's servicemen. The Royal Navy also maintains a small squadron at Gibraltar, with the HMS Sabre and HMS Scimitar, Scimitar Class patrol vessels, and several Rigid-hulled Inflatable Boats, also known as Zodiacs, in service. The presence of the garrison, however, has not deterred the Spanish government from seeking to reclaim what it sees as its rightful territory. According to a report in The Daily Telegraph, a London-based news provider, Spanish emissaries repeatedly approached members of Congress in a bid to expand Madrid's influence over the strategically important parcel of land throughout the past decade.

The discovery has caused a significant rift between London and Madrid. A spokesman for United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson, when pressed for comment, noted, "The people of Gibraltar have repeatedly and overwhelmingly expressed their wish to remain under British sovereignty and we will respect their wishes. We will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes." He further declared, "we will continue to take whatever action is necessary to safeguard Gibraltar, its people and its economy including maintaining a well-functioning Gibraltar-Spain border."

The Kingdom of Spain has previously attempted to use the threat of military force in a bid to Challenge Gibraltar's masters on Downing Street. The most recent occurrence of this occurred on July 28, 2020, when a Spanish Serviola-class Patrol Boat entered Gibraltar territorial waters. In 2017, the USNS Carson City, an expeditionary fast transport, was intercepted by a Spanish vessel as it attempted to dock in Gibraltar. A Royal Navy patrol craft escorting the USNS Carson City was forced to chase off the intruder. Lastly, in 2016, a Spanish Patrol boat approached the USS Florida (SSGN-728), an Ohio-class cruise missile submarine, off Gibraltar. Once again, any serious harm to the American-Spanish alliance was averted when the HMS Sabre fired warning shots across the bow of the unauthorized vessel as it tried to cut across the path of the submarine.

In a bid to reinforce the Gibraltar garrison, the Royal Navy announced on July 24 the purchase of two new fast patrol boats to replace older and outdate vessels. Sources further indicate that London is prepared to drastically increase land and sea units if the situation dictate.


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