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Opinion

Is Spain still the Guardian of the Strait?

Spanish Navy

Since ancient times, Spain has been considered a guardian of the Strait of Gibraltar, which separates the Atlantic Ocean from the Mediterranean Sea. The Pillars of Hercules and the Sacred Promontories that guarded the sea passage were always associated with Spain, on the one hand, and North Africa, on the other.

This geographical privilege allowed the Iberian Peninsula to play an irreplaceable role in all the commercial, cultural, military and communications movements that have taken place over the last three millennia in this part of the world. 

Coming to the present day, all governments and political conglomerates in Spain during the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century have taken for granted that Spain has played, plays and will always play this strategic role. The current government, like previous ones, has never questioned the possibility that this gift of nature might one day come to an end.

However, the current strategic and geopolitical changes taking place in the Western Mediterranean region, and in particular between Spain and the Maghreb, suggest that, if measures are not taken in time, Spain could cease to be this mythological Guardian.

Until last week, every time a US Navy aircraft carrier or strategic vessel crossed the Strait of Gibraltar, it was accompanied by Spanish Navy warships. 

This has been the case with Spanish Navy patrol boats escorting US Navy ships carrying chemical weapons from Syria on their way to the United States. Previously, during the Gulf War, the Spanish Navy, in collaboration with the USS Sixth Fleet, escorted US ships loaded with war material on their way to the theatre of operations. This was not the case with the Russian aircraft carrier Admiral Kuznetsov as it passed through the Strait of Gibraltar, which was escorted by the British Navy. 

The surprise came this week when the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Harry Truman crossed the Strait of Gibraltar escorted by the Moroccan frigate Allal Ben Abdallah, taking over the role previously performed by the Spanish Navy. "It has been a great experience for our navigation team to work alongside the Royal Moroccan Navy," said Rear Admiral Curt Renshaw, commander of the naval air group. "Today we have once again demonstrated our versatility to improve interoperability with our like-minded partners in training and real-world operations. For Rear Admiral Renshaw, "cooperation with the Moroccan Navy across the Strait of Gibraltar demonstrates the strong maritime partnership with Morocco and its commitment to international law". 

This joint naval activity between the Moroccan and US navies complements the plans for joint manoeuvres and naval exercises between the two countries. It can also be seen as a wake-up call by Washington to the Spanish government, following the withdrawal of the AFRICOM Rapid Intervention Forces from the Spanish base in Morón to the Italian base in Vicenza, in northern Italy, located much further away from the hypothetical war scenario in the Sahara and the Sahel.