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article imageMargaret Thatcher feared Spanish attack on Gibraltar

By Anne Sewell     Jan 4, 2013 in World
Gibraltar - Cabinet papers, released last Friday to the National Archives, show that the Spanish media's support for Argentina's invasion of the Falkland Islands made Thatcher nervous that Spain would invade Gibraltar.
The papers were released under the 30-year rule and showed that the media in Spain supported the invasion of the Falkland Islands in April 1982.
Apparently just five days after Argentina invaded the Falklands on April 7, the then British Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, called for an "urgent assessment" of Britain's ability to defend Gibraltar .
A joint Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) and Ministry of Defence report attempted to reassure the prime minister. However, Thatcher apparently wrote back, "This is suspiciously like the Falkland Islands assessment before invasion. 1,000 soldiers with a land boundary, no air cover etc."
British soldier standing guard in Gibraltar.
British soldier standing guard in Gibraltar.
Gibraltar played a crucial role in supporting the Navy task force sent to recover the Falkland Islands. While military chiefs found no evidence of a threat, they apparently could not rule out "extremist right-wing elements" within the Spanish military, who might attempt to "demonstrate patriotism by some provocation."
Sir Anthony Parsons, Thatcher's special adviser on foreign affairs, wrote: “We are sure that [Spanish Prime Minister] Calvo Sotelo and Pérez-Llorca would do their level best to prevent this but as the Foreign Minister warned me at the time of the Falklands’ crisis, the government might lack the power to restrain hot-heads."
The military chiefs did write that "given the small size of the territory, British forces in place are in a good position to make an armed assault a militarily hazardous undertaking."
They added, "Although the territory could no doubt eventually be overwhelmed by vastly superior forces, the defenders could put up effective resistance."
"The likelihood of civilian resistance and casualties would also given an aggressor pause."
According to a Ministry of Defence note, in late April, it became known that the Spanish were planning to hold an amphibious exercise "at a training area about 55 kms west of The Rock."
Apparently a "suitable cover story" was concocted to explain the presence of extra RAF aircraft and to reinforce the regular garrison, Thatcher authorised the dispatch of two Jaguar jets.
Reportedly, the exercise by the Spanish went off quite peacefully.
The FCO had apparently advised against "inflaming Spanish attitudes" as the land border with Gibraltar was to reopen in June that year, under terms of the 1980 Lisbon Agreement.
The FCO wrote at the time, "From this point of view, we should avoid seeking, and indeed, do what we can to avoid publicity over Gibraltar's role in support of the task force."
In fact, the border only opened on 15 December that year, under the newly elected Socialist Prime Minister Felipe González Márquez.
However, all in all, fears about an attack on Gibraltar were not totally unwarranted, but not actually from Spain. When in June, the fighting in the Falklands reached a decisive stage, the FCO received a message from Spanish Foreign Minister José Pedro Pérez-Llorca y Rodrigo, warning of a "possible danger of action against Gibraltar by pro-Argentine elements."
However, in evidence from the Franks inquiry into the Falklands crisis in October 1982, Mrs Thatcher admitted that the threat to Gibraltar had left her living “on a knife edge”.
Other Gibraltar news:
British MP accuses Spain of ‘act of war’ over naval ships
Photo essay: Gibraltar — Little England on the tip of Spain
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from La Línea de la Concepción.
View of the Rock of Gibraltar from La Línea de la Concepción.
More about Gibraltar, United Kingdom, Spain, Margaret thatcher, Spanish
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