Europe Wants To Sit Out Any War in Lebanon, but Cyprus Starts To Look Like a Sitting Duck

An Israeli report warns of likely targets on the island if Hezbollah acts on its recent threats.

Jeff Spicer/Getty Images
Prince William at the Royal Air Force Base at Akrotiri, Cyprus, December 05, 2018. Jeff Spicer/Getty Images

Safe harbor or easy target? It is getting increasingly difficult to decide which description applies in the wake of Hezbollah’s recent threats. The ambiguity itself is hazardous — not only because of heightened friction between Israel and the Iran-backed Lebanese terrorist group but because Cyprus is a member of the European Union.

A new report in the Israeli press has just spelled out some of the potential perils around this hot Mediterranean island just a 42-minute flight away from Beirut. According to a report in the Israeli website Mako, Hezbollah could attack four sites on Cyprus should the country “support” Israeli strikes on Hezbollah in Lebanon.

Those locations are listed as the Andreas Papandreou air base near Pafos, a second air force base near the capital, Nicosia, a command and control center in the Troodos mountains, and the British Royal Air Force base at Akrotiri. 

Map of Cyprus. Via Wikimedia Commons

In a speech last week Hezbollah terror chieftain Hassan Nasrallah said that  “Opening Cypriot airports and bases to the Israeli enemy to target Lebanon would mean that the Cypriot government is part of the war, and the resistance will deal with it as part of the war.”

The threats were swiftly if not altogether convincingly  downplayed by the Cypriot president, Nikos Christodoulides. He said that “the Republic of Cyprus is not involved in any way” in regional conflict and that the island nation “is not part of the problem.” That is only partly true, though, if for no other reason than geographic proximity to a problematic region further east.

On Monday the EU’s foreign policy chief, Josep Borrell, said in reference to the conflict between Israel and Hamas that “the risk of this war affecting the south of Lebanon and spilling over is every day bigger.” Greece has also weighed in the spillover effect. 

The Greek foreign minister, George Gerapetritis, said of Mr. Nasrallah’s threats to Cyprus, “It is absolutely unacceptable to make threats against a sovereign state of the European Union.” He added that Greece “stands by Cyprus and we will all be together in all kinds of global threats coming from terrorist organizations.”

The United Kingdom, Greece, and Turkey are all guarantor powers of Cyprus and each has something to say about the threats emanating from Lebanon. An unnamed British source was quoted by the Cyprus News Agency over the weekend as saying that “the sovereign base areas in Cyprus have not hosted any kind of Israeli military personnel or aircraft since before the beginning of the war between Israel and Hamas.”

The Sun attempted to seek clarification about reports of heightened activity at the British bases in recent months but was told by a source at the Embassy of the Republic of Cyprus in Washington that “we don’t have jurisdiction.” Now, to the surprise of  no one at Athens or Nicosia, Ankara is voicing concerns about the potential for escalation of war in Lebanon — and is blaming Cyprus for it.

On Monday the Turkish foreign minister, Hakan Fidan, stated that after the Hamas attacks of October 7 “we saw intelligence reports saying that the ‘Greek Cypriot Administration of Southern Cyprus’ has become a base used by certain countries, especially in operations against Gaza. That is, intelligence flights and military flights are constantly carried out of there for Gaza.”

Mr. Fidan added that “Our advice, we told the Greeks, is to stay away from these matters, because when you get involved in the ongoing wars in the Middle East in this way, when you become a party to it, the fire will come and find you, and we are in the same geography, so it will come and find us too.” 

Cyprus is one of the most militarized islands in the world, in part because of the many Turkish troops and military installations in the northern third of the island Turkey has occupied since a 1974 invasion and partly due to the presence, guaranteed by treaty, of the British bases in the south. 

In the eastern Mediterranean as in the Middle East, location is everything. American and British cargo planes have flown materiel from the sovereign base areas on Cyprus to Israel and the bases have also been used to strike the Iran-backed Houthis in Yemen. 

While Hezbollah may have its sights set on northern Israel, the terrorist group does currently have the wherewithal to make good on its threats to Cyprus. If things blow up, few if anyone believe that Europe  will be prepared to handle it. Britain might.

Ironically, while bases on Cyprus have long provided an anchor of stability in a volatile region, reports are pointing to Hezbollah using Beirut’s international airport to stockpile weapons. Whatever armaments are warehoused there are likely not meant for the comfort and safety of departing passengers.

The New York Sun

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