Israel-Hamas war: why Hezbollah threatens Cyprus

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In a fiery speech this week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah pointed the finger at neighboring Cyprus, threatening to target the small, divided Mediterranean island if it helped Israel in a potential war between the Lebanese militant group and Israel.

“Cyprus will also be part of this war” if it opens its airports and bases to Israeli forces, the head of the Iran-backed militant group said in a televised speech on Wednesday, a day after Israel warned that the prospect of a “total war” The war” in Lebanon “was becoming very close”.

In response to these comments, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides denied any involvement in the war.

“These statements are not pleasant, but they in no way correspond to what is being attempted, namely to give the image that Cyprus is involved in war operations. Under no circumstances,” he said, adding that lines of communication are open with the Lebanese and Iranian governments.

The European Union came to Cyprus’ defense on Thursday, saying that since the island “is a member state of the EU, that means the EU is Cyprus and Cyprus is the EU.”

“Any threat against one of our member states is a threat against the EU,” EU spokesman Peter Stano told reporters.

Neighboring Greece also expressed “unwavering solidarity” with Cyprus, saying on X that “the threat of force is a blatant violation of the United Nations Charter.”

In an apparent attempt to control the damage, Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib called his Cypriot counterpart, Constantinos Kombos, to express Lebanon’s “continued confidence in the positive role played by Cyprus in supporting stability in the region,” according to Lebanese state media.

While experts say a war between Israel and Hezbollah remains unlikely, the mere mention of Cyprus adds a new dimension to the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. This risks dragging an EU country into a war that has already spread across the Middle East and highlighting Cyprus’s ties to Israel.

Here’s what we know.

An eastern Mediterranean island located on a geopolitical divide between the Middle East and southern Europe, Cyprus is geographically much closer to Middle Eastern conflicts than to European power centers.

The island is twice the size of the US state of Delaware and is divided into two parts: a Greek-speaking southern part known as the Republic of Cyprus and a Turkish-speaking region known as the Turkish Republic of Cyprus. North. The island’s division reflects rivalry between regional foes Greece and Turkey. Most of the international community only recognizes the sovereignty of the Greek part of Cyprus, and it is on this nation that Nasrallah’s threats were directed.

The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU but not of the NATO defense alliance which requires member countries to defend each other in the event of attack. It is home to approximately 920,000 inhabitants, with Nicosia as its capital.

Diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Israel began in 1960, after the island’s independence from British colonial rule, but Cyprus did not open an embassy in Tel Aviv until 1994. Relations deteriorated in the 1980s and 1990s on issues such as Israel’s close ties with Turkey and the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Cyprus sided with Arab states and supported the creation of a Palestinian state.

Ties rebounded in the late 1990s and 2000s, as Israel began to look to the Eastern Mediterranean for economic partnerships, particularly after the discovery of natural gas in the region. Experts say Israel also views Cyprus as a partner in thwarting regional threats, particularly those from Turkey and Iran-linked groups.

Israel has used Cypriot territory in recent years to train its troops for a possible war with Hezbollah. Cyprus’ terrain is similar to that of Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) said, according to Israeli media.

In 2022, the IDF conducted a joint military exercise with Cypriot forces. Part of the joint training focused on fighting on multiple fronts and fighting Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli media reported. Their last exercises took place in May 2023 in Cyprus.

The Cypriot presidency said on Thursday that the country “has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”

Cyprus has been keen to dispel any suggestion that it is involved in the Gaza war, highlighting its humanitarian efforts which have helped deliver aid to Gaza.

“The Republic of Cyprus is not part of the problem. The Republic of Cyprus is part of the solution,” said President Christodoulides. “And our role in this regard, as demonstrated for example by the humanitarian corridor, is recognized not only by the Arab world but by the international community as a whole. »

In March, Cyprus began allowing humanitarian ships to leave its ports as part of international efforts to create a maritime humanitarian aid route to Gaza.

The first maritime shipment to Gaza carried 200 tons of food, equivalent to approximately 500,000 meals. An EU logistics hub has also been created in Cyprus to facilitate the flow of aid to Gaza.

Nicosia criticized some of Israel’s actions in Gaza, particularly those that hampered the delivery of humanitarian aid.

In April, they issued a joint statement with the United Arab Emirates, condemning the deadly Israeli attack on the charity World Central Kitchen, which killed seven people.

He also repeatedly condemned Hamas for its October 7 attack on Israel.

The island has already been caught in the crossfire of regional conflicts, recalling its proximity to an unstable Middle East. In 2019, a suspected Russian-made missile exploded over the northern region of Cyprus. Cypriot officials believed the missile was linked to military operations in Syria, saying it landed less than 15 miles north of the capital Nicosia.

A scenario in which Israel uses Cypriot bases for its military forces, which Hezbollah has warned, would “effectively extend the war in Gaza to the European Union,” wrote Mohammad Ali Shabani, an Iranian analyst and editor in chief of ‘, on X.

This would mean that an EU country would, for the first time, be directly involved in a wider war in Gaza.

Some experts, however, say the conflict between Israel and Hezbollah is unlikely to escalate into all-out war, as neither side wants such an escalation.

“Hezbollah’s release of drone footage showing sensitive positions inside Israel is intended to deter Israel,” Lina Khatib, an associate researcher in the group’s Middle East and North Africa program, told CNN think tank Chatham House in London, referring to the 9-9. One minute of drone video released Tuesday by Hezbollah, showing civilian and military locations in and around the Israeli city of Haifa.

“It is normal that Israel and Hezbollah have military plans in place to manage a possible escalation. But as things stand, neither Israel nor Hezbollah benefits from an all-out war,” Khatib said, adding that “Hezbollah knows that a war with Israel would be devastating for Lebanon and it does not “There is no popular appetite for such a scenario in the country.”

The Biden administration is also unlikely to let Israel fight a two-front war alone, she said, adding that U.S. involvement could attract “other Iranian-backed actors as well as the possibility that Iran itself is targeted.”

“This is a high cost that Iran wants to avoid paying,” she said. “The United States also does not want to find itself in another quagmire in the Middle East, especially as the presidential elections approach. »

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