Why this Little European Nation is Under Attack from Hezbollah: Gaza War

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Hassan Nasrallah, the leader of Hezbollah, specifically mentioned the neighboring island of Cyprus in a scathing address on Wednesday, threatening to attack it if it provides support to Israel in a future conflict between Israel and the militant Lebanese organization.

The commander of the terrorist group supported by Iran declared in a televised speech on Wednesday that “Cyprus will be part of this war too” if it allows Israeli forces access to its bases and airports. This came a day after Israel had warned that “all-out war” in Lebanon was “getting very close.” President of Cyprus Nikos Christodoulides responded to the remarks by denying involvement in the conflict.

Although the remarks are unpleasant, they do not consistently portray Cyprus as being involved in military activities. In no manner at all,” he stated, adding that he is in contact with the governments of Iran and Lebanon.

The Israel-Hamas confrontation in Gaza takes on a new dimension with the mere mention of Cyprus, despite analysts stating that war between Israel and Hezbollah is still unlikely. It highlights Cyprus’s connections to Israel and runs the risk of entangling a country of the European Union in a conflict that has already swept over the Middle East.

Why is the Location of Cyprus Significant?

Situated on a geopolitical fault line that connects southern Europe and the Middle East, the Eastern Mediterranean island of Cyprus is physically closer to Middle Eastern crises than it is to European power centers.

The island is divided into two sections: the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus, which speaks Turkish, and the Greek-speaking Republic of Cyprus, which speaks Greek. The island is twice the size of the US state of Delaware. The island’s division reflects the rivalry between Greece and Turkey, two regional rivals. Nasrallah’s warnings were aimed at the country that the majority of the world community acknowledges as sovereign—the Greek portion of Cyprus.

While the Republic of Cyprus is a part of the European Union, it is not a part of NATO, which requires its members to defend one another in the event of an attack. About 920,000 people are living there, and Nicosia is the capital.

How Close is Cyprus’ Relationship to Israel?

After Cyprus gained independence from British colonial authority in 1960, diplomatic ties were established with Israel; however, Cyprus did not establish an embassy in Tel Aviv until 1994. Israel’s close connections to Turkey and the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Cyprus allied with Arab governments and advocated Palestinian independence, were among the reasons that soured relations in the 1980s and 1990s.

Tensions eased due to Israel’s search for economic cooperation in the Eastern Mediterranean following the discovery of natural gas there in the late 1990s and early 2000s. According to experts, Israel has also turned to Cyprus as an ally to counter dangers in the area, especially those associated with Iran and Turkey.

Israel has been training its forces for a potential confrontation with Hezbollah on Cyprus soil in recent years. According to Israeli media, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have stated that the topography of Cyprus is comparable to that of Lebanon.

The IDF and Cypriot soldiers participated in a combined military exercise in 2022. According to Israeli media, part of the combined training concentrated on fighting on several fronts and targeting Hezbollah in Lebanon. Their most recent drills took place in Cyprus in May 2023.

What Part Did Cyprus Play in the Conflict in Gaza?

Cyprus, citing its humanitarian efforts that assisted in bringing some assistance into Gaza, has been eager to refute any claims that it is involved in the Gaza war.

“The issue does not include the Republic of Cyprus. The president, Christodoulides, stated, “The Republic of Cyprus is part of the solution.” “And the international community, as well as the Arab world, acknowledge our role in this, as demonstrated, for example, through the humanitarian corridor.”

Cyprus started permitting relief ships to leave its ports in March as part of global attempts to provide a maritime corridor for humanitarian goods for Gaza.

About 500,000 meals, or 200 tons of food, were sent by boat to Gaza in the first consignment. The EU established a logistics hub in Cyprus to streamline the delivery of supplies to Gaza. Some of Israel’s activities in Gaza have drawn criticism from Nicosia, particularly those that have made it more difficult to provide humanitarian relief.

It denounced the deadly Israeli strike on the World Central Kitchen charity group that claimed seven lives in a statement released in April in tandem with the UAE. Additionally, it has consistently denounced Hamas for their attack on Israel on October 7.

How Likely is it that Cyprus will get more Involved?

The island’s history of being entangled in local conflicts reminds us of its proximity to the unstable Middle East. A reported Russian-made missile detonated over the northern Cyprus region in 2019. Officials from Cyprus stated that they thought the rocket, which touched down less than 15 miles (24 km) north of the country’s capital Nicosia, was connected to military activities in Syria.

Hezbollah warned that an Israeli military campaign using Cypriot bases would “effectively expand Gaza war into the European Union,” according to Iran analyst and Amwaj. Media editor Mohammad Ali Shabani stated on X.

That would entail the first-ever direct involvement of an EU nation in the escalating Gaza conflict.

However, other analysts claim that it is unlikely that the Israel-Hezbollah confrontation would escalate to the point of full-scale warfare since neither side wants it to.

As stated by Lina Khatib, an associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Program at the London-based Chatham House think tank, “Hezbollah is trying to dissuade Israel by releasing drone footage of sensitive locations inside Israel.” Khatib was referring to the nine-minute drone video that Hezbollah released on Tuesday, which showed both military and civilian locations in and around the Israeli city of Haifa.

“It is common for Hezbollah and Israel to have military strategies ready for any possible escalation. However, as things stand, neither Israel nor Hezbollah stands to gain from a full-scale conflict, Khatib stated, adding that “Hezbollah is aware that a war with Israel would be disastrous for Lebanon and that the people in the country have no appetite for such a scenario.”

She said that US engagement may draw in “other Iran-backed actors as well as the potential for Iran itself to be targeted” and that it is doubtful that the Biden administration would allow Israel to wage a two-front war on its own.

Iran wishes to avoid bearing this heavy expense, she added. “The United States also wishes to avoid becoming embroiled in another Middle East crisis, particularly with the impending presidential elections.”

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