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Cyprus in the crosshairs: island nation’s strategic military use by British military sparks controversy amid Isreal’s bombing of Gaza

The devastating bombing of Gaza by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and the UK’s bombing of Yemen has reignited concerns over the role of British military bases in Cyprus, with activists highlighting the strategic use of the island by the UK and the US. Local critics describe Cyprus as serving as an “unsinkable warship” for military operations, raising ethical and sovereignty questions.

Athina Kariati, a vocal member of the group United for Palestine in Cyprus, recently expressed her opposition to the island’s involvement in regional conflicts to Euronews, stating, “We don’t want our island to be part of these wars. They are not for democracy, peace, or justice.”

The debate centres around the British bases of Akrotiri and Dhekelia, which have been implicated in supporting Israel’s military actions in Gaza by supplying weapons and intelligence. Despite these allegations, the UK government maintains that no Royal Air Force (RAF) flights to Israel from these bases have carried lethal materials.

Particularly contentious is the role of RAF Akrotiri, reportedly used as a launch site for airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen, leading to protests outside the facility. The bases, which the UK retained after Cyprus gained independence, have been a point of contention, seen by some as a lasting symbol of colonialism.

Kariati and other activists draw parallels between the conflicts in the Middle East and Cyprus’s own history of division and foreign intervention. She told Euronews, “We do know what invasion means. The memory is very fresh… The apartheid and settler genocide that is taking place in Gaza is very close to what we experienced [in Cyprus].” This sentiment underscores a broader concern that Cyprus’s involvement in such operations not only compromises its neutrality but also risks dragging the island into the broader geopolitical conflicts of the region.

The UK Ministry of Defence (MoD) has also confirmed to the investigative website Declassified that nine Israeli military aircraft have landed in the UK since the onset of the Gaza bombing campaign. Additionally, the MoD disclosed it has dispatched nearly 50 RAF aircraft to Israel during this period.

The strategic value of Cyprus, positioned near the volatile Middle East, has long been recognized. However, the discovery of gas reserves has added a new dimension to the island’s geopolitical importance. Kariati suggests that the interest of Western powers in Cyprus is not solely due to its strategic location but also because of these resources, which could further entangle the island in regional power dynamics.

Despite the UK Ministry of Defence’s insistence that the British Forces Cyprus primarily engage in humanitarian and disaster relief operations, the reported increase in military flights and activities paints a different picture. These actions fuel perceptions of a new militarization phase on the island, with potential implications for regional security and Cyprus’s own sovereignty.

As Cyprus grapples with its role in these complex geopolitical chess games, the voices of activists like Kariati highlight the island’s struggle for peace and self-determination. Their opposition to the military use of Cyprus reflects broader concerns about the consequences of such involvement for the island’s future and its place in a region fraught with conflict.