Cyprus should not be an Israeli military training ground

June 15th, 2017
Cyprus Opinion

AKEL spoke for many people when it expressed its disapproval of the joint military exercise between the National Guard and the Israeli Defence Force on Cyprus Republic territory. Cyprus gained no benefit from the joint exercise and therefore had no reason to stage it. If anything, it could have harmed relations with neighbouring countries without giving the country any strategic, political or economic advantage.

The exercise, said Akel, “not only does not serve the interests of our country, but involves us in dangerous war plans with an army that has been an occupying force for 50 years in the Palestinian territories.” It also sent out the “wrong message to Cyprus’ Arab neighbours with whom Cyprus has developed excellent relations over time.” It added that any “form of militarisation of the co-operation between the Republic of Cyprus and Israel is also dangerous for Cyprus and peace in the region.”

Did this not occur to the government when it agreed to the use of Cyprus territory for IDF special forces’ drills? Does the government really think it can sell these drills as “joint exercises” that are “aimed at enhanced defence co-operation,” as the defence minister Christoforos Fokaides said on Tuesday? When, for instance will National Guard commandos take part in joint exercises in Israel as part of this “enhanced defence co-operation”?

Israeli newspaper Haaretz, having failed to secure a detailed account of the drills from the IDF, speculated that Israeli commandos were being trained “on the Troodos mountains of all places, because they were similar to the mountainous regions in and around Israel.” It added that the IDF “has been trying to improve the quality of its drills so that they will be as similar as possible to the areas where combat could potentially take place.” There was no mention about any military co-operation with Cyprus.

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Stung by Akel’s criticism, the defence ministry issued a statement full of platitudes about the island “upgrading its geopolitical role as a security contributor and a factor for stability in our region.” It also had the nerve to accuse Akel’s rhetoric of “unjustifiably involving Cyprus in regional conflicts, when the only role we play as a country is a balancing and bridging role.” The absurdity of this argument defied belief. Was it Akel’s rhetoric that was unjustifiably involving Cyprus in regional conflicts or allowing the IDF to use the Troodos mountains for military drills so it could be better prepared to fight its neighbours?

We suspect that President Anastasiades gave the go ahead to these drills because creating the impression there was a military alliance with Israel would help his re-election drive. There is no other plausible reason to explain it. There is no such alliance and no rational reason to have one. The government should carry on strengthening relations with Israel, but allowing it to use Cyprus for military training is step too far, from which Cyprus has nothing to gain.