12° Nicosia,
23 May, 2024
Home  /  News

Cyprus braces for rising Israel-Iran tensions

Regional conflict escalation puts island nation on alert

Yiannis Ioannou

Yiannis Ioannou

When Saddam Hussein attacked the center of Tel Aviv with scud missiles in January 1991, Israeli citizens wore gas masks due to the risk of chemical attacks. It took 33 years for Israel to face another missile attack from a sovereign state.  While the Israel-Iran confrontation within the "Axis of Resistance" has often exposed Israeli territory to missile attacks via proxies in Lebanon, Syria, and Yemen, what occurred on Saturday morning fundamentally - and perhaps permanently - alters the paradigm of the Middle East conflict and Israel's undeclared war with the "Iranian Revolutionary Guards" of recent decades.

This shift comes at the most critical juncture for the region since October 7, amid the ongoing six-month Israel-Hamas war in the Gaza Strip, which erupted amidst the broader conflict in Ukraine. This has not only reshaped the region's landscape but has also led to a significant humanitarian tragedy, setting back the Middle East many years.

With developments escalating in the region and two key events unfolding (Israel's strike on the Iranian embassy compound in Damascus, Syria, targeting high-value Iranian "Guardian" assets, and Iran's subsequent retaliation with direct strikes on Israel via drones, ballistic missiles, and cruise missiles), the question arises: what happens next? Will these events lead to de-escalation (best-case scenario) or a new retaliatory confrontation - directly between Iran and Israel - resulting in a broader conflict (worst-case scenario)?

In this context, the proximity of the Republic of Cyprus to the region understandably raises concerns for several reasons. Nicosia maintains a cautious approach, preparing for the possibility of the "worst-case scenario" materializing.

The Refugee Dimension

President Christodoulides' announcement regarding Syrian refugees on Saturday night, while overshadowed by the events unfolding in the Middle East, sparked a heated political debate. However, the potential for regional unrest places Cyprus directly in the path of increased irregular refugee flows via sea from Lebanon. These flows have been rising in recent days, causing concern for Nicosia at both the bilateral level with Lebanon and on the Syrian dimension at the European level. It's worth noting that the prospect of a broader conflict between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon could lead to a repeat of the 2006 war, potentially increasing refugee flows from Lebanon to Cyprus.

Increased Security

Security concerns and the potential spillover of the Iran-Israel conflict to the terrorism level are worrisome for Cyprus due to its proximity to the region and historical precedent of the Arab-Israeli conflict affecting Cypriot soil. Cyprus is taking action on several fronts:

- The Foreign Ministry's travel advisories for Israel and Palestine (West Bank and Gaza), Lebanon, and Iran remain in effect, advising Cypriot citizens against non-essential travel to the region.
- The "Hestia" plan is active for potential repatriations of Cypriots and foreign citizens, with the Crisis Management Center of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs fully prepared.
- Increased preventive and active policing is being implemented in areas where natural and non-Israeli interests could be targeted by malicious acts or terrorist attacks.
- Commercial flight crisis management measures are in place due to increased risks in the region, with four flights in Cyprus affected on Saturday.

The Bases in the Spotlight

The British Bases Area (SBA) has regained prominence since October 7, given its longstanding strategic importance in the Middle East conflict arena. Hybrid reports implicating Cyprus in intelligence disinformation operations of Iranian or Russian origin have also brought attention to the Bases. Over time, due to their status as sovereign British territory, they have been used militarily by the UK. On Saturday night, as officially presumed by the British IM and open sources, the British Air Force (RAF) was involved in Iranian strike interception operations. This development has underscored the ongoing importance of the Bases in regional security dynamics.

[This article was translated from its Greek original]

Cyprus  |  Israel  |  Iran  |  Middle East

News: Latest Articles