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ConflictsMiddle East

Neutral Cyprus rattled by Hezbollah threat

Henry-Laur Allik
June 21, 2024

Cyprus is emphasizing its neutrality, but also evaluating its anti-terrorism measures after being threatened by Lebanon-based militant group Hezbollah over potentially providing assistance to Israel.

Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah delivers a speech via a screen at a memorial ceremony for a senior field commander in a Beirut suburb
Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah has threatened CyprusImage: EPA/WAEL HAMZEH

The leader of Hezbollah, Hassan Nasrallah, warned Cyprus in a television address on Wednesday that if Cyprus opened its airports or bases to Israel, the island nation would become a target of Hezbollah. The threat comes as tensions between the Lebanon-based militants and Israel continue to grow, and could result in a full-blown war along the Lebanon-Israel border.

After the October 7 Hamas terror attack on Israel resulted in the deaths of roughly 1,200 people and the kidnapping of around 240 people, Israel retaliated with an offensive in Gazathat has so far killed more than 37,000 people.

The fighting on the Israel-Lebanon border has ramped up in recent weeks.

At least 479 people in Lebanon  have been killed in the cross-border fighting so far, most of them fighters, but also 93 civilians, according to news agency AFP. Israeli authorities have reported that at least 15 soldiers and 11 civilians have been killed on their side.

Hezbollah says it is acting in response to Israel's military actions in Gaza. On Tuesday, Israel's military announced that plans for an offensive in Lebanon were approved and validated.


After Hezbollah this week published footage that shows various Israeli military and civilian installations, apparently filmed from a drone that penerated Israeli airspace undetected, Israel put troops on high alert.

In light of Hezbollah and Israel moving closer to an all-out war, and Israel's close relations to Cyprus, Nasrallah threatened to put the EU nation on its potential target list. Nasrallah said that if a wider war began, then no place "would be spared our rockets."

Night-time image of Iron Dome missile defense system intercepting rockets
Tensions on the Israel-Lebanon border have been escalating, with both Israel and Hezbollah attacking with airstrikes.Image: Ayal Margolin/JINI/XinHua/picture alliance

Is Cyprus actually supporting Israel?

Cyprus was rattled by the threat, and Cypriot authorities heavily emphasized their neutrality.

Government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis dismissed the threat as "not corresponding with reality." According to Letymbiotis, "no country will be given permission to conduct military operations through Cyprus."

Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides also responded to the threat by stressing that his country was not in fact providing any military assistance: "The Republic of Cyprus is in no way involved in war conflict."

Still, Cypriot public broadcaster CyBC reported that anti-terrorist police measures are being updated and evaluated daily in response to the threat, so that the country will be ready for any potential attack or escalation in the region.

The EU did not react lightly to the threat against Cyprus, the member state closest to the Middle East. Peter Stano, a spokesperson for the European Commission, said that any threat against Cyprus is also a threat against the whole of the EU.

Cyprus' President Nikos Christodoulides, left, and President of the European Commission Ursula von der Leyen, right, shake hands with Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri, in Beirut
Cyprus' President Christodoulides (left) met EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen and Lebanese Speaker Nabih Berri in Beirut in May 2024.Image: Hussein Malla/AP Photo/picture alliance

Joint military exercises

Hezbollah's military strength is likely to exceed that of the Lebanese army, and its political wing has ministers in the Lebanese Cabinet. But the Lebanese government and Cyprus do not have hostile relations. In fact, after Hezbollah threatened Cyprus, high Lebanese officials tried to alleviate the situation and contacted their Cypriot counterparts to maintain peace between the countries.

Cyprus has, however, over the past years improved relations with Israel as well, both economically and in matters of defence coordination. Natural gas field discoveries in the eastern Mediterranean have brought the countries together to set up a joint extraction project.

Cyprus and Israel have also held military exercises together in Cyprus to train for combat, and the Israeli air force has conducted exercises in Cyprus's airspace. Hezbollah's leadership has not taken any of this lightly.

In Cyprus, theUK operates two military bases, including an airbase, which remained under British control after Cyprus gained its independence in 1960. That airbase has been used by the British andUSto attack Iran-backedHouthirebels, who have for months been targeting cargo ships on the Red Sea.

The Cypriot government spokesperson Letymbiotis, who assured Cyprus's neutrality in the Israel-Hezbollah conflict, however, took pains to point out that the British bases are not under the control of Cyprus at all.

How capable is Hezbollah of fighting a war against Israel?

Edited by: Carla Bleiker