By Loucas Charalambous
THE REACTION of the Disy leader Averof Neophytou to the foolish agreement for the purchase of two gunboats came as a very pleasant surprise. Our politicians have not accustomed us to such resolutely brave behaviour, which is why in this case Neophytou deserves a unqualified praise.
I have to admit, however, that I fear this resolute stance would not last very long, once President Anastasiades starts applying pressure on his former second-in-command, as I am certain he will. But we should not get ahead of ourselves, it remains to be seen how the government will handle this setback. I just hope Neophytou does not lift his opposition because if he did his humiliation would be unprecedented.
It is very difficult to take this business of the purchase of the gunboats seriously. I had written about it on May 26 when defence minister Fotis Fotiou was not talking about purchasing gunboats but frigates. I am informed that this is the same issue, an issue that exposes not only the cluelessness of Fotiou but also the lack of seriousness in its handling by him and the president.
As I wrote in May, Turkey currently has at its disposal a very powerful war machine. Its navy has 16 frigates, seven corvettes, 14 submarines, 27 gunboats, and 75 aircraft. The Turkish army, meanwhile is supported by an air force which includes 700 fighter planes and 77 helicopters. Cyprus does not have a single fighter plane to protect the two gunboats it plans to buy and use to patrol a part of sea a very long way from its shores.
Consequently, if Turkey decides at some point to stop the exploitation of hydrocarbons in Cyprus’ EEZ, Fotiou’s two gunboats would turn into routine targets for the couple of F16 fighters that would take off from Konya and 17 minutes later send Cyprus’ fleet to the bottom of the sea, with missiles fired from a distance of 15km. These aircraft have this capability.
It is also important to note that Turkey could use the purchase of the two gunboats as a pretext – claiming that these supposedly constituted a threat to its navy – to destroy them and inflict another humiliation on us. It had done something similar in the case of the S-300 missiles which never arrived in Cyprus in the end.
This is the harsh reality, and if Fotiou, who has been taking people for a ride by implying that his gunboats would protect our EEZ, disagrees he should explain in what respect this analysis is wrong. And he should also tell us who would prevent Turkey from behaving in the bullying way described above?
Leaving this aside, one wonders what type of gunboats are these that would cost just €70 million each, including their weaponry? Recently, Egypt bought four gunboats from the US, at a reportedly low price and still had to pay a total of €600 million.
Another joke in this story is that the arms equipment for our gunboats, according to reports, would be purchased four years later (this is why we would only be paying €100 million to start with). So for four year were will have gunboats without proper guns, fitted light weapons. Speaking of jokes, we have to mention the ludicrous argument that the gunboat purchase, although unnecessary, would help stay us stay on good terms with Israel.
Bearing in mind that our state is on the verge of squandering €140 million when thousands of its citizens are having difficulty feeding their families, it would not be excessive to suggest that the people who took this insane decision should be locked up in a mental hospital.
And because Anastasiades is no fool, he would be fully aware of everything mentioned above and should consider how the government would counter all the claims made by people on the internet, that the main reason for the purchase was backhanders.
As things have developed, only Averof can save us, but I continue to doubt whether he would hold out against the purchase.