By Jean Christou
AS BRITISH forces launched their fifth sortie into Iraq from Akrotiri on Monday morning, the government tried to remain low-key in their response to the possible fallout on Cyprus, insisting there was no reason to be worried.
Justice Minister Ionas Nicolaou, when asked by reporters whether Cyprus had made any preparations for a possible terrorist attack by jihadists, said police have taken the necessary security measures “based on information received daily”. Security had been upped since the Akrotiri sorties began on Saturday, he added.
“The government receives information from foreign organisations, evaluates it and then takes the appropriate action,” said Nicolaou.
Cyprus is not yet in the cross-hairs in the sense that the British military action has not yet actively engaged with Islamic State positions. Each two-person Tornado mission has returned to Akrotiri without having dropped their laser-guided bombs, or firing any missiles. The extent of Britain’s engagement remained as of Monday, intelligence gathering. Once that changes, Cyprus will however find itself more exposed.
Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides said there was no reason for people to panic. “The fight against terrorism is a threat to all humanity, and a threat to Cyprus,” he said after a meeting with the leader of the European Party, Demetris Syllouris.
“We want to contribute to the effort of the international community. We are taking all measures. Our attitude is to be both measured and careful,” the minister said.
He said Cyprus was in contact with the British government through diplomatic channels and they were well aware of Cyprus’ position in helping the international community fight terrorism, which also threatens the island as much as anywhere else, but particularly because it is located so close to Iraq and Syria. Fokaides said this was something that must be understood by foreign partners so that if necessary, Cyprus could secure their support and solidarity.
Fokaides also met Britain’s new High Commissioner Damian Roderic (Ric) Todd, who welcomed Cyprus’ support and resolve in helping tackle the jihadist threat.
Defeating the threat would will require an intelligent and patient approach, he said.
“That is why we must work together with our friends and partners, like Cyprus, to tackle these challenges together,” he said.
“The threat from ISIL is real, and to us all. What we see in Iraq and Syria is the poisonous ideology of Islamist extremism,” he added referring to the slaughtering of thousands of people.
Todd said there should be no doubt as to the threat ISIL posed to Europe. “We cannot ignore this threat that knows no boundaries, colour or creed,” he said.
Referring to the humanitarian needs of the thousands of innocent civilians driven from their homes by the brutality of the Islamic State, he said the British bases would continue to make “an invaluable contribution” which would continue for as long as necessary.
The meeting at the defence ministry was attended by the Commander of UK Joint Forces, General Sir Richard Barrons and the Chief of the National Guard, Lieutenant General Georgios Basiakoulis.
But there were fallout concerns from at least two political parties on the island. The Greens said the use of the British bases, and possibly the use of the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos by other Western powers should come with conditions.
“Our country must remain a peaceful and stable element in the region and not get involved in a war in which its own forces will not be able to handle,” the party said. Cyprus has offered its services at Paphos to a number of military aircraft at various points during various crises in the region, including from Russia, the US, Italy and France. In an effort to highlight its strategic use as a credible ally, Cyprus has also provided port facilities to numerous navy vessels, from a variety of countries, including the US, Russia, Denmark, Germany, Norway and most recently China.
Opposition AKEL MEP Neoclis Sylikiotis said his party was adamant that Cyprus should not be use as a base for any war.
“The use of the SBA, and statements that the Andreas Papandreou air base in Paphos will be used by foreign troops in view of the attack against the Islamic State, involves our country in a war with many dangerous implications for the Middle East and Cyprus,” said Sylikiotis. “Cyprus’ role was and should remain a bridge of peace and humanitarian assistance to the peoples of the region who suffer from long-lasting wars, not a base for military operations. A war creates chaos and terrorism.”
Government spokesman Nicos Christodoulides however said the deals Cyprus has with Germany, France and a number of other countries were purely humanitarian in nature, and the Paphos base would not be used for military operations by other countries.
During the two Iraq wars in 1991 and 2003, Cyprus’ proximity to the region had put a bullseye on the island as a possible target of Saddam Hussein’s regime – as far as foreign media was concerned – causing UK tourism to plunge overnight in both instances though the fears were completely groundless.
The last terrorist attack in Cyprus was in 1988 when two members of the pro-Palestinian Abu Nidal organisation made an attempt on the Israeli embassy in Nicosia. After their vehicle was turned away from the embassy, the bomb went off a few minutes later, killing the driver and two Cypriot pedestrians.
Two Tornado jets, carried out their first mission from Akrotiri on Saturday, returning seven hours later. Over the weekend four more missions were launched, and a fifth yesterday morning.
Driving out IS militants would not be a “weekend campaign”, British Defence Secretary Michael Fallon warned at the weekend. Fallon said such operations could continue for weeks or even months.