UK’s alleged use of Cyprus bases to arm Israel and hit Yemen draw protests

Monitors and media reports claim Britain is supplying Israel’s army for its war in Gaza from military bases in Cyprus.

Left-wing activists shout slogans during a protest at the gates of RAF Akrotiri, the British base on Cyprus which has been used as a launchpad for strikes against the Houthi militia in Yemen, near the city of Limassol, Cyprus January 14, 2024. REUTERS/Marcos Andronicou NO RESALES. NO ARCHIVES
Activists shout slogans during a protest at the gates of RAF Akrotiri, the British base on Cyprus near the city of Limassol [Marcos Andronicou/Reuters]

Crowds of angry Cypriots gathered at a British air base on Sunday to protest against the alleged funnelling of weapons to Israel for its brutal war in Gaza.

Akrotiri, near Limassol in southern Cyprus, is one of two military sites retained by the British military under the 1960 treaty that saw the island gain independence from colonial rule.

“The demonstration against the British base at Akrotiri is being organised to condemn the transport of arms from the British bases to support the Israeli army’s military operations in the Gaza Strip,” said Charis Pashias, head of the Cyprus Peace Council.

Since the latest escalation of the Israel-Palestine conflict began on October 7, locals have seen a “daily” increase in the number of flights from Akrotiri, Pashias said.

The base is about 40 minutes flying time from Tel Aviv.

People have also “become aware of the illegal presence of thousands of American soldiers now stationed in Akrotiri,” he added.

Britain’s Ministry of Defence has released some information on RAF flights between Akrotiri and Israel but refuses to specify what is being transported and will not disclose details of US activity from Cyprus.

Defence Minister Grant Shapps told parliament on December 5 that the UK would provide “only defensive materiel, or materiel that might help with the recovery of hostages” during the conflict.INTERACTIVE-LIVE-TRACKER-GAZA 1080 x1080 JAN 14-1705225959

Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported a spike in the delivery of equipment and arms to Akrotiri.

Some 40 heavy-transport aircraft operated by the United States Air Force landed there in the first 24 days of the war from US and NATO depots in Europe, according to Haaretz. Another 20 heavy-lift planes from Britain’s Royal Air Force arrived at the base over the same period, the newspaper added.

Declassified UK, a news website focused on British foreign policy, revealed in November that RAF transport aircraft flew daily from Akrotiri to Tel Aviv between October 13 and 26.

Over the two months prior to October 7, Declassified UK found no record of British military flights from Akrotiri to Israel.

Commenting on an A400M military transport plane operated by the RAF landing at Israel’s Nevatim airbase on December 4, Meral Hussein-Ece, a British Liberal Democrat peer of Turkish-Cypriot background, suggested the jet was “unlikely to be delivering humanitarian aid”.

“It’s long overdue these British bases in Cyprus were handed back to the Cypriots,” she posted on social media.

Ersin Tatar, who heads the ethnic Turkish administration that runs the northern third of the island, told Turkey’s state-run Anadolu news agency that the British “interfere in another country’s affairs by using these bases”.

“Because of the bases they acquired in the past, the UK can conduct military operations in these regions as it pleases,” said Tatar.

According to the Campaign Against Arms Trade, Israel uses F-35 jets to bomb Gaza. The aircraft is jointly produced by US, UK and other partners.

Other weaponry being used in the densely populated strip involving US and UK production are M270 rocket launchers and Paveway II guided missiles.

Equipment ferried to and from Cyprus is frequently carried onboard C-17 Globemaster, A400 Atlas and C-130 Hercules military transport aircraft. The Globemaster is the logistics backbone of many Western militaries and can carry loads of up to 77 tonnes. It is capable of delivering Black Hawk helicopters and even Abrams tanks.

Social media posts from Israel’s army show weapons being delivered to the Nevatim airbase while Tel Aviv’s Ben Gurion airport has received equipment including armoured vehicles.

‘Our country cannot be used as a base for war operations’

Meanwhile, there are also questions about the extent that the government of the Republic of Cyprus, which controls the island’s southern territory, is kept informed of how Akrotiri and Dhekelia, the British base housing a US-UK electronic intelligence station, are being used in the Gaza war.

Armed Forces Minister James Heappey last month said Britain informs the Republic of Cyprus about flights to and from Akrotiri “where appropriate … although there is no formal requirement to do so”.

Asked about Britain and the US supplying Israel from Akrotiri in November, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides said: “There is no such information, our country cannot be used as a base for war operations.”

However, as the UK’s “sovereign base areas” are technically outside Cyprus, his reply could be seen as not referring to them.

Kenny MacAskill, a British MP who has raised questions in parliament about Akrotiri’s alleged role in the Gaza war, said it was “disgraceful” that “both UK citizens and a sovereign state are denied information as to what is being done”.

He added: “The use of RAF Akrotiri does seem to allow the UK to deny information and complicity by saying it’s the USA. Equally, the USA avoids disclosure by saying it’s UK territory.”

Meanwhile, “it seems clear that supplies … are being transported to Israel … when war crimes are being perpetrated by that country”.

In recent days, the base has also been used to launch fighter jets attacking Yemen, as it was previously in Iraq and Syria.

“The British base has been used repeatedly to supply arms to Israel and now to bomb Yemen, a sovereign country,” Lindsey German, convenor for the Stop the War Coalition, said. Around 500 demonstrators carrying Palestinian and Republic of Cyprus flags marched to the gates of Akrotiri on Sunday.

“Cyprus is neither a US-NATO nor a British aggressive launching pad,” Pashias said. “We the Cypriot people do not want our country to be involved in any way in the bloody massacre taking place in the Gaza Strip.

Source: Al Jazeera