By Christos Meliopoulos – Nicosia
The likelihood of a British involvement in military action in Syria may have all but vanished after the House of Commons “no” to the UK government’s plans, but the state of readiness at the military base of Akrotiri in Cyprus’s south coast remains high.
The incident involving two British and two Turkish military jets over the Cyprus area is revealing of the tension. “The MoD can confirm that Typhoon Air Defence Aircraft operated from RAF Akrotiri yesterday (Tuesday) to investigate unidentified aircraft to the East of Cyprus; the aircraft were flying legally in international airspace and no intercept was required,” read a clarifying statement issued by the Ministry of Defence in London.
Which raises two questions: what terms are currently in place for the air defence of the island and could it be that the safety risk of the Syrian crisis for Cyprus is so big that the British forces are justified to get agitated over potential aerial threats worth of interception?
One could safely conclude that under the current war climate in the Eastern Mediterranean British forces on the island have sought to better protect their interests, and by extension Cyprus. Is this better achieved by the British actively taking the lead on the air? If Cyprus is under risk in such a circumstance, there could indeed be a very thin line of defence duties balance to be drawn; the bases and the rest of Cyprus are on the same island after all.
At the same time, politicians of all parties in Cyprus have predictably once again condemned the use of the bases in circumstances of controversial military preparedness, expressing concerns over the consequences for the island. Analysts point out that in all probability Syrian Scud missiles could technically easily target the British bases; but they find this to be a distant danger, as Foreign Minister Kasoulides has indeed commented. However distant, though, the deployment to Akrotiri of Typhoon Air Defence jets and the decision not to end it after the Commons vote, as well as their subsequent operation prove that at least the British feel they cannot be complacent.
Let’s not forget that while Prime Minister David Cameron’s spokesman said that UK officials had not received any requests from allies for the use of bases in Cyprus nor were they expecting any, he avoided questions on whether intelligence gathered in Cyprus would be used by the Americans and the rest of their allies in the event of military action against Syria. A development worrying Cyprus has also been the intensified calls by politicians in the UK for another vote at the Commons, should the developments be deemed to command so.
In the meantime in Akrotiri Major General Richard Cripwell, commander of the British forces in Cyprus, reassured personnel and families over the continuing situation in Syria but stated that his job was “to make sure we are prepared for whatever is asked from us, and that has been the focus of our work.”
To all the above one must add a humanitarian state of preparedness, as the Cypriot government has pledged to assist the misplaced refugees that may come the island’s way.