By James Marlow
Israeli commandos wrapped up a large-scale exercise in Cyprus, returning to Israel after an intensive three-day drill on the island.
The advanced drill involved close to 500 combat soldiers from the Egoz Special Forces unit as well as Super Hercules transport planes, 10 Black Hawk helicopters and around 100 Cypriots.
Israel and Cyprus have taken part in several military drills in recent months, and Cyprus’s Defence Minister Christoforos Fokaides stated that the drill with Israel was “aimed at enhanced defence cooperation which enables joint training and exercises to take place.”
The commandos trained on high altitude terrain of between 1,350 and 2,000 meters, and they also practiced urban combat in abandoned and semi-abandoned Cypriot villages, as well as underground inside tunnels.
“The world of warfare is now one of urban and underground combat. The enemy, be it Hezbollah, Hamas or Daesh (ISIS), now fights differently and we must be properly prepared to fight them,” a senior officer told journalists.
Described by him as the first of its kind and one of the largest exercises by the commandos held on foreign territory, it required the transport of a large amount of equipment using the Super Hercules planes which took off from Nevatim air base.
A senior Air Force officer who also took part in the drill said that the ability to take a significant amount of troops and equipment abroad was challenging as “a flight of an hour and a half over the ocean in a helicopter is no small challenge,” he said.
The drill also worked on the cooperation between the IAF and the commandos in unfamiliar terrain, including transporting soldiers at low-altitude both during the day and at night.
According to the senior officer, any small miscalculation of the drill could turn into a security issue as it was held on foreign soil, and therefore the locations where the drill was held were chosen because of the least amount of civilians present.
The exercise was nonetheless criticised by many on Cyprus, including opposition party AKEL (The Progressive Party of Working People), which said that it was a “dangerous development” that risked sending the wrong message to the Arab world.
“AKEL expresses its opposition to this exercise, which not only does not serve the interests of our country, but involves us in dangerous war plans along with an army that has been an occupying power for 50 years in the Palestinian territories,” Cyprus Mail quoted the party as saying.
“Any form of militarisation of the cooperation of the Republic of Cyprus with Israel is also dangerous for Cyprus and for peace in the region,” it added.
Rejecting those claims, the Cypriot Defense Ministry stated that the country was “upgrading its geopolitical role as a security contributor and a factor for stability in our wider region,” and that Nicosia was planning to hold joint exercises with Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.
Relations between the Hamas, Hezbollah, Iran alliance are becoming stronger and deeper in light of the Qatar crisis.
Palestinian newspaper Al Quds reported on Thursday that the deputy chairman of Hamas’s political bureau, Musa Abu Marzouk, privately met with Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
In addition, the senior Hamas representative met with Abbas Ibrahim, Major-General of Lebanon’s General Directorate of General Security, to discuss the issue of Palestinian refugees in Lebanon.