Why Hezbollah is threatening this tiny European country | CNN (2024)

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In a fiery speech this week, Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah singled out nearby Cyprus, threatening to target the small, divided Mediterranean island if it aids Israel in a potential war between the Lebanese militant group and Israel.

“Cyprus will be part of this war too” if it opens its airports and bases to Israeli forces, the leader of the Iran-backed militant group said in a televised speech Wednesday, a day after Israel warned that the prospect of “all-out war” in Lebanon was “getting very close.”

Responding to the comments, Cypriot President Nikos Christodoulides denied being involved in the war.

“The statements are not pleasant, but they do not correspond in any way to what is being attempted, to present an image that Cyprus is involved in the war operations. In no way whatsoever,” he said, adding that lines of communication are open with the Lebanese and Iranian governments.

CNN's Natasha Bertrand reports on fears Israel's air defense system could be vulnerable to Hezbollah's arsenal of missiles and drones. Clipped From Video video Related video U.S.: Hezbollah war could overwhelm Israel’s Iron Dome

The European Union on Thursday came to Cyprus’ defense, saying that since the island “is a member state of the EU, this means the EU is Cyprus and Cyprus is the EU.”

“Any threat against one of our member states is a threat against the EU,” Peter Stano, an EU spokesperson, told reporters.

Neighboring Greece also expressed its “undivided solidarity” with Cyprus, saying on X that “the threat to use force is a flagrant violation of the United Nations Charter.”

In an apparent attempt to control the damage, Lebanon’s Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib called his Cypriot counterpart, Constantinos Kombos, expressing Lebanon’s “continued reliance on the positive role played by Cyprus in supporting stability in the region,” according to Lebanese state media.

While experts say war between Israel and Hezbollah remainsunlikely, the very mention of Cyprus adds a new dimension to the Israel-Hamas conflict in Gaza. It risks drawing an EU nation into a war that has already spread across the Middle East and puts the spotlight on Cyprus’s ties with Israel.

Here’s what we know.

Why is Cyprus’ location important?

An island in the Eastern Mediterranean located on a geopolitical fault line between the Middle East and southern Europe, Cyprus is geographically much closer to the conflicts in the Middle East than it is to European power centers.

The island is twice the size of the US state of Delaware, and it is split into two parts: a Greek-speaking southern part known as the Republic of Cyprus, and a Turkish-speaking region known as the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. The island’s divide reflects the rivalry between regional foes Greece and Turkey. Most of the international community only recognizes the sovereignty of the Greek part of Cyprus, and that was the nation Nasrallah’s threats were directed at.

The Republic of Cyprus is a member of the EU but not of the NATO defense alliance that obliges member nations to come to each other’s defense in case of attack. It is home to around 920,000 people, with Nicosia as its capital.

How close are Cyprus’ ties with Israel?

Diplomatic relations between Cyprus and Israel started in 1960, following the island’s independence from British colonial rule, but Cyprus didn’t open an embassy in Tel Aviv until 1994. Relations went sour in the 1980s and 1990s over issues including Israel’s close ties with Turkey and the Arab-Israeli conflict, in which Cyprus sided with Arab states and supported Palestinian statehood.

Ties bounced back in the late 1990s and 2000s, as Israel began turning to the Eastern Mediterranean for economic partnerships, especially after the discovery of natural gas in the region. Experts say Israel has also looked to Cyprus as a partner to thwart regional threats, particularly from Turkey and Iran-linked groups.

Israel has in recent years used Cypriot territory to train its troops on possible war with Hezbollah. Cyprus’ terrain is similar to that of Lebanon, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has said, according to Israeli media.

In 2022, the IDF conducted a joint military drill with Cypriot forces. Some of the joint training focused on fighting multiple fronts and focusing on battling Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israeli media reported. Their latest exercises were conducted in May 2023 in Cyprus.

The Cypriot presidency said on X on Thursday that the country “has never facilitated and will not facilitate any aggressive action or attack against any country.”

Why Hezbollah is threatening this tiny European country | CNN (2)

Cyprus' Foreign Minister Constantinos Kombos welcomes his Israeli counterpart Eli Cohen in Larnaca, Cyprus, on December 20.

What has Cyprus’ role been in the Gaza war?

Cyprus has been keen to dispel any suggestions that it is implicated in the Gaza war, noting its humanitarian efforts that helped bring some aid into Gaza.

“The Republic of Cyprus is not part of the problem. The Republic of Cyprus is part of the solution,” said Christodoulides, the president. “And our role in this, as demonstrated, for example, through the humanitarian corridor, is recognized not only by the Arab world but by the international community as a whole.”

In March, Cyprus began allowing aid ships to sail from its ports as part of international efforts to create a humanitarian aid route via sea toward Gaza.

The first maritime shipment to Gaza carried 200 tons of food, which equates to roughly 500,000 meals. An EU logistics hub was also set up in Cyprus to facilitate the flow of aid into Gaza.

Nicosia has criticized some of Israel’s actions in Gaza, especially those that have hampered the delivery of humanitarian aid.

In April, it issued a joint statement with the UAE, condemning the deadly Israeli attack on the World Central Kitchen charity group that killed seven people.

It has also repeatedly condemned Hamas for its October 7 attack on Israel.

Why Hezbollah is threatening this tiny European country | CNN (3)

Humanitarian aid for Gaza is loaded on a platform next to a rescue vessel of the Spanish NGO Open Arms at the port of Larnaca, Cyprus on March 11.

What is the likelihood of Cyprus getting more deeply involved?

The island has previously been caught in the crossfire of regional conflicts, a reminder of its proximity to the volatile Middle East. In 2019, a suspected Russian-made missile exploded over the region of northern Cyprus. Cypriot officials believed the missile was linked to military operations in Syria, saying it landed less than 15 (24km) miles north of the capital Nicosia.

A scenario in which Israel uses Cypriot bases for its military forces, which Hezbollah warned against, would “effectively expand Gaza war into the European Union,” Mohammad Ali Shabani, Iran analyst and editor of Amwaj.media, wrote on X.

It would mean that an EU country is, for the first time, directly involved in an expanded Gaza war.

Some experts say that the prospect of the Israel-Hezbollah conflict breaking out into an all- out war is unlikely, however, as neither side want such an escalation.

A residential area is seen in this image taken from a propaganda video released by Hezbollah allegedly filmed by a drone. AlMayadeenNews video Related video Hezbollah releases video showing Israeli military and civilian locations

“Hezbollah’s release of drone footage of sensitive positions inside Israel is meant as a deterrent to Israel,” Lina Khatib, associate fellow in the Middle East and North Africa Programme at the Chatham House think tank in London, told CNN, referring to the 9-minute drone video released by Hezbollah on Tuesday, showing civilian and military locations in and around the Israeli city Haifa.

“It is normal for both Israel and Hezbollah to have military plans in place for handling a potential escalation. But as things stand, neither Israel nor Hezbollah benefits from all-out war,” Khatib said, adding that “Hezbollah knows that war with Israel would be devastating for Lebanon and that there is no popular appetite for such a scenario in the country.”

The Biden administration is also unlikely to let Israel fight a two-front war on its own, she said, adding that US involvement may pull in “other Iran-backed actors as well as the potential for Iran itself to be targeted.”

“This is a high cost that Iran wants to avoid paying,” she said. “The US also does not want to find itself in another Middle East quagmire, especially with presidential elections looming.”

CNN’s Sharon Braithwaite, Tamara Qiblawi, Mostafa Salem and Abbas Al Lawati contributed reporting.

Why Hezbollah is threatening this tiny European country | CNN (2024)


Why Hezbollah is threatening this tiny European country | CNN? ›

In a fiery speech this week, Hezbollah

Hezbollah (/ˌhɛzbəˈlɑː/, /ˌxɛz-/; Arabic: حزب الله, romanized: Ḥizbu 'llāh, lit. 'Party of Allah' or 'Party of God') is a Lebanese Shia Islamist political party and militant group, led since 1992 by its Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Hezbollah
leader Hassan Nasrallah
Hassan Nasrallah
Nasrullah (Arabic: نصرالله, lit. 'victory of God') is a masculine given name, commonly found in the Arabic language and is used by Muslims, Christians, and other Arabs. It may also be transliterated as Nasralla, Nasrollah, Nasrullah, and Al-Nasrallah.
https://en.wikipedia.org › wiki › Nasrallah
singled out nearby Cyprus, threatening to target the small, divided Mediterranean island if it aids Israel in a potential war between the Lebanese militant group and Israel.

What is Hezbollah fighting for? ›

From the inception of Hezbollah to the present, the elimination of the State of Israel has been one of Hezbollah's primary goals. Some translations of Hezbollah's 1985 Arabic-language manifesto state that "our struggle will end only when this entity [Israel] is obliterated".

What are the threats of Hezbollah to the United States? ›

Hezbollah's expertise in using IEDs probably allowed it to contribute to IED attacks against U.S. and British forces in Iraq.[47] During the war in Iraq, Iran's Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps–Quds Force—which aids Hezbollah—built infrared triggers, explosive circuits, and other EFP components in Iran and smuggled ...

How powerful is Hezbollah? ›

Estimates of Hezbollah's total rocket count range from 40,000 to 120,000, which is considerably more than most countries. Hezbollah possesses limited numbers of anti-aircraft and anti-ship missiles, as well as thousands of anti-tank missiles.

What are the beliefs of Hezbollah? ›

More broadly, current leader Hassan Nasrallah has described Hezbollah's ideology as having "two main axis: firstly, a belief in the rule by the just jurisconsult and adherence to Khomeini's leadership; and secondly, the continued need to struggle against the Israeli enemy".

Is Hezbollah a threat to Israel? ›

On Friday, Hezbollah claimed several military operations against Israel, including a drone attack it said targeted Israeli forces at a coastal base on the western side of the border. The US has pushed for a diplomatic resolution to the crisis while expressing concern about Hezbollah's attacks.

Who controls Lebanon? ›

Politics of Lebanon
Lebanese Republic الجمهورية اللبنانية (Arabic) Al-Jumhūrīyah al-Lubnānīyah
Head of Government
TitlePrime Minister
CurrentlyNajib Mikati
AppointerPresident, on parliament's advice
19 more rows

What country funds Hezbollah? ›

states that Iran provides Hezbollah with “most of its funding, training, weapons, and explosives, as well as political, diplomatic, monetary, and organizational aid.”

How many Israelis were killed by Hezbollah? ›

Israel–Hezbollah conflict (2023–present)
Casualties and losses
725 militants, soldiers and medics killed 450 Hezbollah membersPer Israel: 19 soldiers killed (3 non-combat) 38 soldiers injured (25 May) Per Hezbollah: 2,000+ casualties
10 more rows

What are the US relations with Hezbollah? ›

The United States believes Hezbollah is an organization with ties to terrorism. The United States officially support the peaceful restructuring of Israel, and reconciliation with the Palestinian territories, (i.e. West Bank and the Gaza Strip).

Is Hezbollah more powerful than Hamas? ›

Hezbollah is far more powerful than Hamas.

Who lead Hezbollah? ›

Hassan Nasrallah
Preceded byAbbas al-Musawi
Personal details
Born31 August 1960 Bourj Hammoud, Lebanon
Political partyHezbollah (1982–present)
12 more rows

Does Hezbollah have chemical weapons? ›

There have also been numerous reports from Saudi and Israeli sources that Hezbollah may possess chemical weapons, which could be mounted to rockets or missiles. The group also possesses various anti-ship missiles, potentially including the Russian Yakhont cruise missile, the most advanced anti-ship missile on Earth.

What does hamas mean in English? ›

Etymology. Hamas is an acronym of the Arabic phrase حركة المقاومة الإسلامية or Ḥarakah al-Muqāwamah al-ʾIslāmiyyah, meaning "Islamic Resistance Movement". This acronym, HMS, was glossed in the 1988 Hamas Covenant by the Arabic word ḥamās (حماس) which itself means "zeal", "strength", or "bravery".

What is Hezbollah doing? ›

Hezbollah launches rockets, drones at northern Israel military sites. The Lebanese group fired 150 rockets and 30 suicide drones at 15 Israeli military positions, Hezbollah official says.

Why did Israel invade Lebanon in 1978? ›

Its stated goals were to push Palestinian militant groups, particularly the PLO, away from the border with Israel, and to bolster Israel's ally at the time, the South Lebanon Army, because of the attacks against Lebanese Christians and Jews and because of the relentless shelling into northern Israel.

What does Hamas stand for? ›

HAMAS–the acronym for Harakat al-Muqawama al-Islamiya (Islamic Resistance Movement)—is the largest and most capable militant group in the Palestinian territories and one of the territories' two major political parties.

What is the military power of Lebanon? ›

Lebanese Armed Forces
Active personnel100,000+
Reserve personnel38,000+
Budget$1.95 billion (FY2022)
27 more rows

Is Lebanon Sunni or Shia? ›

Islam in Lebanon has a long and continuous history. According to an estimate by the CIA, it is followed by 63% of the country's total population. Sunnis make up 31.9%, Twelver Shia make up 31.2%, next to smaller percentages of other Shia branches, such as Alawites and Ismailis.

What does the Hezbollah flag translate to? ›

The central text on the flag displays the organisations name; حزب الله (ḥizbu-llāh) which translates to "Party of Allah". The 'Alif' (first letter in the word Allah on the flag) extends upwards to form the fist which clenches the assault rifle.

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