Britain secretly deployed 500 additional troops to its bases on Cyprus after Israel began bombing Gaza, it can be revealed.
The UK government has said previously that it deployed 1,000 troops to the East Mediterranean to support Israel but it did not reveal how these troops were distributed.
But in a letter to Alba MP Kenny MacAskill, seen by Declassified, defence minister James Heappey wrote that on 27 November half these troops were in Cyprus.
Britain now has “approximately 500 additional service personnel deployed to Cyprus,” Heappey wrote in a surprising admission.
Britain has two “Sovereign Base Areas” on Cyprus – known as Dhekelia in the east of the island and Akrotiri in the west – which are large, highly secretive military and intelligence installations comprising 3% of the island’s land area.
The major UK air base on Cyprus, RAF Akrotiri, has long been the staging post for British bombing campaigns in the Middle East, and sits 180 miles from Tel Aviv. The flight time is 40 minutes.
The extra UK troops takes the number of British military personnel deployed on the island to 2,717. The UK bases also host 273 British civil servants.
“I have withheld specific numbers for these countries for operational security reasons.”
The US military has also had a base on British territory on Cyprus for nearly half a century, but its size was kept secret from the public before Declassified recently revealed that 129 US airmen are permanently deployed to RAF Akrotiri.
It is not known if additional US personnel have also been deployed to Britain’s Cyprus bases to help support Israel’s bombing of Gaza, as the British government refuses to make public any information about American activities on the UK territory.
Defence minister James Heappey also revealed in his letter that Britain has sent extra troops to Egypt, Israel and Lebanon, but he refused to say at what levels. “I have withheld specific numbers for these countries for operational security reasons,” he wrote.
The UK military personnel were said to be deployed “to support contingency planning and UK humanitarian aid efforts”.
SAS in Cyprus
The 500 extra UK troops deployed to Cyprus do not include British special forces, which operate completely outside of democratic oversight.
The Sun reported on 27 October that Britain’s Special Air Service (SAS), the army’s elite special force, was on “standby” in Cyprus to – it was claimed – rescue British hostages held captive by Hamas and Britons who are trapped in Gaza.
The UK military’s “D-Notice” committee, which seeks to stop the media publishing information it claims would damage national security, requested on 28 October all media editors to not publish information relating to SAS operations in Gaza.
There has been no further reporting on the SAS’s role in Gaza, while the UK military refuses to confirm or deny if the SAS has been on the ground in Gaza since Israel began bombing the territory.
It is unclear if the Cypriot government has been told of the SAS deployment—or the extra UK troops.
Declassified recently revealed that over 30 military transport flights, operated by the RAF, had flown from RAF Akrotiri to Tel Aviv since the bombing of Gaza began.
But Cypriot government spokesman Konstantinos Letymbiotis told the Cyprus Mail he had received no information about the flights. The UK, meanwhile, denied it is sending “lethal aid” or “military equipment” to Israel from RAF Akrotiri.
“500 additional military personnel to Cyprus is a huge deployment. What is their role?”
Declassified then reported the US was using RAF Akrotiri to transfer weapons to Israel. Respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported that over 40 US transport aircraft have flown to RAF Akrotiri carrying equipment, arms and forces.
The planes have been loaded with cargo from strategic depots belonging to the US and NATO in Europe, Haaretz reported, with around half the US flights said to be “delivering military aid”.
The Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides was asked about the US deliveries in a press conference, and said: “There is no such information, our country cannot be used as a base for war operations”.
Kenny MacAskill, the MP who asked the questions in parliament, told Declassified: “We require openness and accountability about what is happening at Britain’s bases on Cyprus and the role they are playing in Israel’s criminal bombing of Gaza. 500 additional military personnel to Cyprus is a huge deployment given the large contingent already based there. What is their role?”
He added: “It’s 20 years since the UK was taken into a war in Iraq based on lies and deceit. That cost the lives of millions and still causes harm today as refugees and terrorism testify to. Iraq wasn’t in my name and neither are these actions. We need to be told what is being done by our government.”