The UK military has told parliament there is no “formal requirement” to inform the Cypriot government of its wide ranging military and intelligence operations from the island.
The information suggests the Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides has not been told of the key role the island is playing in supporting Israel’s criminal bombing campaign in Gaza.
This is despite the fact these operations could have serious national security implications for Cyprus, with a British MP telling Declassified it could “endanger” Cypriots.
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.
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.
“Cypriots surely have a right to know what operations are being flown from their island.”
James Heappey, the UK’s defence minister, told parliament this week: “As a trusted partner, the Ministry of Defence (MoD) routinely engages with the Republic of Cyprus (RoC) on issues relating to the Sovereign Base Areas.”
He added: “This includes, where appropriate, informing the RoC of flights into and from RAF Akrotiri, although there is no formal requirement to do so.”
The information came to light after a parliamentary question from Kenny MacAskill, Alba MP for East Lothian.
He told Declassified: “It’s a British ‘sovereign base’ but it’s in Cyprus, which is both a sovereign nation and ostensibly an ally. This lack of any formal mechanism for exchange of information about UK and US activity on the island is not only insulting to Cypriots and Cyprus, but potentially endangers them.”
MacAskill, a former Scottish justice secretary, added: “They surely should have a right to know what operations are being flown from their island. Yet these UK and US military actions are undertaken without any need to consult the Cypriots. Even though it could make them a target for terrorism.”
It appears the UK has, so far, not found it “appropriate” to inform the Cypriots of the use of Akrotiri in supporting Israel’s bombing of Gaza.
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.
Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, a Liberal Democrat peer whose parents are from Cyprus, commented on Twitter/X that the flights were “unlikely to be delivering humanitarian aid”.
She added: “It’s long overdue these British bases in Cyprus were handed back to the Cypriots.”
“It’s long overdue these British bases in Cyprus were handed back to the Cypriots.”
Declassified then reported the US was using Akrotiri to transfer weapons to Israel. The Cypriot president Nikos Christodoulides was asked about it in a press conference, and said: “There is no such information, our country cannot be used as a base for war operations”.
Britain is also using Akrotiri to launch surveillance flights by Shadow R1 aircraft over Gaza, apparently to gather intelligence that might help save British hostages held by Palestinian groups.
Hamas condemned the flights, saying it made Britain “responsible for the massacres to which our Palestinian people are subjected”.
Secret US flights
MacAskill also asked how many UK military flights had flown to Israel from RAF Akrotiri since the start of hostilities in Gaza. The department said that the RAF had flown 32 flights that route since October 7.
It added: “These flights enabled the assisted departure of British Nationals from Israel, the continued movement of materials required to sustain our diplomatic mission to Tel Aviv; and the transportation of Ministers and senior officials conducting diplomatic engagements with Israeli interlocutors.”
“The Ministry of Defence does not comment on information about Allies’ operations.”
But when MacAskill asked how many US flights had flown from RAF Akrotiri to Israel in the same period, he was told: “The Ministry of Defence does not comment on information about Allies’ operations.”
The US Department of Defense also did not respond to multiple requests from Declassified for information and comment about its activity at Akrotiri.
MacAskill told Declassified: “As well as ignoring the sovereignty of Cyprus, the UK has abandoned sovereignty of its own military base. It seems the Americans can do what they like and we’re neither to be told nor able to do anything about it.”
He added: “That the MoD can tell us the number of flights the RAF have made to Israel yet refuse to divulge what the Americans are doing is perverse.”
The use of RAF Akrotiri and other UK facilities on Cyprus by the US military and intelligence services has long been controversial. Much of the activity is kept secret from the Cypriot government.
One document released by US whistleblower Edward Snowden noted that American intelligence staff are required to dress as tourists around the bases because the UK has promised the Cyprus government that only British staff work there.
The need for secrecy about US spy flights was noted privately by a UK official who wrote of “the political risk that other governments become aware of, and potentially object to, the [US] flights”.
The official added: “In particular, there are sensitivities with Government of Cyprus regarding the use of Sovereign Base Areas in Cyprus.”
“There are sensitivities with Government of Cyprus regarding the use of Sovereign Base Areas.”
He told the Americans in a letter which was later leaked: “I am sure you will understand the sensitivities involved in the use of UK bases for covert or potentially controversial [US] missions”.
US spies also have widespread access to Britain’s bases on Cyprus and share information “daily” with their Israeli counterparts, leaked top secret documents show.
The British have long used their bases on Cyprus for military and intelligence purposes behind the back of the Cypriot government. Declassified recently revealed that during the Cold War, the UK secretly turned non-aligned Cyprus into a key NATO asset.
A spokesperson for the UK Ministry of Defence told Declassified: “In response to the situation in Israel and Gaza, we are working with international partners to de-escalate the conflict, reinforce stability and support humanitarian efforts in the region. Any use of UK bases will be in line with these objectives.”