UK refuses to say if Israeli bomber planes are using its Cyprus base

After anonymous British officials reveal Israeli F-35s bombing Gaza have had access to Britain’s sprawling air base on nearby Cyprus, the UK military refuses to deny the visits, raising further suspicions about complicity in war crimes.

15 March 2024
An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet. (Photo: IDF)

An Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter jet. (Photo: IDF)

The British government is refusing to divulge any information about whether its bases on Cyprus are being used to facilitate the bombing of Gaza.

Kenny MacAskill, Alba MP for East Lothian, asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) if any Israeli Air Force F-35 fighter aircraft have landed at Akrotiri, the vast RAF base on Cyprus, since 7 October 2023.

RAF Akrotiri has long been the staging post for British bombing campaigns in the Middle East, and sits 180 miles from Israel’s capital, Tel Aviv. The flight time is 40 minutes.

The MoD replied: “For operational security reasons and as a matter of policy, the Ministry of Defence does not offer comment or information relating to foreign nations’ military aircraft movements or operations.”

This comes after the Daily Express recently reported “senior sources” telling the newspaper Israeli F-35s had until recently had access to the UK’s Cyprus base. 

The sources added that Israel had now been told not to land the planes at RAF Akrotiri until its war in Gaza was over.

An aerial view of RAF Akrotiri, the British air base on Cyprus where US military personnel are deployed. (Photo: Google Earth)
An aerial view of RAF Akrotiri, the British air base on Cyprus. (Photo: Google Earth)

Technical assistance

The F-35 is produced by the world’s largest weapons company Lockheed Martin and is described as “the most lethal, survivable and connected fighter aircraft in the world”.

Israel has a fleet of 50 F-35s jets, with another 25 being added by 2027 at a cost of $3bn. 

Britain is a stakeholder in the construction of F-35s, supplying over 15% of every one produced, and it reportedly supplies parts and aftercare maintenance for the fighter jets.

But the Express reported that the Israeli Air Force (IAF) has been informed that “a facility to render technical assistance” at Akrotiri is to be withdrawn. 

A “Whitehall source” told the Express: “The Israeli Air Force has been informed about the Akrotiri decision and it was accepted without argument.”

The paper also said another “long-standing arrangement” permitting Israeli helicopters to practise fire-fighting on Cyprus has been terminated, alongside a joint exercise between RAF and IAF F-35s later this year.


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Bombing Gaza

In a press briefing in November, Israeli military spokesman Rear Admiral Daniel Hagari confirmed F-35s were being used to bomb Gaza. “F-35 jets strike terror targets and assist ground forces in very close proximity strikes,” he said. 

Earlier this month a Dutch court ordered the country’s government to block all exports of F-35 fighter jet parts to Israel over concerns they were being used to violate international law during the war in Gaza.

Lockheed Martin said in a statement afterwards: “We are working closely with the F-35 Joint Program Office to evaluate the impacts the recent Dutch court ruling will have on our supply chain.”

The US company added: “We stand ready to support the US government and allies as needed.” 

Israel’s massive offensive in the densely populated Gaza Strip has killed more than 30,000 Palestinians, and forced most of its 2.3 million people to flee their homes.

Yet British ministers are believed to be still arming Israel and have refused to suspend or block arms exports to the country’s military.

The Ministry of Defence itself told parliament: “There are no technical support agreements between the UK and Israel for F-35.” It also said it had provided no servicing or other support for Israeli F-35s since 7 October. 


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British complicity

The latest information about Israeli military assets using British territory during its campaign in Gaza may further implicate UK ministers in crimes against humanity.

The International Court of Justice (ICJ) recently ruled it was “plausible” Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, and is investigating the case. Meanwhile, Nicaragua has written to the British government warning it that it is considering refering the country to the ICJ for complicity in genocide.

Declassified previously revealed that Britain secretly deployed 500 additional troops to its bases on Cyprus after Israel began bombing Gaza. 

The UK government also admitted last month that nine Israeli military aircraft had landed and taken off in Britain since 7 October. The MoD had initially refused to give any information on the number of flights, but Declassified independently found six Israeli Air Force operated planes landing in Britain.

Kenny MacAskill, the British MP who asked the question in parliament, told Declassified: “Democracy is being denied in the UK as a genocide is unleashed in Gaza. We’re told of the British warplanes which have flown to bomb Yemen and even the weaponry that they used, but we’re denied information on whether Israeli F-35s have been landing at RAF Akrotiri and what they might be doing.”

He added: “There’s a genocide ongoing and we are entitled to know who and what our government is doing to help the perpetrators. This stonewalling is a denial of our democratic rights and may well be covering for flagrant breaches of international law.”