President Nikos Christodoulides, participates in the “Call for Action: Urgent Humanitarian Response for Gaza” Conference.
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From threat to opportunity

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The threats fired against Cyprus this week by Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as far-fetched as they may seem, should not be taken lightly.

The Shia cleric and leader of the militant group commands considerable influence in almost everything that happens in Lebanon, from politics to the economy and national defence.

Apart from securing vast amounts of funding for arms purchases and networks of underground tunnels, mainly with the support of Iran, his biggest achievement over the years has been to drum up public support among a large section of the public, disenfranchised by the country’s corrupt rulers.

Hezbollah looks after the interest of Iran and Syria, objecting to the offshore oil and gas explorations and preventing a delineation agreement from being concluded with Israel, which would have allowed Lebanon to enjoy its future revenues and invest in infrastructure, healthcare and education.

For decades, Hezbollah and its sister organisation Hamas, have built up an arsenal of rockets frequently fired into Israel, with Lebanon’s army unable to control its southern borders ever since the West cut off its funding and supplies.

Visiting Beirut every once and again, European and other leaders often pledge funds and aid that will never reach their destination, further fuelling a strong feeling of mistrust, while Turkey waits on the sidelines for the day it will push further south, already meddling in Lebanon’s internal affairs.

There is no doubt that EU foreign policy has failed in Lebanon, that carries the biggest burden of Syrian refugees and displaced, and yet, has not even received a fraction of the billions in EU aid that Brussels generously pays to Ankara, allegedly to manage the refugee problem on its territory. In fact, those funds from European taxpayers are allocated to Turkish infrastructure and the armaments industry, in turn used to provoke further conflict in Syria and other war-torn regions.

And Nasrallah is often sitting on the sidelines, watching this hybrid war evolve at all levels, deciding the best time to step in and engage with the enemy.

However, the Hezbollah leader, in his wisdom, did not say outright he would attack Cyprus, but threatened to retaliate only if the island was used by Israel in its war against Hamas, Hezbollah and Iran.

Nikos Christodoulides, being the island’s chief diplomat for most of the past two administrations, realised the need to send the right messages across the sea to try and appease such concerns. He rightly reacted that Cyprus is not used as fortress or a stepping stone for Israel, but would provide any humanitarian help needed if the Israeli war in Gaza escalates further.

Quite the contrary, the Cypriot president said that the island has gone above and beyond to help the refugees in Gaza and the victims of Israel’s military operations, by way of the Amalthia maritime aid corridor, and so many other efforts, as was the case of numerous evacuations in the past.

Where the EU has failed miserably to try and resolve the refugee problem at its source, Cyprus, albeit small, should step in and take up the role of mediator, peacemaker and defender of human rights.

All other nations involved in this wider conflict area have their interest, and worse, if Cyprus is hit, no one will come to its rescue, not even Israel.

Nicosia needs to open a direct channel of communication, possibly directly with the Hezbollah leadership, regardless if it condones the militia’s attacks on Israel or its funding of terror. Telling oil-rich Gulf states that Cyprus should be regarded as their friend in Brussels is simply feeding the egos of those nations, many of whom do not want peace in Gaza, Syria, even Lebanon.

But Cyprus needs peace at home and in the region, as it has an aggressor to its north that continues to stir the hornet’s nest, provoking trouble whenever it can, with the tolerance of ‘civilised’ European nations and the U.S.

The threat of an attack should be turned into an opportunity, to open up new diplomatic efforts. The Beirut port explosion in 2020 was seen and felt in Cyprus, perhaps too close. Such risks should be pushed as further away as possible, before something worse happens, by which time, a “told you so” will simply not help.