Turkey Holds Naval Drill Off Cyprus in Heated Response to Israeli Commando Exercise on Its Doorstep

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Israeli Air Force S70-A during an Israeli commando drill in Cyprus, June 2017
Israeli Air Force S70-A during an Israeli commando drill in Cyprus, June 2017

Israeli commandos were wrapping up a large-scale military drill in Cyprus’s Troodos Mountains on Wednesday.

The drill, the first of its kind to take place in Cyprus, involved hundreds of combat soldiers from the Egoz special forces unit as well as Black Hawk helicopters and Super Hercules transport plans.

The Troodos Mountains was selected because its terrain resembles that of hilly areas in and around Israel.

The exercises, Israel’s largest-ever in Cyprus and one of its biggest abroad, required the transport of large amount of equipment to the country. Exercises included the practice of cooperation between the Israel Air Force and army commandos in unfamiliar terrain, as well as cooperation with the Cypriot military.

Haaretz reported that the exercise caused friction with Turkey, but the Israel Defense Forces refused to comment on this.

Israeli Air Force C-130J during an Israeli commando drill in Cyprus, June 2017

As the drill comes to a close, another exercise is scheduled to take place in Cyprus, this one by Turkey. Last week, Turkey announced that it will hold a military drill with live ammunition southwest of the Cypriot city of Paphos. The Turks said in a statement that during one of the days of the drill, Turkish warships and submarines will operate in the area. The background to this exercise is the tension caused by the search for natural gas in the sea off Cyprus’s coast.

The joint Israel-Cyprus exercise drew criticism from the opposition in Cyprus, which claimed that holding a joint exercise on Cypriot territory constituted a “dangerous development.”

On Tuesday, the Cyprus Ministry of Defense rejected this criticism, saying the country also held joint operations and had agreements with Lebanon, Egypt and Jordan.

Last month, Cypriot Minister of Defense Christoforos Fokaides visited Israel. At the end of the visit, Fokaides continued to Jordan, where he met with Jordan’s King Abdullah II.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is currently in Greece, where he is scheduled to meet with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras and Cypriot President Nicos Anastasiades.

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