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The leader of Hezbollah threatened to attack the island if it allowed Israel to use its territory in any conflict.

This assessment was issued to clients of Dragonfly’s Security Intelligence & Analysis Service (SIAS) on 20 June 2024.

  • Direct military action by Hezbollah against Cyprus seems unlikely, in our assessment
  • Further Hezbollah threats and military posturing in the Eastern Mediterranean are probable over the coming months

We doubt Hezbollah will launch a direct military attack against Cyprus from Lebanon in the coming months. The group’s leader on 19 June said that Cyprus could become a target if it allowed ‘Israel to use its territory in any conflict’. In our view, this threat is largely rhetorical and aimed at deterring Israel from initiating a major escalation in southern Lebanon. But with conflict on the Israel-Lebanon border intensifying, further Hezbollah threats against Cyprus and the group flying reconnaissance drones in the Eastern Mediterranean are probable in the coming weeks.

Hezbollah threats seem largely rhetorical

Hezbollah’s threats against Cyprus seem to be an attempt to deter Israel from expanding its military operations in Lebanon. In our analysis, the group intends to push European countries to exert further pressure on Israel. That is after Israeli media reports this week that its military has approved plans for a military offensive with Hezbollah in the coming weeks. And it follows an intensification of cross-border attacks between the two, involving hours-long daily operations.

Hezbollah is threatening Cyprus specifically for several reasons, in our view. First, it is the closest European country that the group is able to target with precision missiles and armed drones. Second, Cyprus hosts a major UK military base (Akrotiri), which has reportedly been used for UK-US military operations against the Houthis in recent months. But there is no publicly available evidence that Israel has used that base or Cypriot airspace in its conflict against Hamas and Hezbollah this year. Third, there is precedent for Hezbollah activity in Cyprus targeting Israeli interests.

Direct Hezbollah attack unlikely

We doubt that Hezbollah will mount direct military action against Cyprus, especially not a high-impact attack against a port or military sites. That would be a major escalation. And it would potentially compel Europe to take action against the group, or at least step up support for Israel to do so. Additionally, an attack on Cyprus would make Hezbollah unpopular at home. It would disrupt potential evacuation routes from Lebanon – upon which Lebanese nationals would also rely – in the event of a crisis. The Cypriot president said on 20 June that his country remains uninvolved in any military conflicts, and facilitated aid shipments to Gaza throughout the conflict.

In the unlikely event of a strike by Hezbollah on Cyprus, we anticipate some European nations would feel compelled to carry out at least a localised response, albeit not immediately. While Cyprus does not benefit from NATO Article 5 protection, it is part of the EU defence pact on the basis of which other EU members, such as Greece can provide protection. Turkey and the UK (both NATO members) have troops and bases on the island too and would probably act to defend their people and assets were any of them hit. Beyond anti-Houthi operations, the UK’s Akrotiri airbase is a forward mounting base for overseas operations in the Middle East.

Posturing around the Eastern Mediterranean probable

Still, further rhetorical threats by the group are likely over the coming weeks. That is given tensions between Israel and Hezbollah are showing no signs of waning. At most, these might be followed by limited Hezbollah action such as it sending reconnaissance drones near Cyprus and the Eastern Mediterranean more broadly. It has done so on several occasions in recent years around disputed (between Israel and Lebanon) offshore gas fields there. Such actions would provide Hezbollah with an opportunity to be seen to act on its threats, without risking a reaction from Europe.

Pro-Iran groups in Iraq, Syria and Yemen are also likely to claim attacks against commercial vessels in the Eastern Mediterranean over the coming weeks. They have already claimed several attacks there in the past few weeks after the Houthis on 5 June said it would target ships in these waters. Although it is plausible that they have launched drone and missile attacks towards these waters, there has been little evidence that they have been successful. The Houthis have also previously made similar false claims.

Hezbollah supporters also pose threats inside Cyprus

It is also plausible that, following the recent threat by Hezbollah’s leader, sympathisers with the group in Cyprus may feel emboldened or inspired to carry out an attack on the island in the coming months. There have been pro-Iran and Hezbollah operatives in Cyprus before. In December 2023, Israel said it helped the Cypriot authorities foil an attack against Jews on the island by Iran-backed operatives. Any incident would probably involve a crude shooting or stabbing, or the setting off of a small explosive device, targeting Israelis or an Israeli entity, or individuals or businesses perceived as supporting Israel.

Direct attacks against Cyprus plausible in a major Middle East war

Albeit unlikely, it is still plausible that Hezbollah would directly attack Cyprus. But such a scenario would become likely only in the latter stages of a major war between Israel and Hezbollah in our assessment. Hezbollah might for example mount direct attacks should it be facing very heavy battlefield losses and appear on the verge of losing a conflict with Israel. In any case, this stage of a conflict between Israel and Hezbollah would carry with it a potential for a wider regional war, involving the US, Iran and pro-Iran groups across the region.

We have identified some indicators that would suggest Hezbollah attacks against Cyprus are becoming likely:

  • Reliable press reports suggest Israeli war planes are using the UK airbase in Cyprus
  • Israel occupies southern Lebanon for several months
  • The leader of Hezbollah is captured or killed by the Israeli military
  • Hezbollah appears on the verge of military collapse (even if it can sustain an insurgency in Lebanon)
  • Iran enters into a regional war and is being targeted by the US and UK from the latter’s airbase in Cyprus

In an all-out regional war scenario, the group would plausibly also encourage its members, or supporters on the island to carry out attacks there. These would involve bombings or shootings targeting Israeli diplomatic entities or assets, or other Cypriot or Western political buildings. According to both the local authorities and media outlets, the group has attempted to distribute and stockpile explosives on the island. That is supported by reported discoveries over the past several years. And it has shown the capability to carry out such attacks; in 2012 Hezbollah bombed and killed seven Israeli tourists in Burgas, Bulgaria.

Image: An Open Arms ship and the ship Jennifer, of the World Central Kitchen carrying food aid for the Gaza Strip, prepare to set sail close to the port of Larnaca in Cyprus on 30 March 2024, amid the ongoing conflict between Israel and the Palestinian Hamas group. Photo by Iakovos Hatzistavrou/AFP via Getty Images.