Almost 500 Israeli commandos took part in war exercises in Cyprus this week, the first time that the IDF has acknowledged combat units operating in a foreign country.
“We went to Cyprus to learn how to fight on terrain that the soldiers are not familiar with,” a senior IDF officer told journalists on Thursday, adding that the two countries have “shared strategic interests.”
“The world of warfare is now one of urban and underground combat. The enemy, be it Hezbollah Hamas or Daesh (Islamic State), now fights differently and we must be properly prepared to fight them,” the officer said.
The Israeli and about 100 Cypriot troops trained three days for urban warfare, above-ground and below-ground combat, fighting in dense brush, in mountainous areas, as well as airborne exercises, heliborne exercises, in the daytime, and at night.
The Super Hercules transport planes and 10 Black Hawk helicopters took part as well.
Israel and Cyprus have taken part in several military drills in recent months and Cyprus’ Defense Minister Christoforos Fokaides on Tuesday stated that the drill with Israel was “aimed at enhanced defense cooperation which enables joint training and exercises to take place.”
While IDF officers involved in the exercises said they were pleased with the performance of the troops, the reaction from neighboring Turkey, which occupies northern Cyprus, was less positive. AKEL, the Cypriot opposition party, called it a “dangerous development” which sent the wrong message to the Arab world.
The Cypriot defense ministry said in response that such joint operations with Israel, and in coming months with Egypt, Lebanon and Jordan, are necessary for national security, “upgrading its geopolitical role as a security contributor and a factor for stability in our wider region.”
“The signed agreements strengthen and upgrade the Republic of Cyprus, and they do not turn us against anyone,” Cyprus Mail quoted the ministry as saying.
An Israeli officer said that the exercises were not targeted at any specific enemy. “Israel has lots of enemies,” he said.