Tuesday, February 18, 2014

(En - 18 Feb 2014 - News) Israeli Fighter Jets Challenge Cypriot Air Defense in Mock Battle Exercise

Sharing a common interest in securing offshore mineral exploration areas throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, Israel and Cyprus are tightening defense cooperation through a series of air and naval exercises conducted over the Islands’ southern coast.

The relations between Israel, Cyprus and Greece are warming since 2008, as Israel’s close relations with Turkey deteriorated since the rise of Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to power.

According to Cypriot Defense minister Fotis Fotiou, Cyprus’ relations with Israel are entering a new phase. “I am confident that the strategic dialogue that began several months ago will benefit both countries and will continue on all areas, including energy security.” Fotiou said while visiting a bilateral exercise the Israel Air Force conducted in Cyprus earlier this month, the Cyprus mail reports.

The exercise codenamed ‘Onisilos-Gideon’ was held in Cyprus last week. It took place inside the Nicosia Flight Information Region (FIR), as Israeli fighter jets roared low over Limassol and Chirokitia for several hours.

According to sources in Cyprus 32 Israeli fighter  jets and six support aircraft took part in the exercise, including F-15 and F-16s. The exercise included simulated firing at targets on land and at sea, along the Island’s southern coast from Limassol to Paphos, the Cypriot side  played the air defense role, employing the islands’ air defense systems.

In recent years Cyprus established an impressive air defense network, based on several types of missile systems, primarily Russian made. In 1997 Cyprus acquired an early model of the Russian S-300 air defense system (PMU1).

The unit employs 12 mobile launchers, and associated radar and communications units. The entry of that S-300 triggered the missile crisis in 1998 between Cyprus and Turkey, which lead to the transfer of the weapons to Greece. Today the Cypriot S-300 are not based in the island but deployed in Crete under Greek control. In December 2014 the Greek Air Defense forces fired the first S-300 missile during an operational live exercise ‘White eagle’.

A previous exercise held in April 2013 involved the navies of the two nations, operating joint search and rescue (SAR) missions at sea, south of the island. The drills were held in line with the bilateral agreement drawn up in February 2012 between the Cyprus and Israel on SAR issues.

Lacking significant military power, Cyprus has relied on foreign powers to secure the island. In the past, British forces based at Akrotiri provided deterrence against foreign aggression. After the British withdrawal, Greece sent F-16s to be based at a special military annex established at the Paphos International Airport, on the western tip of the island.

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