This week, Cyprus has reportedly secured a deal to procure Israel’s cutting-edge Iron Dome air defense system. The Greek newspaper Kathimerini alleged that the Cypriot Defense Ministry has recently begun to “implement the government’s decision to purchase” the Jewish state’s top-tier anti-missile system. As Israel’s regional ally, Cyprus will likely employ the Dome to combat the growing threat Ankara poses amidst ongoing tensions in the Mediterranean.
While the Israeli Defense Ministry has yet to comment on these reports, the Greek outlet claimed that both Israeli and Cypriot officials have already signed the deal. As the most effective and sophisticated weapon of its kind, the Iron Dome would greatly serve Cyprus’ defense needs.
Israel and Cyprus are Regional Allies
In early August, Israel’s Defense Minister Benny Gantz hosted his Cypriot counterpart in Tel Aviv. Gantz and Defense Minister Charalambos Petrides discussed a range of collaborative goals, including the ongoing cooperation on armaments and trilateral relations between Israel, Greece, and Cyprus.
During the meeting, Gantz said he was “pleased that our establishments have been working closely, and that our industrial cooperation has become a pillar not only of our bilateral relations, but also to regional security and stability.” The Israeli Defense Minister added, “We also value the trilateral framework with Greece. It is an asset to the force build-up of the individual countries, as well as to wider regional security.” A few months earlier in March, the chief of the Cypriot military toured an Iron Dome battery during a previous trip to Israel.
Many Nations Covet Israel’s Iron Dome Defenses
The Iron Dome has represented the mainstay of Israel’s air defense capabilities since it first become operational and deployed over a decade ago. The mobile all-weather air defense system was developed by two Israeli companies, Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, and Israel Aerospace Industries.
Equipped with three main components, the Dome’s objective is to detect, locate, and destroy incoming enemy projectiles. Its radar system is tasked with detecting approaching rockets. Once the projectiles are located, the Dome’s command-and-control system then evaluates the threat level. Finally, if the threat level is high enough, the Dome will intercept and take out the projectile before it can strike with potentially deadly force.
With an estimated success rate of approximately 90 percent, the Iron Dome is an extremely notorious defense system. Its advanced capabilities have played instrumental roles in securing countless victorious for the Jewish state. During the latest flare-up of violence between Israel and the Gaza-based terror group Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), the Dome was responsible for intercepting hundreds of missiles and rockets aimed at Israeli cities. This missile defense platform is also in use with the U.S. Army, which recently demonstrated the system in a live-fire fill in New Mexico.
Cyprus’ interest in acquiring the Iron Dome technology is obvious – the arguably most successful air defense system across the globe could aid in its defense against Turkish aggression. For years, Turkey has feuded with Greece and Cyprus over maritime boundaries as well as its airspace. The ongoing discoveries of natural gas reserves have broadened this conflict, triggering energy rights disputes and sovereignty demands.
Earlier this month, Turkey’s newest drilling ship began its deployment northwest of Cyprus in the eastern Mediterranean to “explore” and drill in the disputed waters. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan threatened Athens and Nicosia from hindering the Abdulhamid Han’s journey.
In addition to Ankara’s aggression in the Mediterranean, many Cypriots fear that Erdogan is striving to annex breakaway northern Cyprus. As outlined by an ABC News report, “Turkish Cypriots declared independence in the island nations’ northern third nearly a decade after Turkey invaded in 1974 following a coup by supporters of union with Greece. Only Turkey recognizes the Turkish Cypriots’ independence.” Additionally, “Numerous rounds of U.N.-facilitated talks over nearly a half-century to reunify Cyprus as a federation composed of Greek and Turkish speaking sectors have led nowhere.”
Since the island of Cyprus was split along ethnic lines in the mid-1970s, Turkey has stationed more than 35,000 troops and heavy weaponry in the country. Since 2019, Ankara has been projecting its advanced drone capabilities over Cyprus. While Turkey asserts the presence of drones on its air base in the breakaway northern third of Cyprus is meant to ease the country’s ability to “inspect the region,” Nicosia claims the addition of these weapons poses a threat to the country’s sovereignty and destabilizes the region further. In December 2019, Turkey deployed a Bayraktar TB2 surveillance and reconnaissance drone over Cyprus, contributing to the escalating tensions between the two countries. Erdogan’s willingness to deploy unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) to threaten Cyprus in 2019 does not bode well for the countries’ increasingly volatile relations.
Nicosia’s potential procurement of Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system serves two purposes. The cutting-edge technology could serve as a deterrent to Ankara’s threats and would ultimately function as an instrumental component of the Cypriot’s military in a kinetic conflict. Additionally, the agreement would strengthen collaboration and military ties between the Jewish state and Cyprus.
What The Experts Told 19FortyFive
Dr. Harold Rhode, a Distinguished Senior Fellow at the Gatestone Institute who previously served as the Turkish Desk Officer at the U.S. Department of Defense, provided commentary on the Iron Dome sale to 19FortyFive:
“Very shortly after Israel and Turkey announced the resumption of formal relations is when Israel and Cyprus announced the sale of the Iron Dome system. It is very clear this sale is against the Turks. Given the historical context between Israel and Turkey, the sale of the Dome is the product of Israel and Cyprus working together against the Turks.”
Dr. Rhode added that “Israel, Cyprus, and Greece have thrown their lot in together and in spite of Israel’s reestablishment of relations with Ankara at an official level. However, no one should be fooled about this. Israel is not switching sides. Israel, Cyprus, and Greece have developed a very good relationship, and that is not going to change anytime soon. Therefore, the big loser in all of this, as usual, is Turkey.”
Maya Carlin is a Middle East Defense Editor with 19FortyFive. She is also an analyst with the Center for Security Policy and a former Anna Sobol Levy Fellow at IDC Herzliya in Israel. She has by-lines in many publications, including The National Interest, Jerusalem Post, and Times of Israel.