UK refuses to confirm use of Cyprus base in sending US arms to Israel

by Mark Curtis, Declassified UK, 7 December 2023

The British government is refusing to answer questions in parliament about the US military’s use of RAF Akrotiri, the UK’s vast air base on Cyprus, which is reportedly being used to deliver arms to Israel.

The UK government is refusing to provide MPs with information about US military activities at its giant air base on Cyprus, which is acting as an international military hub in support of Israeli operations in Gaza. 

Alba MP Kenny MacAskill asked the Ministry of Defence (MoD) on Tuesday how many US Air Force flights have flown from RAF Akrotiri to Israel since 7 October 2023.

“The Ministry of Defence does not comment on information about Allies’ operations,” defence minister James Heappey replied.

MacAskill, who is MP for East Lothian and a former Scottish justice secretary, earlier asked the government if the UK’s Cyprus base was being used to send US arms or military equipment to Israel. 

Heappey replied with the same phrase, refusing to comment on US operations at its Cyprus base.

Respected Israeli newspaper Haaretz has reported that over 40 US transport aircraft, 20 British transport aircraft and seven heavy transport helicopters have flown to RAF Akrotiri carrying equipment, arms and forces.

RAF Akrotiri has long been the staging post for British military operations and bombing campaigns in the Middle East. It sits 180 miles from Tel Aviv with a flight time of 40 minutes. 

The planes have been loaded with cargo from strategic depots belonging to the US and NATO in Europe, Haaretz reported. Around half the US flights are said to be “delivering military aid”. 

Declassified has found these US weapons and equipment are likely being delivered to RAF Akrotiri from US bases in Turkey, Spain and Germany.

State secrecy

Declassified previously asked the MoD what US aircraft were flying to Israel from its base on Cyprus—and what they were carrying. 

An MoD spokesperson refused to divulge the information, saying: “In response to the situation in Israel and Gaza, we are working with international partners to de-escalate the conflict, reinforce stability and support humanitarian efforts in the region. Any use of UK bases will be in line with these objectives.”

Britain’s extreme state secrecy has also meant the government refusing to answer other questions about its support for Israel. 

On Monday, former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn asked the government whether Britain has troops on the ground in Gaza. Foreign minister Leo Docherty refused to answer.

The government has also refused to answer parliamentary questions about the role of UK special forces in the region and whether it is sharing intelligence with Israel. 

Last month, a request to British media editors was issued by a military-run Whitehall body to suppress reporting on the role of the SAS in the region. 

The UK government is also refusing to publish the military agreement it signed with Israel in December 2020. 

UK military support

The government has provided few details of the extent of its military support to Israel. 

It has said it is conducting surveillance flights in the Eastern Mediterranean in support of the ongoing hostage rescue activity, stating that “surveillance aircraft will be unarmed, do not have a combat role, and will be tasked solely to locate hostages”.

But the government has stated the UK has provided “no lethal or military equipment other than medical supplies to Israel” – despite being a large provider of arms to Israel.

This medical equipment is said to include “defibrillators and emergency blankets, in response to a direct request from the Israeli Defence Force”. 

The UK has also denied involvement in combat operations in Gaza, where Israel has now killed over 16,000 Palestinians in response to the Hamas attacks on 7 October.