There are dark geopolitical motives behind the Cyprus rape case

Denis MacShane
The British teenager accused of lying about a rape arrives at Famagusta District Court in Paralimni for sentencing: EPA

As a young holidaymaker’s life lies in ruins after she was raped in Cyprus, according to her statements, by a gang of young Israeli males, the question that no one has answered is why the Cypriot authorities were so relaxed about allowing the alleged rapists to leave the country.

Under normal circumstances in today’s Europe – and Cyprus is an EU member state – accusations of rape, even in the context of drink-fuelled, testosterone-charged sexual encounters in package holiday resorts, must and are expected to be taken very seriously indeed. Now a Cypriot court has to decide whether to exonerate the British girl, in place of the conveniently suspended sentence which judges use to let someone off a prison sentence but still leave the stain of guilt.

What has not been mentioned, however, is that this case fell foul of one of the most important geopolitical stand-offs in the east Mediterranean, involving power politics well above the pay grade of any middle-rank Cypriot judge – let alone a teenage victim of alleged male sexual brutality. At the time the British tabloids were working themselves into a lather over the Cypriot judicial system, the government of Cyprus was entering into a major new alliance with Israel and Greece which will alter the balance of power in the eastern Mediterranean.

On 3 January, Israel moved into the ranks of a potential energy superpower, when prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu signed an agreement in Athens with the prime ministers of Greece and Cyprus to build an undersea natural gas pipeline from Israel to Europe. A 1,900-kilometer offshore and onshore pipeline will take gas from Israeli territorial waters to the western Greek mainland via Cyprus and Crete and then on towards Europe. This is the biggest joint Israeli-EU economic project as part of the EU’s desperate search for energy sources to replace coal, nuclear and oil.

The deal lessens the power of Gulf oil producers as well as Iran. When fully developed, the Israeli gas fields guarantee Israel’s energy needs for the next 60 years. Like Britain’s North Sea oil and gas, which provided the income to allow Margaret Thatcher to cut taxes and de-industrialise Britain in the 1980s, this is a major economic windfall for Israel.

For Greece and the Greek Cypriot government it is a major strategic move in its unending quarrel with Turkey, whose soldiers still occupy the northern third of Cyrpus and whose warplanes regularly overfly Greek islands and Greece’s territorial waters in the Aegean. Some Greek holiday islands lie nearly as close to Turkey as the Isle of Wight to Hampshire, and the Turkish strongman leader Recep Tayyip Erdogan increasingly likes to profile himself as a man willing to use military force to advance Turkey’s ambitions.

There are Greek fears that an agreement signed between Erdogan and the officially recognised, if contested, government of Libya in Tripoli in November is aimed at asserting Turkish control over Greek waters. Tripoli and Ankara drew up a map dividing the waters of the Eastern Mediterranean between Turkey and Libya; it cuts right across the seas claimed by both Athens and Nicosia, and where both Cyprus and Greece hoped they may find gas to sell.

So the triple alliance between Greece, Israel and Cyprus, with the blessing of the EU and the tacit approval of the US, is a warning shot to Erdogan that Greece and Cyprus are not alone if he were to indulge in any military adventurism offshore from Turkey. It was surely in this context that the young Israeli men were sent home as fast as possible, so as not to make their detention in Cyprus while the rape allegations were properly investigated into a public issue between Nicosia and Jerusalem.

Israel never surrenders its citizens and Israeli public opinion is passionate to the point of fanaticism in defending Israelis under any sort of attack abroad. Once home, the young men were safe from Cypriot or any legal investigation.

Of course, every judge is independent – but raison d’état still exists, and words can be had in many different ways in many different corridors so that keeping the Israelis under lock and key in Cyprus was averted and the anti-Turkish alliance was consolidated.

Denis MacShane is the UK’s former minister of Europe who dealt with Greece, Cyprus and Turkey when at the Foreign Office.

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