The Bridge to Jerusalem

The Mediterranean powder keg is attracting much attention. What is really happening in Cyprus?

Nicosia, Cyprus: “A Corner of Earth Touched by Heaven,” declares the Northern Cypriot tourist commission. Yet this little island nestled in the eastern Mediterranean has witnessed some of man’s bloodiest history.

Fortified by its high-tech military bases and surrounded by water for good natural defense, Cyprus has long enjoyed the favors of NATO and the British, Turks and Greeks. But now the island is forming a new alliance with the European Union.

Cyprus is no stranger to foreign rule. It has been governed by Assyria, Egypt, the Roman Empire, the Francs, the Venetians, the Ottoman Empire and Britain; it is now divided between the Turkish Cypriots to the north, who possess 37 percent of the island, and the Greek Cypriots to the south (63 percent).

The historical division of Cyprus between the Turks and Greeks came to a head in 1974, when Turkey annexed the northern third of the island. A new crisis looms due to Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides’ plan to acquire surface-to-air missiles from Russia later this year.

Today we see foreign ministers, ambassadors and presidential envoys jet-setting to Cyprus to present their latest peace proposals to the opposing sides. All major world players are involved in the Cyprus crisis: the United States, Europe, Russia and NATO. Why so much interest in Cyprus? What is behind all of the tension, nationalistic rhetoric and negotiations? What does the future hold for this tiny Mediterranean island? To understand the events of today, it is necessary to return to the history of Jerusalem and the Crusades.

Richard the Lion-Hearted

In 1171, the Moslem champion Saladdin made himself the supreme ruler of Islam in the East and prepared for “jihad,” or holy war, to recover Jerusalem from the Christian crusaders. For Saladdin and the fanatical Moslems, Jerusalem was their holy place, their home.

The French king of Jerusalem, Guy de Lusignan, was greatly disliked by the crusaders and was unable to exercise any tangible control over the region. The passionate Moslem forces attacked this weakness. In 1187, on the scorching, sandy plains of Hittin, Guy de Lusignan and his army were crushed. After a two-week siege, Jerusalem was taken by the Moslems.

The fall of Jerusalem sent shock waves throughout Christendom. The three great monarchies of Europe at that time, England, France and Germany, were now forced to bury their rivalries for one common goal—the recapture of Jerusalem. To meet their objectives in this crusade (historians label it the Third Crusade), they needed a base of operations off the coast of Palestine. They decided that their united forces must take the city of Acre in Israel. The Germans marched overland; King Philip of France and Richard the Lion-Hearted of England agreed to take the sea route together. In 1191, they set sail from Sicily, where they had spent the winter.

While Philip sailed for Acre, Richard’s fleet was scattered by a fierce storm and was forced to seek refuge in Crete and Rhodes. Three of his ships were driven near the shores of Cyprus where they sank. Surveying the scene of tragedy, Richard immediately landed his crew and attacked the natives on shore. The islanders were ill-equipped and no match for the English archers and armored knights. The next day, the Cypriot nobles sought audience with Richard, pledging their allegiance to the King of England and accepting his supreme authority over their strategic island outpost. Cyprus had accidentally fallen into Richard’s hand, and he subsequently used the island as a supply bridge on his road to Jerusalem.

Ruling powers in Cyprus have since realized that holding the island is essential to exerting influence in the eastern Mediterranean. The British, who governed the island from 1879 to 1960, and who oversaw its independence, currently manage two military bases in southern Cyprus. These bases proved vital in the 1992 Gulf War, as they supplied British and allied forces in the Persian Gulf.

European Overtures to Cyprus

Recently, the European Investment Bank (EIB) loaned over 42 million euros to Cyprus for two projects supporting the local economy as it gears up for a closer relationship with the European Union (EU). In 1991, the EIB moved into the Mediterranean by investing in the Cyprus Development Bank. Europe has expressed further interest in the two-year-old Cypriot Stock Exchange, with many companies establishing financial portfolios and substantial investments. Also, Cyprus is a popular tourist destination for residents of the European 15-nation team.

Cyprus, of recent years, looks more to the EU for its security. Cypriots see no choice but to embrace membership in the EU as soon as possible. Many feel this the only way to national security and a solution to the Cyprus problem. Since Cyprus is a Christian country surrounded mostly by Islam in the Middle East, a union with Europe would provide the protection they have been eagerly searching for.

In the past, Greek Cypriots have been disillusioned with the efforts of Britain, the U.S. and the UN to solve the internal division on the island. The turn in focus to the EU has been dramatic in the last couple of years. British Prime Minister Tony Blair stated recently that he is willing to give up British military bases in Cyprus in favor of a multinational force. That seems to be a synonym for the UN or NATO or, more likely, a European conglomerate.

There are great parallels between Bosnia, Albania, Cyprus and Israel. These areas of great ethnic conflict are increasingly coming under the guiding influence of Europe. Europe needs Cyprus for its strategic locality and is playing its cards close to its chest to ensure its integration into the Euro family.

Because of common ethnic and religious history, there is a blind love of EU-member Greece among many Greek Cypriots, in spite of the military junta backing the coup of 1974 which led to the invasion from Turkey. The bond in the hearts of Greek Cypriots with mother Greece eclipses the reality of the ineffectiveness of Greece to bring about a solution for the island. Many Greek Cypriots still desire “enosis,” or union, of an undivided island with mother Greece. Greece’s EU membership provides the Cypriots the ideal opportunity for achievement of enosis.

Already there are European troops in Cyprus under the auspices of UN peacekeeping forces. As the EU moves more into Eastern Europe and the Balkans, repeating the history of the old Holy Roman Empire, it would seem inevitable, given the facts of Bible prophecy, that they will draw Cyprus into their fold as a bridge into the Holy Land.

Europe Rejects Turkey & Islam

Previous editions of The Trumpet have pointed to mounting tensions over Cyprus. First we highlighted certain key factors to watch as the year unfolded: “Greek-Turkish relations are currently under severe strain as a result of Cyprus’ intention to purchase Russian S-300 missile systems. Turkey has declared that this would mean war. Greece has declared that it will come to the aid of Cyprus in the event of any aggressive action by Turkey. Russia too exhibits no signs of backing down” (Dec. 1997). Last month The Trumpet warned, “Watch for more overt diplomacy from the European Union, which can ill afford ructions between its member nation, Greece, and a Turkish nation already aggrieved by Helmut Kohl’s rash rejection of their candidacy for EU membership.”

Since 1963, the Turks have sought closer ties with Europe. They believe that their long history as power player in Europe, their post-World War II track record as a cooperative NATO member and their vibrant economy entitle them to better treatment by the Europeans.

Turks were furious when the Europeans accepted Greece but rejected their bid for EU membership. The EU cited these reasons for rejecting Turkey: a poor human rights record, internal Kurdish conflict and current disputes with EU member Greece. Recently the Union has begun dialogue with the Greek Cypriot administration and, so doing, ignited the tension further. On a recent visit to Nicosia, Turkish Foreign Minister Ismail Cem stated, “The treatment by the EU of the Greek Cypriot administration as the representative of the whole of Cyprus constitutes the first step toward escalation in the eastern Mediterranean, which can be very dangerous.” Mr. Cem called upon the EU to evaluate its future moves carefully before aiding in the architecture of another war on the island. In today’s diplomatic minefield, Europe’s actions in favor of the Greek Cypriots are speaking louder than their carefully spoken words.

The Turks sternly criticize Europe as a “Christian Association” unwilling to admit an Islamic member. They cite anti-Turkish discrimination in Germany, home to 2.5 million Turks, many of them migrant workers. Many Germans fear that EU membership for Turkey would prompt more Turks to move to the Fatherland for employment. Turkish Prime Minister Mesut Yilmaz, incensed by Germany’s influencing the EU’s negative tack toward Turkey, likened its European policies to those of Adolf Hitler’s plan of aggressive eastward expansion. When asked why his country had been denied entry to the Union, he replied, “Religious discrimination, of course.”

Earlier this year, U.S. special envoy to Cyprus Richard Holbrook, addressing a conference on German-American ties, said, “I must say with all candor that the decision on December 13 in Luxembourg [to exclude Turkey from the Union] severely complicated the search for stability and peace in the eastern Aegean.”

With Turkey as a vital ally of the United States and an active member of NATO, and with its faltering relations with the European Union, many observers fear that Ankara will begin to turn from its Western alliances.

Meanwhile, the Catholic Church has courted its wayward Orthodox children in Cyprus. Recently the Pope awarded Greek Cypriot President Glafcos Clerides the Gold Medal of the Order of the Holy Sepulcher. This was in recognition of his services and understanding while leading the delegation of the Joint Constitutional Commission of Roman Catholic religious groups in Cyprus. This clear show of support from the Vatican did not go unnoticed by the Muslim Turks. They well remember the period in Cyprus when the Pope ensured religious dominance of the island by the Vatican.

Russian Missile Crisis

The Greek Cypriot government’s decision to spend $680 million on Russian S-300 missiles has served to heighten tensions on the island and abroad. The Greek Cypriot President has stated that the missiles are purely for defensive purposes—however, the S-300s provide a modern, mobile, highly lethal system capable of intercepting any kind of aircraft, cruise missile or tactical ballistic missile. Covering both low- and high-altitude engagements, the missile has a range of 150 km. It not only will cover all of Cyprus, but also important areas of Turkey where major military installations are located.

NATO believes that its enlargement is the key to security in the area. However, with Russia’s staunch decision to sell the missiles to the Greek Cypriots, NATO influence on Cyprus seems uncertain. This chain of events will no doubt please the Russians, who are already opposed to any further expansion of NATO.

The inevitable addition of Russian personnel to install, train and assist in the operation of the S-300 system has made Western sources edgy. The system will give both Russia and the EU the capability to keep a “watchful eye” on further British and American maneuvers in the region via the sophisticated radar system which comes with the S-300s. As a countermeasure, Turkey has begun inspecting ships sailing in the Bosporus Straits, apparently bent on preventing missile deployment. If unsuccessful here, it has also threatened to attack the missiles once they are installed.

Russian economic and security interests in Cyprus have grown since 1989 brought the fall of the Berlin Wall and break up of the USSR. As a part of the expansion of Russian business interests, thousands of off-shore companies have registered in Cyprus, and many more thousands of Russians have taken up residence on the island.

Adding to the tension over the missiles, four Greek F-16s and two transport carriers landed at the Greek Cypriot military installation in June to verify the operational readiness of the base. In defiant retaliation, six Turkish F-16s flew into Northern Cyprus. Turkey keeps 35,000 troops on high alert in North Cyprus and has repeatedly stated that they are ready for any potential conflict in the region.

Bridge to Jerusalem

If pro-Christian Europe has her way, which is likely from all indications, this strategic sea gate of the eastern Mediterranean may soon fly the 12-star flag of the EU.

Yet once again, the world is destined to see Islam pitched against Vatican-dominated Christianity in a “holy war,” with Jerusalem as the prize. Cyprus is to figure prominently in one of these mighty battles for control of the strategic Middle East.

The prophet Daniel tells us how events will unfold: “For ships from Cyprus shall come against him: therefore he shall be grieved, and return in rage against the holy covenant, and do damage. So he shall return and show regard for those who forsake the holy covenant. And forces shall be mustered by him, and they shall defile the sanctuary of strength; then they shall take away the daily sacrifices, and place there the abomination of desolation” (Dan. 11:30-31, NKJV). This old naval base which formed such a vital link in the European thrust to Jerusalem during the Crusades will again see ships set to battle between a modern European power and a powerful Islamic force.

As with the First Crusade, the fanatical Islamic power bloc, having pushed militarily at the king of the north, will be defeated (Dan. 11:40-41).

Cyprus once again will have played its strategic role as the bridge to Jerusalem for the powers of Europe in their final resurrection of that ancient Holy Roman Empire.

—with James Leigh in Cyprus