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[News] A vast evacuation operation in the Middle East is being prepared. Via Cyprus (v2)

(B2) All the indices agree. If the conflict gets out of hand, several thousand European nationals will have to be evacuated from Lebanon, or if possible from Gaza. Several countries are mobilizing significant resources towards Cyprus. Which will serve as a naval air hub and coordination center.

The PHA Tonnerre departing from Toulon to Beirut in August 2020 (Photo: DICOD / Archives B2)

A kind of again of the 2006 Lebanon evacuation operation. With two big differences. European citizens cannot exit through Syria, still in civil war. The Gaza Strip is completely sealed off. Land border points are closed. And the Israeli navy patrolling offshore, preventing any escape by sea.

Prepare for a mass evacuation

The fear of Europeans and NATO Allies is a conflagration in the region. And several capitals have given their nationals instructions to evacuate Lebanon:Germany did so on October 20, United Kingdom, also, advises leaving as long as regular connections are working. But the challenge is also to be able to extract nationals and dual nationals stuck in Gaza. The Netherlands and Canada very quickly, followed by Germany, quickly dispatched resources to the site. France has just jumped on the bandwagon (see below).

The worst case scenario

Cyprus is preparing for the worst-case scenario. “ More than 100 people may need to be evacuated from Lebanon, Israel and the wider region if violence in the Middle East escalates », indicate national diplomats, according to the Cypriot press. Nicosia is also trying to establish a humanitarian corridor between Cyprus and Gaza. A corridor which would constitute an additional alternative route to that passing through Egypt.

The Estia plan triggered

Since the start of the armed offensive between Hamas and Israel, Cyprus has activated its special national plan called “Estia”, which made it possible to essentially evacuate citizens stranded in Israel (around 1200). Several countries (Austria, Hungary, Poland, Germany) used Cyprus as a hub for their own evacuation operation (read: [News Blog] Hamas attacks on Israel. European countries evacuate their fellow citizens (v7)).

Close coordination with 20 countries

At the Zenon emergency coordination center (JRCC, Joint Rescue Coordination Center), which depends on the Ministry of Defense, around twenty countries are now present to ensure the connection (including Swedes, Dutch, British, Canadian and French). As well as agents of the European Civil Protection Mechanism. Challenge: manage operations as closely as possible in order to be able to share seats between ships and planes. Its location very close to Larnaca airport makes work easier.

The alarm given

The Cypriot Minister of Foreign Affairs, A. Kombos, sounded the alarm last Tuesday (October 24) during the European Affairs Council (AGC), “ The number of repatriations could increase significantly ". He asked " the activation of the European Civil Protection Mechanism ". Request which (for the moment) has not received a positive response. The mechanism is not activated, a Commission spokesperson confirmed to B2.

Means in the area

Several countries have deployed resources.

La France sent its amphibious helicopter carrier (PHA or BPC) Tonnerre (L-9014) to the area. An order given by Emmanuel Macron, quite late, on Wednesday October 25. The ship, which left Toulon immediately in the afternoon, was in the Strait of Messina on Friday (October 27) and should be in the area on Sunday (October 29), according to forecasts from the General Staff of the Armed Forces. It joins the frigate Surcouf (F-711), of the La Fayette type, already present and the multi-mission frigate FREMM Alsace (D-656) which has come as reinforcement.

On board the Tonnerre, a “ capacity to carry humanitarian equipment » up to 1000 tonnes (NB: but not directly freight), helicopters to ensure liaison with the ground and undoubtedly special forces (NB: point not confirmed… nor denied by the general staff). Also on board, a light and flexible hospital capacity - more than sixty beds including four intensive care units, two operating rooms, radio and scanner, but served by around twenty caregivers (doctors, surgeons, nurses). Minimum. This ship will be able to operate in its area of ​​operation “ between Cyprus and the countries bordering the region » indicates the spokesperson for the army general staff, without saying more. NB: we must understand Lebanon essentially, but it could be Israel and Gaza, if a way out opens.

Read about Thunder: BPC a formidable “Swiss army knife”

THEGermany took off two A400M planes during the night of October 20 to 21. With soldiers on board ready for operations. Direction: Akrotiri air base (under British control). Objective : " increase your own response capacity » and “complete developing operational group leadership and planning capabilities for a possible evacuation option " as the precise the Bundeswehr Operations Command. On board special forces and paratroopers. In all, 1000 German soldiers would be on site.

>The supply ship Frankfurt am Main (F-1412) — one of the most ships in the German navy equipped with an on-board hospital (iMERZ or integrated maritime operations rescue center) is already in Limassol, recalls our colleague Thomas Wiegold from Augergeradeaus. The corvette Oldenburg (F-263) is in the area. While the frigate Baden-Württemberg (F-125) is on its way.

The Netherlands deployed two C-130 military transport planes and a chartered civilian plane, which took off from Eindhoven on October 18. On board 200 marines and support personnel in Cyprus “ to be able to react quickly » if necessary, it is specified in The Hague. The planes will stay there “ as long as needed ". A Rapid Consular Support Team (SCOT) from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs is also on site to support the embassy, ​​just in case.

Le Canada prepositioned a C-17A Globemaster III aircraft and more than 300 soldiers on site, “ ready to react » tells the Globe Mail. A plane which has already shuttled on Friday (October 27) between Beirut and Cyprus. Canada is particularly worried: it has a number of dual nationals in Lebanon (17.000 have already registered).

Le United Kingdom had very early on decided to strengthen its workforce in Cyprus, with the advantage of having two sovereignty bases there. Two Royal Navy auxiliary landing ships – the RFA Lyme Bay  (L-3007) and RFA Argus (A-135) arrived on site between October 20 and 21, with three Merlin helicopters and a company of the Royal Marines. Objective : " deterrence and reassurance » stated thus the British government from October 13. “ Standby to provide practical support to Israel and its partners in the region. " The HMS Duncan (D-37), a Type 45 destroyer, is also in the area, as part of the Standing NATO Groups (SNMG).

La Sweden also deployed a C-26 Hercules aircraft on Thursday (October 130).

THEItaly also sent a military ship to Cyprus. “ It is necessary to have a ship in the region in case the crisis worsens » indicates the Italian Minister of Defense, G. Crossetto in the print .

(Nicolas Gros-Verheyde, with Thomas Wiegold in Berlin for the German part)

More than 1000 European nationals in Gaza, at least!

Difficult to have a precise idea. This information is distilled little by little. According to our sources, Europeans have more than a thousand nationals stuck in Gaza. On the French side, there are an estimated 50 dual nationals on site and 170 in total including the various staff: humanitarian, cultural institute, etc. according to a diplomat from the Quai d'Orsay (during a briefing Friday 27.10). 230 Romanian dual nationals or nationals have been identified, announced the Minister of Foreign Affairs on Monday (October 23) L. Odobescu (cf. Notebook 24.10.2023), 260 said the Prime Minister on Saturday (October 28). We can add 120 Belgians, 30 Irish, 200 British (recorded by the foreign office) and around 200 Spaniards according to the honorary consul on site cited by the spanish press etc. That’s already 900 people. To this must be added at least 600 Americans (USA) according to the public radio. Without forgetting the few dual nationals held hostage by Hamas. In total there are nearly 3000 dual nationals stuck in the Gaza Strip, Romanian Prime Minister Marcel Ciolacu assures several medias.

Update. Details on the PHA Tonnerre and its capabilities, on the arrival date of the British ships + addition (ESP, USA, hostages) on the evaluation on nationals/binationals in Gaza + missing links / Addition of Italy + Other evaluation rouamine

Nicolas Gros Verheyde

Chief editor of the B2 site. Graduated in European law from the University of Paris I Pantheon Sorbonne and listener to the 65th session of the IHEDN (Institut des Hautes Etudes de la Défense Nationale. Journalist since 1989, founded B2 - Bruxelles2 in 2008. EU/NATO correspondent in Brussels for Sud-Ouest (previously West-France and France-Soir).

2 thoughts on “[News] A vast evacuation operation in the Middle East is being prepared. Via Cyprus (v2)"

  • Why send combat personnel to Israel?

  • Francois Rochon

    Concise and detailed information. I hadn't seen this anywhere else.

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