A security agent keeps watch from the roof and a police helicopter flies a patrol overhead as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry's motorcade prepares for his departure from his hotel to the airport in Nicosia, Cyprus December 4, 2015.
Jonathan Ernst / Reuters

On a recent December day, people strolling the seaside boardwalk in the Cypriot city of Limassol had their peaceful afternoon suddenly interrupted. Overhead, a brace of British warplanes roared from their base at nearby RAF Akrotiri, flew low over the eastern Mediterranean, and headed for Syria, just 100 miles away.

This was the second time the boardwalk was shaken by warplanes that day. Earlier, onlookers had also witnessed Israeli warplanes flying overhead during exercises. In the harbor beneath them, Russian warships lay at anchor, refueling on their way east. Later, too, a Limassol-based seismic research vessel, chartered by a U.S. company, sent frantic radio messages to say it had been intercepted and then shadowed by a Turkish frigate.

All the (now apparently routine) military activity is a visible reminder that Cyprus, the European Union’s far-flung Levantine outpost, is once again at the heart of a Gordian knot of regional

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