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Ashorouk Arabic Daily, Egypt

Arming Egypt’s Army Serves
US Strategic Interest

By Mohammad El-Menshawy

Egyptian-U.S. military relations grant Washington very important military and logistical advantages.

Translated By Ahmad Abdel-Rahman

8 February 2013

Edited by Heather Martin

Egypt - Ashorouk Arabic Daily - Original Article (Arabic)

Washington believes that armies equipped with U.S. weapons do not fight each other, and it also believes that countries acquiring U.S. arms guarantees an appropriate degree of direct and indirect influence in the affairs of these countries. Hence, we can understand the move taken by the U.S. Senate a few days ago when it refused to stop the supply of a major U.S. arms deal to Egypt. This deal included 20 sophisticated F-16 fighters of which four already were delivered to Cairo last Sunday. A majority of 79 senators supported the arms deal with Egypt, while only 19 voted against it. This support came despite the whirlwind caused by a limited number of the Senate members against the background of anti-Jewish and anti-U.S. statements made by President Mohammed Morsi.

It was also not surprising that the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the largest among the pro-Israel lobbies, rejected support for halting the aircraft deal for Egypt. One of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee officials said: "We were concerned that passage of this amendment … which calls for halting the supply of aircraft to Egypt … would result in diminishing American influence in Egypt, which was important in resolving the latest conflict with Hamas. When we give weapons to the Egyptian army, we have a greater influence."*

* * *

For decades dating back to the middle of the last century, the goal of arming the Egyptian army was one of the most important tactical U.S. objectives that has never been opposed by any Egyptian rulers. In April 1947 the Egyptian army chief of staff visited U.S. military bases and factories. Following this, Egypt formally requested a U.S. military mission to train Egyptian forces in September 1947. Afterward came the founding of the State of Israel in mid-1948, which temporarily put an end to Washington's attempts to arm Egypt's army.

Egyptian Abdel Nasser sought to purchase weapons from countries of the Eastern bloc and began with a huge deal concluded with Czechoslovakia in 1955 before completely depending on Soviet arms. Afterward, Egypt restored military ties with Washington in 1976, and these relations have developed greatly to the extent that Egypt was ranked second on the list of countries receiving U.S. military aid after the signing of the peace treaty with Israel in 1979. Under this treaty, hundreds of U.S. military personnel were deployed in the Sinai Peninsula as part of the international peacekeeping forces. The total military and economic assistance that Egypt received from the U.S. since then has so far reached over $70 billion, according to reports issued by the U.S. Congress. The Office of Military Cooperation of the U.S. Embassy in Cairo, which concerns itself with military transactions between the two countries, has accordingly become the second largest office of its kind in the world.

* * *

Military cooperation between Egypt and the U.S. takes several forms: arms sales, military technology transfers, maneuvers and joint military exercises. Most of these arms sales come through annual military aid, which amounts to about $1.3 billion. In 1994, joint military exercises known as “Bright Star” began with the participation of Egyptian and U.S. forces, along with troops of allied countries for training on combat operations in the harsh desert conditions in the Middle East. Egyptian-U.S. military relations grant Washington very important military and logistical advantages, such as the use of Egyptian airspace or Suez Canal transit facilities for U.S. vessels and warships, even if they carry nuclear weapons.

U.S. strategists cannot imagine the absence of a special relationship with the Egyptian army; they remember well the role of Egypt's army in the First Gulf War during which more than 30,000 Egyptian personnel were engaged in the fighting beside their American peers. Egypt's participation in this war has facilitated the joining of other Arab countries to the Western allied troops. Consequently, Washington does not want to imagine an Egyptian army with radical Islamic ideology, an army seeking a nuclear weapon such as its Iranian counterpart. Meanwhile, Washington cannot imagine the Egyptian army adopting a negative stance toward the issue of war on terrorism, like the Pakistani army. And certainly Washington is unwilling to see the Egyptian army get its arms from other rival countries like Russia or China, or even friendly nations like France and the U.K. Therefore, the U.S. arms sales to Egypt have not been affected by the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak, nor have they been affected by Egypt being under direct military rule for more than a year and a half. Finally, U.S. arms sales were not affected by the Islamic regime’s ascent to power in Egypt.

* * *

Although the diplomatic cables released by WikiLeaks showed differences in views between Washington and Cairo on the development of the Egyptian army's mission — with the insistence of the Egyptian leadership on preparing Egypt primarily for a potential military confrontation with Israel — Washington wants to develop the Egyptian army to expand its mission and increase its focus on new threats such as piracy, border security and the fight against terrorism.

U.S. armament for Egypt reduces any opportunities to be engaged in any future military conflict with Israel. Commenting on the arrival of F-16 aircrafts to Egypt, the U.S. expert Anthony Cordesman of the Center for Strategic and International Studies said: "The F-16 fighter jets are unlikely to be turned against us or our allies, as they are too complex to be used effectively without U.S. maintenance."** Cordesman added: "These weapons systems are certainly extremely effective, but no one can sustain them unless that partnership with the United States continues. … The modern software, the computer systems, the munitions that make this weapons system so lethal — other than us, there are no alternative suppliers. There are European states that can provide parts of the aircraft, but F-16s and most modern systems are basically dependent on U.S. manufacturers."

*Editor’s note: While accurately translated, the part from the first sentence delineated with ellipses and the second sentence could not be sourced.

**Editor’s note: This quotation is actually a quotation of a paraphrased comment of Cordesman’s.



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