U.S. Gives in to Egypt, Getting Russia out of The Picture – for Now

This past week the Obama Administration announced that the United States will deliver 10 Apache helicopters to Egypt and immediately invited Egyptian Intelligence Chief Major General Mohammad El-Tohamy and Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy to Washington to discuss urgent matters.

Already, the meeting between U.S. Secretary of State Kerry and El-Tohamy occurred and examined how to combat transnational threats and deal with current affairs in Egypt. The move by the United States signals a shift in position by Washington, seemingly capitulating to the geopolitical shifts surrounding Egypt’s current and future security requirements.

The U.S. changes its tone

While the United States halted military aid to Egypt after the Husni Mubarak resignation and the Mohammad Mursi failure, Russia jumped in with high level visits of senior military and intelligence officials, which ultimately resulted in over three billion dollars of arms purchases from Moscow by Cairo.

The most recent visit occurred a few weeks before of a 19 member delegation met for three days of meetings. The Kremlin’s move intended to bring Moscow closer to an old ally as well as to help Egypt fight off extremism of various types from both the Muslim Brotherhood and al-Qaeda linked groups in the Sinai Peninsula.

The deal with Russia includes advanced aircraft, monitoring equipment and other sophisticated weapons that would be used to fight terrorism emanating from Sinai but equipment to be used in domestic disturbances. With Russia and Washington at odds over the situation in Ukraine, the White House looks like it needed to counter the Kremlin’s Egyptian intent. In other words, the “Russia factor” drove the United States to change its policy of withholding weapons.

America seems to be giving in on its position regarding Egypt by recognizing that Washington is gaining the ire of Egypt’s GCC allies for being “behind the curve.” The topic of the Obama administration’s Egypt policy dominates many bilateral meetings between America’s allies, notably the recent summit between Saudi King Abdullah and the U.S. president.

Now the Pentagon, who is seemingly being ignored by the Department of State and the White House for many months, is able to step up its military engagement with Egypt at a critical time. Rear Admiral John Kirby stated,”We believe these new helicopters will help the Egyptian government counter extremists who threaten US, Egyptian, and Israeli security.”

Military aid, but not without caveats

This point regarding Israeli security is important in the current context. Kerry stated that Egypt must abide, in exchange for the Apache delivery, to “uphold its obligations under the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.” Egypt and Ethiopia are at odds over the Renaissance Dam project which feeds into the Nile River system.

Israel and Ethiopia are military allies with the Israelis providing equipment and training to the Ethiopian military for over almost two decades. Thus Kerry’s requirement for Egypt regarding Israel means Cairo needs to help ensure that Egypt and Ethiopia work out their water dispute, especially in light of the announcement that Addis Ababa will self-finance the dam project.

In addition, American wants Egypt to cooperate further with Israel on Sinai security. Egypt is encouraging Israel to help Cairo with the use of Israeli F-16 fighters in what is determined to be “a shared security interest” which is potentially destabilizing to both countries, and to include northwest Saudi Arabia.

Importantly, the relationship between Israeli and the Egyptian armed forces and intelligence services today are unprecedented in scope and connectivity. This fact points to the foundations that already exist between the two countries for immediate and near future security requirements that the U.S. backs.

Fighting terrorism

On the Sinai, attacks on Egyptian military and police as well as the killing of South Korean tourists are illustrative of the growing threat to public safety and also safe passage of shipping on the Nile. Al-Qaeda linked groups would like nothing better than to successfully attack shipping in the Suez as a strategic victory and a tactical accomplishment.

The al-Qaeda groups on the Sinai, including Ansar Beir Al Maqdis, are part of an active network that are likely to only grow stronger with the addition of fighters from the Syrian theater as well as from Pakistan, Afghanistan, Iraq, Yemen, and increasingly Libya, creating a potent mix. Thus, the sale of the Apache fighters is coming a critical time to provide a stop gap before al-Qaeda related violence rises even more.

Clearly, America is capitulating to Egyptian security requirements. The fact that the Obama administration is putting the arms transfer ahead of Washington’s democracy requirements for Egypt illustrates that America is waking up to the fact that Egypt is the critical core of the MENA region that cannot afford to be lost to upheaval.

The Gulf states that support Egypt, who have previously expressed criticism for Washington’s policy on Cairo, pushed key arguments and pressure points that forced Washington to concede.

The Gulf Arab focus on Egypt as part of a new regional security grouping by fighting terrorists of various stripes, cannot be ignored by Washington, given events ongoing around the rest of the region, particularly across Libya and especially in Syria.

By delivering the Apaches to Egypt, America is showing its Gulf allies that Washington is now taking al-Sisi’s presidential run seriously and will help get all stakeholders on the Egyptian file on the same page.

About the Writer:

Dr. Theodore Karasik is the Director of Research and Consultancy at the Institute for Near East and Gulf Military Analysis (INEGMA) in Dubai, UAE. He is also a Lecturer at University of Wollongong Dubai. Dr. Karasik received his Ph.D in History from the University of California Los Angles.

Source: Al Arabiya News