Egypt looks to Russia for arms after U.S. cutoff -- report

Nov. 1, 2013 at 1:29 PM
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CAIRO, Nov. 1 (UPI) -- Egypt is reported looking to Moscow to supply it with weapons following U.S. President Barack Obama's decision to suspend a large part of the $1.3 billion in military aide Washington provides Cairo to protest the army's July 3 ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.

Egyptian Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy has acknowledged relations between the military-backed government in Cairo and the Obama White House are in "turmoil" following the Oct. 9 suspension.

He warned Egypt, the Arab world's most populous nation and a longtime U.S. ally, would have to find "other sources" to supply its national security requirements.

The Cairo government has had little to say officially on what it plans to do to counter the U.S. action, possibly because it does not want to aggravate a highly sensitive situation.

However, Israel's Channel 2 television reports the "other sources" to which Fahmy referred means Russia. It said Cairo is now looking to conclude a major arms deal with Moscow.

There have been no formal indications from Cairo or Moscow that such an arrangement is under discussion but it would fit in with Russia's current Mideast strategy.

It should be kept in mind Israel is deeply alarmed at the U.S. action, and would prefer a military regime in Cairo than one wholeheartedly committed to a democracy that might one day be subsumed by hardline Islamists, as the Israelis believe it nearly was during Morsi's one-year rule.

Israeli officials have told Washington it was a "strategic error" to cut aid to Egypt, and the regime's strongman, army chief Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi, might simply turn to Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies for military assistance, which already have pledged $12 billion in aid.

Israel has said cutting back on military aid to Egypt now, as it struggles with political turmoil, will jeopardize the historic 1979 peace treaty it signed with Egypt, the linchpin of Israeli strategic planning.

"It's evident the Israelis don't want a sudden cut in military aid to Egypt because this will immediately affect its commitment to the peace treaty," said Hassan Nafaa, a political science professor at Cairo University.

This is most evident in Israeli and Egyptian cooperation in confronting a growing jihadist insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula, which lies between Israel and the Nile Delta, Egypt's heartland. Both states are targets for the jihadists, who would like nothing better than to wreck the peace treaty.

That pact's also been a cornerstone of U.S policy in the Middle East. The $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, the second largest after the $3.1 billion Israel gets every year, is testament to that relationship.

All told, Washington has provided Cairo with more than $40 billion in military assistance in the last 34 years, around 80 percent of its annual military procurement budget.

It's also been a boon to U.S. defense manufacturers, like Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics Land Systems, which have provided Egypt with 224 F-16 jets and 1,100 Abrams M1A1 main battle tanks paid for out of the U.S. aid.

These weapons systems, and all the ancillary programs associated with them, replaced Soviet-era MiG fighters and T-72 tanks that Moscow began providing Egypt during the Cold War in the 1960s.

These have been phased out -- a process that continues -- since the late President Anwar Sadat, who signed the 1979 peace pact and was assassinated for doing so, booted out the Soviets in 1972, finally expelling Soviet diplomats in 1981.

It would be an immense shift in military procurement as well as the geopolitical landscape if Cairo sought to restore its old links with Moscow where President Vladimir Putin is driving to boost Russian arms sales across the Middle East in a bid to restore Moscow's influence as U.S. power wanes.

In 2012, Putin signed a $4.3 billion arms deal with Iraq, thus challenging what had been pretty much a U.S. preserve, Moscow is also a key arms supplier to Iran and war-torn Syria, as well as Algeria and, until 2011, Libya.

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