U.S. block on military aid to Egypt likely to backfire

Oct. 11, 2013 at 7:50 AM
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CAIRO, Oct. 11 (UPI) -- The U.S. suspension of much of its annual $1.5 billion military aid to Egypt will antagonize other longtime U.S. allies in the Arab world and damage relations with the Egyptian military that have been a cornerstone of U.S. strategy in the Middle East for 35 years, analysts say.

Indeed, the gesture by Washington isn't likely to effect any changes in Cairo, not yet anyway, and will probably accelerate a turn away from the United States across the region, where U.S. influence has been on the wane for the last decade.

"Just as the United States is demonstrating a new willingness to challenge Egypt, the Egyptian military, backed by Saudi Arabia, seems equally willing to test the United States on its strategic commitment to the region," the U.S. global intelligence consultancy Stratfor observed.

The U.S. decision to suspend military aid, estimated to be worth around $580 million, was triggered by the military-backed regime in Cairo Wednesday it will put ousted President Mohamed Morsi on trial with his political allies Nov. 4 on charges of inciting violence.

The Americans were appalled by the July 3 removal of Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president since the republic was proclaimed in 1953.

They viewed it as a blow against the democracy established in Egypt with the February 2011 toppling of longtime dictator -- and close U.S. ally -- Hosni Mubarak, whom Americans abandoned.

Hundreds of Morsi supporters have been killed by police and security forces in Cairo and other cities since Morsi's ouster and replacement by a military-installed government.

That also sparked a wave of insurgent violence across the Arab world's most populous nation by Islamist militants.

This has been largely centered on the vast Sinai Peninsula that borders an increasingly nervous Israel in the east, but there are worrying signs the violence is spreading across the rest of the country.

It may well be that the Americans' punitive action will encourage Morsi's powerful Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists to step up their opposition to the military establishment headed by army chief Gen. Abdel-Fatah al-Sisi.

While the hold imposed on deliveries of 12 F-16 combat jets, a similar number of Apache AH-64D attack helicopters, four M1-A1 Abrams tanks and a handful of Harpoon air-to-ground missiles may give Sisi and his generals pause for thought, it's unlikely to be enough to convince them to comply with U.S. wishes at this time.

But the suspension of military aid, and the possibility of harsher measures to come if Sisi sticks to his guns, is being greeted in Israel with considerable dismay.

Israel is concerned a major cutback in U.S. military aid to Cairo will intensify instability and bloodshed in Sinai that could lead to jihadist attacks on the Jewish state, with more arms being smuggled to the hard-line Hamas movement that rules the Gaza Strip.

Israeli Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu voiced these concerns last week when he declared the continuance of the Jewish state's landmark 1979 peace treaty with Egypt was largely "premised on American aid to Egypt."

Meantime, Saudi Arabia and other Persian Gulf states are backing Sisi and his generals because of their opposition to Islamist groups.

The gulf monarchies, which live in dread of the Brotherhood, have pledged the military regime $12 billion to keep after the Islamists, and since they buy U.S. military equipment on a vast scale they could make up whatever Cairo needs.

So the limited U.S. move against Cairo is unlikely to produce any of the changes the Americans want -- indeed, probably the opposite.

"Threats to cut off aid will not reverse Egypt's course. The military is following a mandate to both preserve its role as the ultimate authority of the state and extinguish the political ambitions of Egyptian Islamists," Stratfor observed.

"There is no clear democracy path to that objective. Moreover, this is an agenda ardently supported by regimes across the region -- from Jordan to Syria to Saudi Arabia to the United Arab Emirates to Kuwait -- which share a collective fear of Islamists and a common purpose to defeat them, whatever the cost."

"That puts the United States in a tight corner, not just in dealing with Egypt, but also in trying to preserve its influence in the wider region," Stratfor said.

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