EGYPT: RISING PHOENIX IN THE MIDDLE EAST

By Shawn M. Pine

In September 1996, Egypt held its largest strategic maneuvers ever. The exercise was code named Badr-96 and involved over 35,000 soldiers, including a canal crossing and liberating of a "besieged city." (1) The "enemy" in this exercise was Israel.(2) It is routine for major militarily exercises to have code names and to involve fictitious enemies. However, it is most unusual for a country to conduct such an exercise in which the "enemy" is one that the country is presumably at peace with. Egypt, regardless of its intentions, sent a disturbing message to Israel by naming the exercise in honor of its last war with Israel, and by identifying Israel as the enemy. These events take on even more significant meaning when one looks at the transformation of the Egyptian military forces over the past decade.

Egypt, since 1985, has undertaken serious efforts to achieve conventional military parity with Israel and currently fields the 13th largest military in the world.(3) Relying on $2.1 billion of annual aid from the US, $1.3 billion in military assistance, is currently modernizing and building-up its military forces to such an extent that it is approaching the quantitative and qualitative levels of the Israeli Defense Forces. In 1994, Egypt surpassed the United States to become the second largest arms importer, behind Saudi Arabia, in the world.(4) Egypt, in a region thatleads the world in the import of weapons, is the only Middle East country to have increased its arms purchases yearly since 1990.(5)

Since the early 1980's, Egypt has completed two five-year plans, and has embarked on a third one, to buildup, modernize, and increase its military capabilities.(6) The first five-year plan, which started in 1983, consisted of rebuilding Egypt's military infrastructure that was destroyed during the 1973 Arab - Israeli War. The primary focus of these efforts included construction of new bases and communications systems.(7) From 1988 to 1993, Egypt channeled funds into the air force by purchasing American F-16s and upgrading its command and control and air-defense capabilities.(8)

In the current five-year plan, the air force continues to receive priority. Egypt spends as much as 80 percent of US military aid on the air force. As part of the 'Peace Vector Program', the Egyptian air force has made four orders of F-16s, totaling 190 planes. About 130 F-16s have already arrived and the last batch, which will be assembled in Turkey, will start arriving around 1997.(9) Egypt has also obtained approval for the purchase of 21 F-16C aircraft.(10) Egypt's defense capabilities were greatly enhanced by the acquisition of 180 Hawk and 1,000 Hellfire II missile.(11) Additionally, Egypt has been cooperating with the US to develop an advanced C 3I system that will assimilate data from air and ground sources into a single network so that aircraft and missile systems can engage multiple targets simultaneously.(12)

Egypt has enhanced its airborne early warning capabilities by taking delivery of five Grumman E-2C Hawkeyes.(13) Today, Egypt has the largest air force in the Arab world, with over 550 airplanes, more than half of which are of Western origin. The Egyptians are also acquiring a modern helicopter fleet. Egypt has already received delivery of 24 Apaches (AH-64A), and is expected to take delivery of twelve more.(14) These helicopters posses state-of-the-art night-flying equipment and carry up to 16 Hellfire antitank weapons and 38 rockets.(15) The improvement of the Egyptian air force is not limited to combat planes. The Egyptian air force, according to Israeli military analysts, have adopted Western command and control, attack techniques, support and aerial combat roles as well as training, most of it at US facilities. The Egyptians have also purchased advance ordnance, avionics and accessories.(16)

In addition to its air force, Egypt has modernized its ground forces. Until the late 1970s, the Egyptian army comprised 10 divisions, only half of them either mechanized or armored. Today, the army has 12 divisions, all but one of them is either mechanized or armored, and plans to field a total mechanized army by 2005.(17) The result is that the Egyptian army is now capable of fielding a modern mechanized military that can move with the speed and firepower equal to that of most modern armies. The mechanized divisions consist of 4,500 armored personnel carriers, the core of which consists of 2,000 US M-113's. However, Egypt is in the process of taking delivery of 611 Dutch YPR-765 armored infantry fighting vehicles to replace its BMP forces.(18)

The armored corps has also undergone serious reform. In the 1970s, the Egyptian armored corps was comprised almost exclusively of Soviet tanks, the best of which was the T-62. Today, Egypt's armored corps is comprised of the most modern US tanks. First, Cairo acquired 850 M-60 A3s, and formed two armored divisions. After the Gulf War, the Egyptians began to assemble the US-made M1A1, which is widely regarded as one of the finest tanks in the world, under the 'Factory 200' program. Egypt currently has 1,700 M-60's (1,100 M-60A3's), and approximately 200 M1A1's in addition to approximately 1,600 Soviet tanks.(19) Egypt also plans to upgrade all M60A1 tanks to A3 standards.(20)

Additionally, Egypt is expanding its own domestic production of military armaments. The M1A1 'Factory 200' program is a major milestone in Egyptian efforts to achieve limited military self-sufficiency. Egypt obtained US approval in 1984 to build a giant factory to produce new tanks. Under the agreement, the Egyptians will assemble 524 M1A1 tanks and officials hope that will eventually rise to 1,500 tanks.(21) Six production cycles were established with each increment increasing the level of technology from General Dynamics Land Systems.(22) The cost is estimated at $3.2 billion. The Egyptians also will produce the 120-mm cannon as well as an increasing number of parts for the tank. Egyptian officials say the goal is to make Cairo self-sufficient in tank production. Egypt has also substantially improved its anti-tank capability with the acquisition of 500 TOW-2 missiles and its intention to buy 540 TOW launchers.(23)

Egypt has also taken steps to improve its navy. Egypt is focusing on upgrading the Egyptian fleet of eight submarines acquired from China. Egypt has leased two former US navy Knox class missile frigates and is expected to receive 10 ex-US Navy Seasprite ASW helicopters upgraded to SH-2G(E) standards.(24) As part of its inculcation of Western technology, the navy holds joint maneuvers with units of the American, French, British and Italian navies. Egypt is also modernizing four Chinese-built Romeo class submarines with improved weapon systems including Harpoon missiles, fire control systems and sonars.(25)

Egypt is bordered by Libya, Sudan, and Israel. While Sudan's Islamic regime is ideologically troublesome, its 300 main battle tanks (250 of which are T-54/55's), and some 50 combat aircraft pose a negligible military threat to Egypt. On paper, Libya's military is far more formidable than Sudan's. However, its forces hardly pose a military threat to Egypt. Some 1,600 of Libya's 2,200 tanks are old Soviet T-54/5's. Moreover, a lack of manpower has forced Libya to place over half of these tanks, as well as many of its 400 aircraft, in storage, thereby making Libya little more than a massive arms depot.(26) It is significant to note, that Libya's 80,000 man military is less than twenty percent the size of Egypt's. Finally, despite the triangle of tension between Egypt, Sudan, and Libya, they have generally demonstrated a willingness to support each other over perceived pan-Islamic issues.(27) Consequently, there is little doubt that Israel is the target of Egypt's massive military buildup. Indeed, an examination of Egyptian perspectives towards Israel leaves little doubt that Egypt has not ruled out the prospect of a future conflict with Israel.

Former Egyptian President Sadat's support of expanded relations with Israel never came to fruition as Egypt's intellectual, political, and economic elite continued to shun Israel as a regional actor.(28) The passage of time has not improved Egyptian perceptions toward, or its acceptance of, Israel.(29) The Egyptian Bar Association continues to burn American and Israel flags on every anniversary of the signing of the 1979 peace treaty.(30) Nor has the Palestinian - Israeli peace process resulted in a softening of Egypt's harsh rhetoric toward Israel. In 1996, Egyptian criticisms of Israel reached such a crescendo as to provoke official complaints from the Israeli Foreign Ministry, Israeli President Ezer Weizman, and even from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.(31)

A study of Egyptian university graduates, who were in college during the signing of the Egyptian - Israeli peace treaty, found that 92.8 percent believed that Israeli was an expansionist, aggressive, state headed by terrorists.(32) However, Egyptian rejection of Israel is not confined to Egypt's intellectual, political, and economic elite, but permeates throughout the Egyptian population. An Egyptian public opinion poll showed that 98 percent of the people opposed full normalization of relations with Israel. The same poll showed that 97 percent opposed cultural ties, 96 percent opposed economic ties, and that 92 percent opposed normal tourist ties.(33) The fact that these polls were taken well before the election of Benjamin Netanyahu makes Mubarak's remark that "The Egyptian man in the street's feelings towards Israel have worsened ever since Netanyahu came to power" seem rather vacuous.(34)

It is important to note, that Egypt's hostility towards Israel is not only ideological but also based upon pragmatic considerations. Egypt is in direct competition with Israel over American economic, military, and political support. Israel and Egypt currently receive almost 42 percent ($5.1 out of a total of $12.2 billion), of all US foreign military assistance. As the United States addresses its national social and economic problems, both countries will be targeted for reductions of aid from the current levels. Additionally, Egypt hopes to replace Israel as the major US strategic ally in the region. Consequently, Egypt has a vested interest in preventing Israeli integration in the region and maintaining an atmosphere of "controlled tension." Finally, Egypt, as with most of the countries in the region, fears that Israeli integration will result in Israeli economic domination in the region. Given this reality, Israeli political leaders and strategic planners would be prudent to reassess the peace process and how it relates to Israel's security.

ENDNOTES

1. Badr was the code name of the 1973 Egyptian attack against Israel.

2. Egyptian Defense Minister Mohammed Hussein Tantawi reportedly stated that the exercise was training in the event of a nuclear attack by Israel.

The Jerusalem Post, September 20, 1996.

3. Egypt's intentions were stated by Egyptian Foreign Minister Amr Moussa. The Jerusalem Post, March 11, 1994. Data on the size of the Egyptian armed forces was taken from US Arms Control Defense Agency (ACDA), 95/13, November 1, 1995.

4. ACDA, 95/13, November 1, 1995.

5. Egypt's 1994 imports is approximately 70 percent higher than its 1990 totals. Ibid.

6. The Jerusalem Post, March 11, 1994.

7. Ibid.

8. Ibid.

9. Ibid.

10. Jane's Defence Weekly, April 17, 1996, p. 3. Delivery of these aircraft is expected to begin in 1999 and be completed by the year 2000.

11. Jane's Defence Weekly, May 1,1996, p. 8.

12. Jane's Defence Weekly, February 28, 1996, p. 23.

13. Ibid.

14. Ibid.

15. The Military Balance 1995-1996. Egypt was to take delivery of 24 AH-64's by the end of 1995.

16. The Jerusalem Post, March 11, 1994.

17. Jane's Defence Weekly, February 28, 1996. p. 22.

18. Jane's Defence Weekly, March 6, 1996, p. 23. These AIFV's include 304 YPR-765 PRI's mounted with a 25mm gun and coaxil 7.62mm machine-gun, and 210 YPR-765 PRAT-TOW's.

19. The Military Balance 1995-1996.

20. Jane's Defence Weekly, February 28, 1996. p. 23.

21. Ibid.

22. Jane's Defence Weekly, February 21, 1996, p. 16.

23. Jane's Defence Weekly, February 28, 1996. p. 23.

24. Military and Arms Transfer News, November 1, 1995 and Jane's Defence Weekly, February 28, 1995.

25. Ibid.

26. Data for the Libyan and Sudanese militaries was taken from the IISS Military Balance for 1995.

27. For example, notwithstanding the belief that Sudan was behind the June 1995, assassination attempt on Mubarak's life, Egypt opposed US attempts to impose a military embargo on Sudan.

28. Mosely Ann Lesch and Mark Tessler. Israel, Egypt and the Palestinians: From Camp David to Intifada, (Indiana : Indiana University Press), p. 62.

29. Hosni Mubarak stated that the intelligentsia and the professional in Egypt were as fanatically opposed to the acceptance of Israel as are the fundamentalist militants. The Jerusalem Post, September 7, 1995.

30. The Jerusalem Post, January 1, 1996.

31. The Jerusalem Post, September 20, 24, and October 8, 1996.

32. The study was conducted by Dr. Ahmed Zaree of Al-Azhar university. His study also revealed that 63 percent of those polled viewed Egyptian - Israeli normalization as a national security threat. The Jerusalem Post, March 3, 1996.

33. The Jerusalem Post, May 3, 1995.

34. Cairo Press Review, November 18, 1996.

===============

Shawn M. Pine is a career military and intelligence officer who writes frequently on security affairs. He is currently residing in San Antonio. He is a candidate for Doctor of Philosophy Degree In International Relations (Ph.D.), The Hebrew University in Jerusalem, Israel. Dissertation Subject: Offensive and defensive realism. He is developing a model of expectations of state behavior within the theoretical framework of offensive and defensive realism. These models of expectations will facilitate the identification of aggressive tendencies in states which will enable status quo states to undertake efforts to ameliorate potential sources of conflict or take the requisite precautions to deter aggressive intentions. The Arab - Israeli wars and current peace process will be used as case studies.


 HOME  Maccabean  comments