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As we approach Passover, we think of freedom from Egyptian bondage. Today the Israeli and Jewish People are in a new kind of bondage. It is a mental bondage, where the media and the Jewish leadership have conspired to keep the truth hidden from us. Very grave dangers are facing us both external and internal. We need a constant source of the truth to strengthen us to face those challenges.
The Freeman Center has been that unrelenting source of knowledge and truth for over 15 years. This Passover, why not make a special donation to show your support for our important educational work. Details on making a contribution are below: 
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Ignorance Is Weakness - Know The Truth
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Dr. Aaron Lerner - IMRA:  One reading this important article should also 
take into account that the Saudis are also running joint military training 
exercises with Egypt.]

Jeffrey Azarva*
MERIA - The Middle East Review of  International Affairs
Published by the GLORIA Center, Interdisciplinary Center, Herzliya Volume 
11, No. 1, Article 6/7 - March 2007

Since the 1978 Camp David Accords, the Egyptian government has undertaken 
extraordinary efforts to modernize its military with Western arms and weapon 
systems. By bolstering its armored corps, air force, and naval fleet with an 
array of U.S. military platforms, the Egyptian armed forces have emerged as 
one the region's most formidable forces. But as the post-Husni Mubarak era 
looms, questions abound. Who, precisely, is Egypt arming against, and why? 
Has Egypt attained operational parity with Israel? How will the military be 
affected by a succession crisis? Could Cairo's weapons arsenal fall into the 
hands of Islamists? This essay will address these and other questions by 
analyzing the regime's procurement of arms, its military doctrine, President 
Mubarak's potential heirs, and the Islamist threat.


In March 1999, then U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen embarked on a 
nine-nation tour of the Middle East to finalize arms agreements worth over 
$5 billion with regional governments. No state received more military 
hardware than Egypt. Totaling $3.2 billion, Egypt's arms package consisted 
of 24 F-16D fighter planes, 200 M1A1 Abrams tanks, and 32 Patriot-3 
missiles.[1] Five months later, Cairo inked a $764 million deal for more 
sophisticated U.S. weaponry. Few in Egypt and the United States batted an 

For the government of Husni Mubarak, exorbitant military expenditures have 
always been the rule, not the exception. In the 29 years since the Camp 
David Accords, successive U.S. administrations have provided Egypt with 
roughly $60 billion in military and economic aid subsidies to reinforce its 
adherence to peace.[2] Under U.S. auspices, the Mubarak regime has utilized 
$1.3 billion in annual military aid to transform its armed forces from an 
unwieldy Soviet-based fighting force to a modernized, well-equipped, 
Western-style military.

Outfitted with some of the most sophisticated U.S. weapons technology, 
Egypt's arsenal has been significantly improved--qualitatively as well as 
quantitatively--in nearly every military branch. While assimilating 
state-of-the-art weaponry into its order of battle, the Egyptian military 
has also decommissioned Soviet equipment or upgraded outdated ordnance. This 
unprecedented military buildup, however, extends beyond the mere procurement 
and renovation of Western armaments; Egypt has been the beneficiary of joint 
military exercises and training programs with the United States dating back 
to 1983.

However, while the Egyptian leadership has professed its desire for peace 
and emphasized the deterrent nature of the buildup, its stockpiling of arms 
should arouse some concern. Already the most advanced army on the African 
continent, the Egyptian military faces no appreciable threat on its Libyan 
or Sudanese borders. Thus, some analysts believe it has been reconstituted 
with one purpose in mind: to achieve military parity with its neighbor 
across the demilitarized Sinai Peninsula--Israel.

Many Israeli policymakers, though, see Egypt's conventional military buildup 
in a different light. In their analysis, Egypt's self-perception as a 
regional power broker necessitates the creation of a potent military. While 
Egypt remains a hotbed of anti-Semitism nearly three decades after peace, 
for them, such rhetoric is intended only for domestic consumption. The 
mainstream Israeli defense establishment, by and large, shares this 
assessment, citing the Egyptian military's doctrinal flaws and questionable 
combat readiness as an impediment to renewed conflict.

Yet while battle plans are not being drawn up in Cairo, Egypt's 
muscle-flexing does raise an eyebrow when other factors are considered. As 
the Husni Mubarak era enters its twilight years, no real decision has been 
made concerning his successor, though his son certainly appears the 
frontrunner. While Egypt's Islamists are unlikely to usurp power anytime 
soon, a drastic change in leadership could spawn greater instability in the 
Egyptian-Israeli arena. Likewise, Egypt's failure to curtail endemic weapons 
smuggling on the Egypt-Gaza border--arms which are funneled to Palestinian 
terrorists--has fueled speculation among Israeli hardliners that Cairo may 
be girding for war.

The truth, of course, likely lies somewhere between these divergent 


In a November 1995 speech, President Husni Mubarak encapsulated the mission 
statement of the Egyptian military, declaring, "...The level of our armed 
forces is a source of pride for us all, and [they] are capable of deterring 
any danger threatening our national security."[3] Senior officials and 
generals in the Egyptian armed forces, such as Minister of Defense and War 
Production Field Marshal Muhammad Hussein Tantawi, have echoed similar 
sentiments that, while stressing the doctrine of deterrence, have explicitly 
stressed the importance of offensive capabilities. While not discounting the 
probability of armed conflict with Israel, Egyptian officials view such 
offensive-orientated capabilities as a means of enhancing Egyptian 
diplomacy, allowing it to operate from a position of strength. The Mubarak 
government sees this posture as a prerequisite for regional stability, 
inextricably linked to a comprehensive settlement of the Arab-Israeli 

However, diplomatic leverage alone cannot explain Egypt's buildup. As the 
main bastion of regime support, the military's strength serves Mubarak's 
interest in stability. Given the paranoia that pervades much of the ruling 
elite in Egypt and other Arab mukhabarat states, it is understandable that 
the Egyptian leadership views a strong military as its greatest asset. In 
this sense, Egypt's bloated defense budget represents a quid pro quo of 
sorts. Mubarak furnishes his military brass with weapons and pensions; in 
return, they refrain from dabbling in politics and pledge to safeguard his 
regime from external threats. Perhaps one can also frame the buildup in 
terms of domestic prestige. Owen L. Sirs writes that during the height of 
the 1960s, the government's military parades "...served as a sort of 
symbolic dialogue between the Egyptian regime and its people."[4] While 
today's demonstrations may lack the pomp and grandeur reminiscent of the 
Nasser era, they still serve to showcase the country's modernization and 

Other motives drive Egypt's strategic objectives as well. Ostracized by its 
neighbors in the 1980s for blazing a trail to peace, Egyptian leadership 
found vindication in the peace process of the 1990s. Yet with this historic 
opportunity came two distinct choices. As Robert Satloff notes, Egypt could 
either "...expand the circle of peace via widening Arab normalization with 
Israel or [choose] to follow a different path, one that views Israel as a 
fundamental challenge to Egypt's self-perception as a regional power... and 
makes anti-normalization a fixture of Egyptian policy."[5] Perhaps 
threatened by the Jewish state's regional assimilation and military prowess, 
Egypt has opted for the latter. Thus, it has embarked on a sustained 
campaign to contain Israel and alter the Middle East's balance of power.

Flush with billions in U.S. military aid since the 1980s, the Egyptian 
government has significantly revamped its conventional forces, paying 
particular heed to its armored corps, air, and naval forces. Today, Egypt, 
no longer a beneficiary of its erstwhile Soviet patron, can boast of a 
Western-style fighting force--comprised of 450,000 regular servicemen--that 
approaches the quantitative and qualitative levels of the Israeli military 
in certain sectors. Israel is, of course, more concerned with preserving its 
edge in the latter. That is, given the sheer size of Israel's Arab 
neighbors, it is imperative that the Jewish state compensate for its 
inevitable quantitative weakness by maintaining its advantage in weapons 
systems, training, and technological know-how.

Still, the qualitative gap has shrunk as Egypt catapulted itself into the 
upper echelon of Middle Eastern arms importers during the past decade. From 
2001 to 2004 alone, Egypt paid $6.5 billion in arms transfer agreements, 
$5.7 billion of which was used to purchase U.S. weaponry.[6] During this 
period, Egypt supplanted Saudi Arabia as the primary recipient of 
U.S.-manufactured arms in the Middle East.[7]

Among Egypt's most noteworthy acquisitions has been its procurement of 
American-made M1A1 Abrams battle tanks, whose components are partly 
assembled on Egyptian production lines. When the U.S. Department of Defense 
first licensed production of the M1A1 tank (commensurate with the Israeli 
Merkava tank) in Egypt in 1988, the decision raised alarm in some U.S. and 
Israeli policy circles, given the sensitive transfer of technology involved, 
the method of co-production, and the fiscal constraints it would place on an 
already burdened Egyptian economy. Yezid Sayigh notes that this industrial 
strategy of in-country assemblage, prevalent in the Middle East, enables the 
arms importer to "...acquire the necessary production skills and military 
technology gradually, with the eventual aim of producing indigenous 
systems."[8] Israeli analysts believe that by the time the current contract 
is completed in 2008, Egypt's armored corps will have amassed 880 M1A1s.[9]

In 1999, Israeli defense officials became concerned when Egypt acquired 
10,800 rounds of 120mm KEW-A1 ammunition for its Abrams battle tanks.[10] 
Composed of depleted uranium, this armor-piercing ammunition--long possessed 
by the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF)--was used by U.S. Abrams crews to 
decimate 4,000 Iraqi tanks and armored vehicles during Operation Desert 
Storm and is said to be able to neutralize any armor system in 
existence.[11] None of this is to mention Egypt's 835 upgraded and U.S.-made 
M-60A3 tanks that also saw action in the 1991 Gulf crisis.[12]

The influx of sophisticated, Western weapons into Egypt is not limited to 
the renovation of its armored corps. This buildup also extends to the 
Egyptian Air Force (EAF), which now sports roughly 220 F-16 fighter planes, 
in comparison with the approximately 240 F-16s in the Israeli arsenal.[13] 
Israeli strategic analysts, such as Ret. Brigadier General Shlomo Brom, are 
quick to point that while this margin has narrowed substantially since the 
1980s, the status of the Israeli Air Force's qualitative edge should not be 
confused with quantitative parity in military platforms. "We say they aren't 
the same planes. The level of the pilots and the quality of the weapons 
systems are not identical," Brom stated.[14] There are also reports that 
Israel will be the first Middle Eastern state equipped with the F-22 and 
F-35, the F-16's successors.

Still, other IDF officials disagree with Brom's assessment and believe that 
the EAF's growth has forced Israel to alter its air combat techniques. Those 
critics point to the EAF's recent integration of 36 AH-64A Apache attack 
helicopters, each capable of carrying 16 laser-guided, anti-tank, Hellfire 
missiles.[15] It is worth noting, though, that while permitted to upgrade 
the Apaches to their more advanced prototype (the AH-64D), Egypt has been 
prevented from acquiring the helicopter's most coveted feature--the Longbow 
radar--which has first-rate target identification capabilities.[16] 
Nonetheless, the Israeli Air Force maintains only a handful more of Apaches 
than its Egyptian counterpart.

While apprehensive about the buildup of the Egyptian ground and air forces, 
some Israeli officials, especially Knesset Member Yuval Steinitz and former 
commander-in-chief of the Israeli Navy, Major General Yedidia Ya'ari, 
consider the overhaul of the Egyptian navy to be the most significant aspect 
of the military's modernization program. The Jaffee Center for Strategic 
Studies' 2003-2004 Middle East Strategic Balance report notes that Egypt 
acquired two Knox class frigates and four Oliver Hazard Perry frigates from 
the United States in the 1990s.[17] Obtained as excess defense articles from 
the Pentagon, the Perry-class frigates are "capable of over-the-horizon 
combat and anti-submarine warfare."[18]

However, it was the November 2001 Bush Administration decision to sell Egypt 
53 satellite-guided Harpoon Block II missiles, which can exploit Israel's 
lack of strategic depth by evading its current air defense systems, that has 
truly caused consternation in Jerusalem.[19] This purchase could signal a 
strategic shift in Egypt's naval doctrine--one that would allow it to 
project its open-sea capabilities even further in the eastern Mediterranean 
Sea and place a stranglehold on Israel's most important maritime lifelines. 
Though the U.S. State Department downplayed the missiles' offensive nature, 
one must remember that Egypt's geographic position gives its fleet--which 
maintains principal naval bases at Ras al-Tin on the Mediterranean and at 
Safajeh and Hurghada on the Red Sea--the capability to blockade both of 
Israel's sea links with the outside world.

The United States will likely continue to refrain from selling the Egyptian 
government advanced weapon systems that would allow the EAF, or any other 
branch of the Egyptian armed forces, to enjoy operational parity with their 
Israeli counterparts. Former U.S. Secretary of Defense William Cohen said as 
much during his visit to the region in 1999, when he reassured then Israeli 
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that the United States remained committed 
to "...Israel's qualitative edge and military capability to protect its own 

In the past, though, the United States has demonstrated a willingness to 
export some of its most sensitive military technologies to regional 
governments, as evidenced by the Clinton Administration's sale of the 
AIM-120 Advanced Medium-Range-Air-to-Air-Missile (AMRAAM) to the United Arab 
Emirates in 1998.[21] Prior to this transfer, only Israel had been cleared 
to purchase the AMRAAM among Middle Eastern states.[22] However, contracts 
were soon inked in Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, and Egypt, with the United States 
selling Cairo a lesser ground-launched version of the missile in 2000 only 
because of vociferous Israeli objections.[23] Prime Minister Benjamin 
Netanyahu's blase reaction to these and other related developments belied 
Israel's true concern. In 2004, Israeli Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz and 
Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom vehemently opposed--and ultimately won 
restrictions on--a U.S.-AMRAAM sale to Jordan based on fears that the 
technology would eventually be sold to Egypt.[24] Though purchasing the 
AMRAAM system had once been the sole prerogative of NATO member states (and 
Israel), the flurry of U.S. sales to non-NATO Arab governments, including 
Egypt, signaled that U.S. arms transfer sales could indeed trump strategic 


While detractors of the gloom-and-doom scenario in the Israeli defense 
establishment will not dispute the Egyptian military's modernization, their 
sanguine assessments assume that it will be mired in its antiquated 
Soviet-style military doctrine for the foreseeable future. Undoubtedly, 
Egypt's military ranks are still characterized by a rigid command structure; 
one that strategic analysts say precludes the implementation of the 
Revolution in Military Affairs (RMA)--a military concept espousing the use 
of precision-guided weaponry, information technology, and integrated command 
and control systems with real-time capabilities.
That the Egyptian armed forces have failed to fully adopt the RMA paradigm 
thus far is true. Even with continued American aid at current levels, the 
Egyptian armed forces would encounter a serious economic crunch in financing 
such an initiative. Yet that is not to say they do not possess some of the 
requisite skills. The military has been the beneficiary of numerous joint 
initiatives and training exercises with Western forces dating back to the 
large-scale "Operation Bright Star" maneuvers kicked off in 1983.[25] Held 
biennially in the Egyptian desert, "Bright Star" stresses interoperability 
and has exposed thousands of Egyptian military personnel to U.S. advanced 
training techniques and expertise in tactical ground, air, naval, and 
special operations.[26] Mubarak's deployment of 30,000 troops, including 
commando and paratrooper units paired alongside U.S. forces, into the 
Kuwaiti theater during Operation Desert Storm in 1991 illustrated Egypt's 
ability to apply RMA techniques in actual combat.[27]

U.S. programs such as Peace Vector and the International Military Education 
and Training initiative (IMET) have provided additional know-how to the 
Egyptian military in tactical training and weapons maintenance. Under the 
third installment of the Peace Vector program (PV III), which began in 
August 1991, Egyptian Air Force pilots have logged thousands of flight hours 
with their American counterparts in tactical operations.[28] Other projects 
in the PV III program have included the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers' 
construction of a self-sufficient F-16 air base located in Ismailiyya, Egypt 
(adjacent to the Suez Canal and demilitarized Sinai), which can accommodate 
a population of up to 20,000 personnel.[29] Under IMET, 6,600 Egyptian 
soldiers have participated in U.S. military education courses since 1995 in 
an effort to instill U.S. values, doctrines, and procedures.[30]

Despite such assistance, logistical support, and extensive coordination, the 
mainstream Israeli defense establishment continues to perpetuate the belief 
that the Egyptian military's mere knowledge of the RMA doctrine does not 
necessarily imply its implementation. The Badr-96 and Jabal Pharon-98 
exercises debunk this myth. In September 1996, the Egyptian armed forces 
staged a ten day maneuver near the Suez Canal, the largest operation of its 
kind since the late 1970s. The target of the exercise was explicit: Israel. 
Badr-96--the same code-name used for Egypt's crossing of the Suez Canal in 
the 1973 Yom Kippur War (Badr-73)--simulated a large-scale amphibious 
landing on the Sinai Peninsula coast by a mechanized infantry battalion.[31] 
Designed first to repel an Israeli attack, the battalion--coupled with 
border guards, paratroopers, and special forces--would then engage in a 
counteroffensive to seize control of the entire Sinai and penetrate Israeli 

Hailed by the Egyptian media as a stern warning to Prime Minister Netanyahu, 
Badr-96 evoked stirring nationalistic sentiments from the 1973 war. The 
state-controlled newspaper al-Ahram was one of several media outlets to 
engage in saber-rattling. An editorial published by the paper's managing 
editor read "...The lessons of Badr-73 and Badr-96 take us back to the 
starting point... that the end of war does not necessarily mean the 
achievement of peace, and vice-versa."[33]

Similarly, the Jabal Pharon exercise on April 22, 1998 sought to create a 
scenario whereby the Egyptian Third Army, in conjunction with naval and air 
force personnel, conducted operations in the rugged terrain of the 
Sinai.[34] Once more, the target was the Israeli Defense Forces. On August 
12, 2001, in the midst of the al-Aqsa Intifada and three days after a Hamas 
suicide bombing rocked Jerusalem, London's Sunday Times reported that a 
senior Egyptian official allegedly threatened to deploy the Egyptian Third 
Army into Sinai--at the late Yasir Arafat's behest--if Israel moved into the 
occupied territories to thwart Palestinian terrorism.[35] That another 
Badr-like exercise ensued the following month[36] at Ismailiyya should be 
sufficient evidence to suggest that the Egyptian military--which enjoys a 
symbiotic relationship with Mubarak and the state--feels constrained by the 
security measures imposed on it by the 1979 treaty. As a result, some 
Israeli officials see these exercises as an inherent Egyptian desire to 
remilitarize the Sinai. Whether that ambition translates into capability is 
contested, given the assertion of military experts that any successful 
military operation in the Sinai Peninsula requires RMA-style warfare.

It is here, precisely, where Egypt's acquisition of the M1A1 Abrams tank and 
the AH-64A helicopter could have dire consequences. As the tank battles of 
the 1967 and 1973 wars have illustrated, the peninsula is an ideal 
battleground for armored, mobile warfare. Theoretically, an Egyptian foray 
into Sinai, in which M1A1s are given aerial cover by AH-64A Apaches and 
F-16s, would enable mechanized forces to seize the strategic Mitla and Giddi 
passes in central Sinai before an Israeli counterattack. By controlling 
these access routes, vital for east-west movement, the Egyptian armored 
corps could then traverse the entire peninsula in a relatively short period 
of time.

This scenario, though, is not universally accepted. While the M1A1's 
superior long-range capabilities were put on display in the Iraqi desert in 
1991 and 2003, Stephen A. Cook believes that the "...Egyptians are able to 
employ them [M1A1s] only as set battlefield pieces. This is a function of 
the fact that Egypt's land forces... cannot refuel and re-supply its forces 
beyond a limited range."[37] Other Israeli analysts counter that the Suez 
Canal zone's weak logistical infrastructure, which includes bridges (some of 
which are pontoons), ferries, and the Ahmad Hamdi tunnel, renders the 
movement of Egypt's M1A1s highly susceptible to an Israeli air attack with 
precision weapons.


Most Israeli policymakers, though anxious about the buildup on the Nile, 
portray Egypt as something of a paper tiger; one that derives too many 
rewards from peace to foolishly self-inflict death and destruction on its 
own people. Their conventional wisdom holds that President Mubarak's 
quarter-century of authoritarian rule has actually acted as a bulwark 
against not only those extremist elements in Egyptian society who wish death 
upon Israel, but against the military's adventurism as well. Even if that 
assumption were true, Egypt faces a looming presidential succession that 
could completely invalidate this strategic assessment. In 2003, Shaul Mofaz 
voiced his uncertainty over the matter, stating, "Within a few years Egypt's 
leadership might be replaced and the new regime might have a different 
attitude toward Israel."[38]

While President Mubarak at age 78 is in reputedly "good health," his 
fainting during a televised parliament session in 2003 and his sudden 
two-week absence for medical treatment abroad in 2004 paint a different 
picture of stability.[39] Mubarak has also eschewed pressure over the years 
to appoint a vice president, most recently during an April 9, 2006 interview 
with al-Arabiyya TV. Mubarak stated: "The constitution gives me the right of 
appointing a vice-president. The vice-president has no work except as he 
performs only directives of the president. This is the point and I'm not 
ready to appoint a vice-president..."[40]

Despite a constitutional provision specifying the temporary transfer of 
power to the speaker of parliament following the president's permanent 
incapacitation,[41] vice presidents have, in practice, assumed the mantle of 
leadership before. Thus, Mubarak's gambit in maintaining this vacancy has 
not only clouded the issue of succession, but has generated much unease in 
Egypt and elsewhere as well. In recent years, this decision appears to have 
cleared the path for heir apparent Gamal Mubarak, Husni's son and one of 
three deputy secretary-generals in his father's ruling National Democratic 
Party (NDP).[42] The liberal-minded Gamal continues to burnish his image at 
home and abroad. During the fourth annual NDP conference in September 2006, 
he proposed an Egyptian nuclear program and openly defied Washington's 
vision of a "new Middle East," stating: "We will not accept initiatives made 
abroad."[43] Still, his "inheritance" of the presidency is not a foregone 
In a January 1, 2004 press conference, the elder Mubarak reassured Egyptians 
that he would not emulate the "Syria model," which witnessed Bashar 
al-Asad's rise to power after his father's death in 2000. "We are not a 
monarchy. We are the Republic of Egypt... we are not Syria and Gamal Mubarak 
will not be the next president of Egypt," Mubarak declared.[44] Gamal echoed 
similar sentiments during 2005's "Cairo Spring," when his father introduced 
political reforms authorizing Egypt's first multi-candidate presidential 
election. Eager to shed the label of heir apparent, Gamal stated: "I am 
absolutely clear in my mind and the president's mind that this story of 
father and son has nothing to do with reality."[45]

Of course, actions speak louder than words in the Middle East. The recent 
consolidation of key policy positions by Gamal and his associates within the 
NDP belies such statements. However, in a country where the Free Officers 
Movement's 1952 coup d'etat still resonates--every president since has been 
drawn from the military's ranks--Gamal's non-military background could 
present a problem. Edward S. Walker Jr., a former U.S. ambassador to both 
Israel and Egypt, warns that if Gamal is truly bent on economic reform, 
"...the entire military and security structure could easily lose its 
privileges, its special treatment, its informal retirement benefits..."[46] 
Such a development, in which the Egyptian military loses its patronage, 
could loosen the government's reins on the armed forces and unnerve Israeli 
leadership. At the very least, the armed forces would be hard-pressed to 
accept such a monarchical-style transition.

Other potential successors do not elicit much Israeli confidence either 
where the military is concerned. One is current Defense Minister Muhammad 
Hussein Tantawi, who believes that only the "endless development of military 
systems and the arms race" will guarantee Egyptian national security.[47] 
Egyptian security sources revealed that had the 1995 plot to assassinate 
Mubarak in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia succeeded, Tantawi, a Mubarak confidant for 
many years, would have become president "without a doubt."[48] Tantawi's 
advanced age and failing health, though, likely decrease his prospects of 
succeeding Mubarak.

General Omar Sulayman, the head of Egyptian intelligence, remains another 
candidate in the offing. Arguably the second most powerful man in Egypt, 
Sulayman, aged 70, raised his public profile considerably after he was 
handed the Palestinian dossier following the intifada's outbreak in 
2000.[49] A career military officer and Mubarak's right-hand man, Sulayman 
was also responsible for quelling the Islamist insurgency in Egypt during 
the 1990s. Some Israeli policymakers suggest Sulayman's role as an 
interlocutor between the Palestinians and Israelis and between Hamas and the 
Palestinian Authority, particularly during the 2003 hudna (cease-fire) 
negotiations, juxtaposes his tough anti-Islamist terror stance.

Sulayman has often met with Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror 
chiefs in Cairo, Gaza, Ramallah, and Damascus--gestures which have not only 
conferred legitimacy upon such groups, but have also served to undercut a 
weakened and once-secular Palestinian Authority.[50] While he publicly 
sought to broker an unconditional cease-fire between Palestinian terror 
factions and Israel in 2003, as required by the Quartet's road map for 
peace, Sulayman privately demanded that the former only halt its attacks 
within the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and 1949 armistice lines for a period of 
six months.[51]

Though Sulayman did in fact engineer an official, albeit brief, cessation of 
violence on June 29, 2003,[52] his intervention came under close Israeli 
scrutiny. Oded Granot, an Israeli journalist, suggested that Sulayman's 
efforts were perhaps motivated more by an urge to "quiet" the Egyptian 
street during the Iraq War's infancy, lest anti-government protests break 
out, than by a genuine desire for peace. Israeli officials reserved harsher 
criticism for Sulayman. Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom believed that the 
general's efforts would implicitly endanger the Jewish state by creating a 
"ticking time bomb;" a respite that would allow Gaza's terrorist 
infrastructure to regroup and replenish via the Philadelphia Corridor and 


Seven weeks later, the hudna began unraveling. On August 19, 2003, a Hamas 
operative blew himself up while riding a Jerusalem bus.[53] At the same 
time, IDF Chief of Staff Moshe Yaalon reported that after the Israeli army 
discovered and destroyed several smuggling tunnels in Gaza, smoke billowed 
from their opposite end--in some cases from inside Egyptian military 

No picture of Egypt's de facto strategy toward Israel can be considered 
complete without examining the Gaza tunnel phenomenon. While in past years 
the IDF and Israeli intelligence have monitored Egypt's conventional arms 
buildup with unease, their attention has often been diverted to another 
front where Cairo's true intentions have increasingly been called into 
question--the Egypt-Gaza Strip border.

On August 22, 2005, the Israeli government completed its disengagement from 
the Gaza Strip after 38 years of occupation. Israel's Disengagement Plan had 
called for the evacuation of all Jewish settlements and military 
installations in Gaza, with one exception. The plan stated that the IDF 
would not redeploy in the Philadelphia Corridor, an eight-mile border zone 
between Gaza and Egypt notorious for its arms-smuggling tunnels.

As disengagement approached, the decision to retain control of the corridor 
became untenable, despite the concerns of Israeli policymakers that 
withdrawing troops from the area, including the Rafah border crossing with 
Egypt, would result in the militarization of Gaza as a terror base. Israeli 
leaders determined that maintaining an Israeli presence in the border strip 
would be a lasting source of Palestinian and Arab antagonism and would 
undercut their government's claims of complete withdrawal.
The Israeli government looked toward Cairo as the most viable alternative to 
patrol the border and stem the flow of contraband into Gaza. Though some 
Israeli officials remained skeptical of Egypt's commitment, the two 
governments signed the "Agreed Arrangements Regarding the Deployment of a 
Designated Force of Border Guards along the Border in the Rafah Area" on 
September 1, 2005.[55]

Pursuant to the agreement,[56] Egypt dispatched a border guard force to the 
corridor (comprised of 750 armed personnel) to replace the Egyptian police 
force mandated by the 1979 peace treaty. Permitted weaponry included assault 
rifles, rocket-propelled grenades, and machine guns.[57] Though subject to 
the treaty, which stipulates the Sinai Peninsula's demilitarization, the 
Agreed Arrangements raised fears in Israel over the Egyptian force's 
objectives in the Sinai and the overall stability of the peace agreement.

While observers often perceive the corridor's smuggling as an exclusive 
Palestinian enterprise, Israeli concerns have been
augmented by what Major General Doron Almog, former head of the IDF's 
Southern Command, calls "a parallel Egyptian mechanism for smuggling and 
infiltration"[58] extending into Sinai and the mainland. Black market forces 
may often serve as the impetus for this mechanism--smuggling is a very 
profitable business--but in the end, it can only function with what Almog 
refers to as the "official acquiescence" of the Mubarak regime.

Several factors suggest that Egypt's failure to curb the influx of weapons 
at Rafah--a town physically straddling the Egyptian-Gazan border--is a 
product of inaction, not inability. First, an army general on active service 
presides over the Sinai governorate that stretches 100 miles behind 
Rafah.[59] In an authoritarian country like Egypt, where the armed forces 
are the guarantor of internal stability, the military is cognizant of all 
that goes on under its nose. Second, there are only two access roads in the 
Sinai; countering the movement of weaponry bound for Rafah should be a 
relatively easy undertaking. Finally, while the IDF's counter-smuggling 
operations in the corridor have almost always met fierce opposition from 
local inhabitants, Egyptian patrols encounter no such armed resistance in 
Egyptian Rafah.

The Egyptian military has proven capable of reducing the security threat in 
the past. When the Israeli military outpost of Termit, located in Rafah, 
came under attack in 2001, Egyptian Rafah was conspicuously quiet.[60] That 
is, despite the presence of illegal arms and Palestinians in that area of 
the city, Israeli soldiers were only ambushed from within Gaza. The Egyptian 
army had restrained all violent activity on its side of the border. In past 
years, it is also true that Egypt has arrested smugglers and detonated 
tunnels, but only when it has been politically expedient. Unfortunately, 
these instances are few and far between.

Yuval Diskin, head of the Shin Bet domestic security service, and Avi 
Dichter, minister of internal security, are two of the outspoken leaders in 
Israel sounding the alarm. On August 29, 2006, Diskin referred to the Sinai 
Peninsula and Rafah border area as a veritable "Garden of Eden" for weapons 
smuggling. On September 27, 2006, he again spoke of the exponential increase 
in smuggling since Israel's 2005 Gaza withdrawal, estimating that nineteen 
tons of weapons and explosives were burrowed into the strip during the past 
year. Holding Egyptian officials directly accountable, he said, "The 
Egyptians know who the smugglers are and don't deal with them. They received 
intelligence on this from us and didn't use it. We're talking about an 
escalation that is endangering us."[61] Three days after his remarks, four 
Egyptian policemen were caught attempting to smuggle ammunitions and hand 
grenades to Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.[62] Alluding to this incident 
and other tunnel discoveries, Dichter urged White House officials in October 
2006 to ratchet up pressure on Cairo, criticizing its government's failure 
to employ the "considerable capabilities" at its disposal.[63]

Whether or not smuggling activities are officially sanctioned by the Mubarak 
government is irrelevant. What does matter is that the current regime's 
see-no-evil policy at Philadelphia--what Almog refers to as a "release valve 
for [Egyptian] public sympathy for the Palestinian armed 
struggle"[64]--significantly raises the stakes for Israel's national 
security by allowing arms and material to be pumped into Gaza at a dizzying 


Some suggest that Egypt's radical Islamist movement, closely allied with 
like-minded Palestinian groups, has been the prime beneficiary of the 
government's Philadelphia strategy. Not only has unimpeded smuggling at 
Rafah stoked the flames of Egypt's Islamist movement, it has permitted 
homegrown jihadists and those in the Palestinian territories the opportunity 
to attack the Mubarak government and Israelis simultaneously. The October 
2004 suicide bombings at Tab'a, a popular resort location for Israelis in 
Egypt, were perpetrated by Sinai Bedouins and Hamas operatives.[65] A 
Palestinian group in Gaza, Monotheism and Jihad, physically trained an 
Egyptian terror cell in the use of explosives and firearms before carrying 
out the April 2006 bombings at Sinai's Dahab resort.[66]

That the corridor and its environs could become a personal fiefdom for 
Egyptian extremists is one reason that Israeli prognosticators fear an 
Islamist takeover in Cairo. Although considered improbable today, the 
specter of an Islamic revolution following Husni Mubarak's rule should not 
be dismissed. Coupled with the Egyptian military buildup, it would have 
grave consequences for regional security.

To be sure, the toppling of the secular Mubarak regime by Islamist 
extremists would have far-reaching effects. The extensive American aid and 
assistance programs would cease automatically. The Egyptian military's 
already shoddy weapons maintenance would be exacerbated. Jihadists would 
annul the 1979 treaty. Yet it would be wrong to assume that Egypt would thus 
become nothing more than a massive arms depot to which somebody had thrown 
away the key. Despite government efforts to the contrary, Islamists and the 
military have not always remained mutually exclusive entities.

Islamists from the Muslim Brotherhood's most violent offshoots--such as 
al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya and Jama'at al-Jihad--have had past success in 
infiltrating the military's ranks. Among the members of Jama'at al-Jihad, 
the group that carried out Anwar Sadat's 1981 assassination, were an army 
colonel on active duty and a reserve lieutenant colonel.[67] Other members 
were drawn from a broad swath of Egyptian society, including state security 
forces and military intelligence. In December 1986, a ring of four military 
officers and 29 Islamists affiliated with the same group was arrested and 
charged with waging jihad against the Mubarak regime.[68] By the end of the 
decade, the government's purge had resulted in the detention of some 10,000 
Islamists suspected of infiltration.

That the regime has grown wary should not come as a surprise. In prosecuting 
its own "war on terror" against radical Islamists in the 1980s and 1990s, 
the state began implementing policies to counteract the threat. Yet rarely 
has the military entered into this calculus. Fearing its exposure to 
fundamentalist ideologies, the government has rarely summoned the armed 
forces into action.[69] Instead, counterterrorism operations have often been 
delegated to state security services, but even they have not been immune 
from this phenomenon. Thus, the regime has left no stone unturned in 
stemming the tide of infiltration. In addition to restricting the military's 
rules of engagement, it has begun constructing a host of military cities in 
remote locations, such as Mubarak Military City in the Nile Delta region, to 
ward off Islamist influence.

The regime's precautionary steps have often been supplemented by stern 
counterterrorism measures--measures which not only broke the Islamist 
insurgency's back in the 1990s but have also allowed relative quiet to 
prevail since. While the threat posed by al-Jihad and al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya 
has not evaporated--even with the latter's renunciation of violence--the 
radical Islamist leadership in Egypt remains fractured and marginalized. 
Mubarak's cooption of the movement's mainstream and less militant elements, 
coupled with the recent release of 950 al-Jama'a al-Islamiyya members in 
April 2006,[70] has further moderated their ranks.

Despite episodic violence, Mubarak's balancing act has thus far allowed him 
to secure the allegiance of the military--the regime's most significant 
pillar of strength--while thwarting the Islamists' attempt at regime change. 
Still, the latter's quest for power in Egypt lies within the realm of 
possibility, given Mubarak's border policies at Rafah and his failure to 
appoint a vice president and surefire successor.


As the Egyptian armed forces continue to upgrade the quantity and quality of 
their military platforms to unparalleled heights--levels rivaling those of 
Israel--they have positioned themselves to be a major player on the Middle 
Eastern block. The path charted by Egypt during the coming years, though, 
will go a long way toward determining the significance of its meteoric rise 
from an archaic, Soviet-styled military to a Western-armed, twenty-first 
century juggernaut.

While justifiably concerned about the neighborhood in which they operate, 
the Egyptian military's unrelenting buildup appears
to have already met its stated objectives of deterrence. The continued 
integration of Western weaponry into Egypt's armored corps, air force, and 
naval fleet has thus raised the question: To what end? Egyptian defense 
officials will riposte that a strong military is essential for enhancing 
regional security, protecting strategic maritime routes, and strengthening 
U.S.-Egyptian coordination.

Though the Egyptian armed forces do serve these and other interests, one 
cannot neglect the fact that rearmament is also geared toward changing the 
military status quo vis-a-vis Israel. Of course, this is not to suggest that 
Egypt is on the warpath, moving toward a confrontation with Israel tomorrow 
or the day after. Full-blown hostilities, reminiscent of past Arab-Israeli 
wars, that would reap wholesale death and destruction are not, one would 
think, in Cairo's best interests. Yet in an explosive region such as this, 
policymaking is not often equated with best interests.

Viewed in the context of Egypt's regional ambitions, limited rapprochement 
with Israel, and potential succession crisis--with
all its implications for the peace treaty and an Islamist resurgence--the 
military's buildup resembles a powder keg forming on Israel's doorstep. 
Three decades of peace notwithstanding, the Egyptian-Israeli front remains a 
tinderbox, one in which a cold peace may just become a cold war.

*Jeffrey Azarva is a research assistant at the American Enterprise Institute 
in Washington, DC.

[1] David Honig, "A Mighty Arsenal: Egypt's Military Buildup: 1979-1999," 
Policy Watch, No. 447,(The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, March 
21, 2000).
[2] United States Government Accountability Office, Report to the U.S. House 
Committee on International Relations, "State and DoD Need to Assess How the 
Foreign Military Financing Program for Egypt Achieves U.S. Foreign Policy 
and Security Goals," April 2006, GAO-06-437.
[3] Hillel Frisch, "Arab Armies: Religious, Economic, and Structural 
Dimensions," Mideast Security and Policy Studies, No. 54 (June 2003), p. 95.
[4] Owen L. Sirs, Nasser and the Missile Age in the Middle East (London and 
New York: Routledge, 2006), p. 98.
[5] Robert Satloff, Testimony before the U.S. House Committee on 
International Relations, April 10, 1997.
[6] Richard F. Grimmett, "Conventional Arms Transfers to Developing Nations, 
1997-2004," Congressional Research Service (RL33051), August 29, 2005, p. 
[7] Ibid, p. 28.
[8] Yezid Sayigh, Arab Military Industry: Capability, Performance, and 
Impact (London: Brassey's, 1992), p. 63.
[9] Though granted a license by the Pentagon to produce the M1A1 model in 
1988, the Egyptian government first began assembling the Abrams tank after 
the 1991 Persian Gulf War. The first assembly contract lasted from 1991 
until 1998 and resulted in the production of 555 combat tanks.
[10] Arieh O'Sullivan, "Egypt--The New Enemy?" The Jerusalem Post, August 
25, 1999.
[11] Ibid.
[12] Yiftah S. Shapir (ed.), "The Middle East Military Balance," The Jaffee 
Center for Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, February 20, 2006.
[13] Amnon Barzilai, "Should We Be Up in Arms Over Egypt's Buildup?" 
Ha'aretz, January 18, 2005.
[14] Ibid.
[15] Honig, "A Mighty Arsenal: Egypt's Military Buildup: 1979-1999."
[16] Shlomo Brom and Yiftah S. Shapir, The Middle East Strategic Balance: 
The Egyptian Armed Forces (Sussex Academic Press, The Jaffee Center for 
Strategic Studies at Tel Aviv University, 2004), p. 97.
[17] Ibid, p. 98.
[18] Honig, "A Mighty Arsenal."
[19] Federation of American Scientists, "Harpoon Missile Sale to Egypt 
Launches Debate," Arms Sales Monitor, No. 47 (January 2002), p. 3.
[20] Wade Boese, "U.S. Announces New Arms Sales to Middle East Worth 
Billions," Arms Control Today, March 1999.
[21] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p.100.
[22] Boese, "U.S. Announces New Arms Sales to Middle East Worth Billions."
[23] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p. 100.
[24] "Report: Israel trying to block US sale of missile system to Jordan," 
Agence France Presse, August 1, 2004.
[25] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p. 101.
[26] Clyde R. Mark, "Egypt-United States Relations," Congressional Research 
Service (IB93087), August 20, 2003, p. 9.
[27] David A. Silverstein, "Keeping an Eye on the Allies," Backgrounder 
Update, No. 154 (The Heritage Foundation, February 4, 1991).
[28] Remarks by U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Francis J. Ricciardone at Abu 
Suwaye Air Base, June 21, 2006.
[29] See http://www.perini.com/pmsi/federal_defense_body.htm.
[30] Michael Coulter, "Review of U.S. Policy and Assistance Programs to 
Egypt," Testimony to the U.S. House Committee on International Relations, 
May 17, 2006.
[31] Yossef Bodanksy and Vaughn S. Forrest, "Approaching the New Cycle of 
Arab-Israeli Fighting," Task Force on Terrorism & Unconventional Warfare, 
U.S. House of Representatives, December 10, 1996.
[32] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p. 102-03.
[33] Satloff, Testimony before the U.S. House Committee on International 
[34] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p. 103.
[35] Uzi Mahnaimi, "Egypt Threatens Show of Armed Force to Aid Arafat," 
Sunday Times (London), August 12, 2001.
[36] See http://www.globalsecurity.org/military/world/egypt/army.htm.
[37] Stephen A. Cook, "Egypt--Still America's Partner?" Middle East 
Quarterly, Vol. 7, No. 2, (June 2000).
[38] Reuven Pedatzurr, "A New Threat Pops Up--Egypt," Ha'aretz, October 22, 
[39] Saad Eddin Ibrahim, "Mubarak the Pharaoh," The Wall Street Journal, 
July 15, 2004.
[40] Mubarak Interview with al-Arabiya Satellite Channel, Egypt State 
Information Service, April 9, 2006; see 
[41] See Egypt's constitution in English: 
[42] Gamal Essam El-Din, "Reintroducing Gamal Mubarak," al-Ahram Weekly, 
March 30-April 5, 2006.
[43] Michael Slackman and Mona el-Naggar, "Mubarak's Son Proposes Nuclear 
Program," New York Times, September 20, 2006.
[44] El Pais (Madrid), March 28, 2000.
[45] Anton LaGuardia, "Mubarak's Heir Apparent Hails 'Cairo Spring'" The 
Daily Telegraph, June 14, 2005.
[46] "The Future of Egypt," The Middle East Review of International Affairs 
(MERIA), Vol. 10, No. 2 (June 2006).
[47] Frisch, "Arab Armies," p. 96.
[48] Daniel Sobelman, "Gamal Mubarak, President of Egypt?" Middle East 
Quarterly, Vol. 8, No. 2 (Spring 2001).
[49] Hossam Hamalawy, "Powerful Egyptian Spy Chief No Longer Behind the 
Scenes," Los Angeles Times, February 8, 2005.
[50] Yuval Steinitz, "The Growing Threat to Israel's Qualitative Military 
Edge," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 3, No. 10 (Jerusalem Center for Public 
Affairs, December 11, 2003).
[51] Oded Granot, "An Israeli View: The Egyptian Initiative for a Unilateral 
Ceasefire," http://www.bitterlemons.org, No. 6, February 10, 2003.
[52] Eli Kazhdan and David Keyes, "The Inevitable Disintegration of the 
Hudna," Jerusalem Issue Brief, Vol. 3, No. 5 (August 26, 2003).
[53] Molly Moore, "In Jerusalem, A Scene 'Like a Horror Movie,'" The 
Washington Post, August 20, 2003.
[54] Mark Lavie, "Israel: Peace Plan in Deep Freeze Until Palestinians Crack 
Down on Militants," Associated Press, August 11, 2003.
[55] Michael Herzog, "A New Reality on the Egypt-Gaza Border (Part II): 
Analysis of the New Israel-Egypt Agreement," Peace Watch, No. 520 (The 
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 21, 2005).
[56] During the 18-month-long negotiations, Sulayman and Tantawi sought to 
package the agreement as the first phase in the deployment of thousands of 
Egyptian troops to the Israel-Egypt border. Israel rejected this proposal, 
citing Annex I, Article II in the1979 treaty. This annex, which delineated 
four security zones in the Sinai, prohibits Egypt from stationing any armed 
personnel, except civil police, in the zone closest to the Israeli border.
[57] Brooke Neuman, "A New Reality on the Egypt-Gaza Border (Part I): 
Analysis of the New Israel-Egypt Agreement," Peace Watch, No. 518 (The 
Washington Institute for Near East Policy, September 19, 2005).
[58] Doron Almog, "Tunnel-Vision in Gaza," Middle East Quarterly, Vol. 11, 
No. 3 (Summer 2004).
[59] Hillel Frisch, "Eye of the Sphinx: Egypt's Military Doctrine," The 
Journal of International Security Affairs, No. 2 (Winter 2002), p. 13.
[60] Ibid, p. 13.
[61] "Shin Bet Chief Accuses Egypt of Allowing Weapons Smuggling into Gaza 
Strip," Ha'aretz, September 27, 2006.
[62] "Sinai: Egyptian Policeman Try to Smuggle Arms to Gaza," 
http://www.ynetnews.com, September 30, 2006.
[63] Yitzhak Benhorin, "Dichter Urges U.S. Pressure on Cairo over Gaza Arms 
Smuggling," http://www.ynetnews.com, October 19, 2006.
[64] Almog, "Tunnel-Vision in Gaza."
[65] Aaron Klein, "Palestinians Plotting Egypt Attack?" 
http://www.ynetnews.com, September 13, 2006.
[66] Daniel Williams, "Cairo Links Sinai Attacks to Palestinians: Gaza 
Extremists Said to Train Egyptians," Washington Post, May 24, 2006.
[67] John L. Esposito, The Islamic Threat: Myth or Reality? (Oxford: Oxford 
University Press, 1999), p. 146.
[68] Ibid, p. 98.
[69] Jonathan Spyer, "Failure and Longevity: The Dominant Political Order in 
the Middle East," MERIA, Vol. 10, No. 2 (June 2006).
[70] Challiss McDonough, "Egypt Frees 950 Gamaa Islamiya Prisoners," Voice 
of America News, April 12, 2006.

MERIA Journal Staff
Publisher and Editor: Prof. Barry Rubin
Assistant Editors: Cameron Brown, Yeru Aharoni, Yechiam Brot, Deborah 
MERIA is a project of the Global Research in International Affairs (GLORIA) 
Center, Interdisciplinary University.
Site: http://meria.idc.ac.il - Email: gloria at idc.ac.il
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