Egypt’s army resists US pressure to change tack: cables


Egypt’s military has resisted US pressure to modify its strategy to counter new regional threats, stressing the country’s national security was “a red line” the United States could not cross, leaked US diplomatic cables show.

Egypt has received over $36 billion in US military aid since in 1979 when it made peace with Israel, the second largest recipient of US foreign aid. But the cables showed Washington and its Arab ally disagreed on how the money should be spent, Reuters reports.

US defence officials say Egypt’s army is outdated and needs to be re-focussed to counter “asymmetric threats” such as terrorism, the smuggling of weapons into Gaza, piracy and support US policy towards Iran, a February 9, 2010 cable showed. “While the US-Egypt military relationship remains strong, the Egyptian military has been resistant to our efforts to adjust its focus to reflect new regional and transnational threats,” said a February 28 2010 cable. But Egyptian military officials said threats facing their US ally were different from Egypt’s.

The Arab country’s defence policy priorities were “Egyptian land and the Suez Canal,” and keeping “a strong conventional army to counter other armies in the region,” Major-General Mohammad al-Assar said in the February 9 2010 cable. While Egypt preferred “to purchase its weapons and armaments from the United States,” its “national security was a red line” Assar said, adding that they “could go elsewhere if they had to,” the memo showed.

Much of the annual $1.3 billion military aid to Egypt goes towards acquiring US equipment to modernise its aging army. A September 2008 cable showed US officials criticising Egypt’s army for “continuing to … train for force-on-force warfare with a premium on ground forces and armour”. The US memo said Egypt’s Defense Minister Field Marshal Mohamed Tantawi, 77, was the “chief impendiments to transforming the military’s mission”.

But Assar said heavy gear such as aircraft and tanks were necessary in counter-terrorism missions and called on US officials to tell Congress not to limit the number Egypt acquires.

Other Egptian officials complained that the United States has increased military aid to Israel while Egypt’s amount was fixed, adding Israel possessed “unconventional weapons” which creates a regional imbalance and could cause instability. Analysts have said Egypt’s military had a “disgruntled mid-level officer corps,” and was in decline, but remained influential in ensuring the stability of President Hosni Mubarak’s government, the Sept 2008 cable said .

Since a 1952 coup that ousted the monarchy, all of the country’s presidents have come from army ranks.