Lawmaker opposes US selling more Abrams tanks to Egypt

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The US must be highly cautious when selling military equipment to the Egyptian government as long as the Muslim Brotherhood remains active in Egyptian politics, said Florida Representative Allen West, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, who was referring to Egypt’s request for a further 125 Abrams main battle tanks.

“As a member of the Armed Services Committee, I strongly oppose any military sales of any kind to the government of Egypt as long as the Muslim Brotherhood remains active in the political process,” West said in a July 18 letter. “Doing so would seriously jeopardize the safety and security of the state of Israel. The last thing I want to see is Egyptian M1A1 tanks rolling through the Sinai toward Jerusalem.”

On July 1 the US Defence Security Cooperation Agency (DSCA) notified Congress of a possible Foreign Military Sale to Egypt for 125 M1A1 tank kits valued at around US$1.329 billion.
“This proposed sale will contribute to the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a friendly country that has been and continues to be an important force for political stability and economic progress in the Middle East,” the DSCA said in a statement.

However, West said that although “America must continue to stand with the Egyptian people and encourage them to build their own democracy with new political parties and freedoms…we must exercise caution with regard to military sales and support to the Egyptian government until a government is formed absent of the radical elements of the Muslim Brotherhood that will maintain active peace with Israel.”

He described the Muslim Brotherhood as being “one of the greatest threats to Egyptian stability, as well as to regional stability,” adding that, “if given control of the country, the Muslim Brotherhood would nominate its own candidates and turn Egypt into a radical Islamic state.”

West sent the letter to Buck McKeon, the House Armed Services Committee chairman. Copies of the letter also were provided to House Speaker John Boehner and other House leaders.

At the end of last month the United States said it had decided to resume formal contacts with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, in a step that reflects the Islamist group’s growing political weight but that is almost certain to upset Israel and its US backers.
“The political landscape in Egypt has changed, and is changing,” said a senior official, who spoke on condition of anonymity. “It is in our interests to engage with all of the parties that are competing for parliament or the presidency.”

There is no US legal prohibition against dealing with the Muslim Brotherhood itself, which long ago renounced violence as a means to achieve political change in Egypt and which is not regarded by Washington as a foreign terrorist organisation.

But other sympathetic groups, such as Hamas, which identifies the Brotherhood as its spiritual guide, have not disavowed violence against the state of Israel.

The result has been a dilemma for the Obama administration. Former officials and analysts said it has little choice but to engage the Brotherhood directly, given its political prominence after the February 11 downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak.

Egypt has a large tank force and operates one of the world’s largest M1 fleets. According to the IISS’s 2010 The Military Balance, Egypt has more than 3 700 main battle tanks, including 973 M1A1s, 850 M60A3s, 300 M60A1s and 260 Ramses II (upgraded T-54/55s). In addition, the Egyptian Army has a further 500 T-62s and 840 T-54/55s in storage.

Co-production of the M1 began in 1988 when Egypt set up Tank Assembly Plant 200 in Helwan. Co-production involves kit assembly in Egypt and the production of sensitive items such as armour in the United States.

The prime contractors for the contract will be General Dynamics, Honeywell International Incorporated and Allison Transmission Motors. Around 60% of Egypt’s Abrams have been produced in the United States and the rest inside the north African nation.

It is not clear how Egypt will pay for the 125 new tanks – in the past it has used some of its Foreign Military Assistance money from the United States to do so. Egypt has received over US$36 billion in US military aid since in 1979 when it made peace with Israel, and currently receives US$1.3 billion each year.

Although Egypt has requested the additional 125 Abrams, it does not mean the sale will go through. By law, the US government is required to notify Congress of any foreign military sale over a certain value. Depending on the country and the sale, Congress has between 15 and 30 days to block the sale by a joint resolution of disapproval, Defence News reports.

To date, no sale has ever been blocked by this method, although Congress came very close during the 1980s with an arms sale to Saudi Arabia. Congress can also pass legislation to stop or modify sales at any time up to the point of delivery.