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Monday, January 14, 2013
F-16 deal redefines US relationship with Egypts Morsi administration

F-16 deal redefines US relationship with Egypt's Morsi administration
Consignment of US F-16 jet fighters to Cairo signals level of support for
Egypt's President Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood from which he hails, say
military experts
Ahmed Eleiba , Monday 14 Jan 2013

A consignment of F-16 jet fighters to Cairo from Washington during the next
few weeks has stirred up yet another hornet's nest in Egypt's fraught
political atmosphere. In the opinion of many observers, the controversy over
the deal is a thoroughly political one, as the additional fighter planes
will do little to alter strategic balances of power in the region. It is
unlikely that similar arms deals during the Mubarak era would have aroused
such an altercation. The new factor, of course, is the Muslim Brotherhood's
rise to power, which has worried political circles in both capitals.

Various parties abroad and domestic adversaries of the Muslim Brotherhood
and its Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) are keen to loosen the strategic
embrace between the two countries. Nevertheless, in an interview with
Al-Ahram Weekly, a US source stated that Washington would support the
authority in Cairo as long as it remained committed to the democratic
process. To officials in Washington, it is the defence question that counts
more than the political, even if the arms deal has sparked some political
controversy here or there, the source said. The same source stressed that
the deal did not come attached with any security demands linked to the
situation in Egypt or in Egypt's Sinai Peninsula.

This is consistent with the outcome of the US-Egyptian joint defence
committee meeting held in Cairo several weeks ago. The 28th of these regular
sessions, the meeting affirmed the US's strategic vision that maintains the
necessity of sustaining the partnership that has existed between the two
countries over the past three decades. That Egypt represents a cornerstone
of this strategic vision was probably the main factor in the success of the
F-16 deal.

Ambassador Hussein Haridi, former assistant foreign minister, prefers to use
the term "the rules of the game" when referring to the arms agreement. "It
appears that the Muslim Brotherhood understands these rules very well," he

Some experts in military affairs are more inclined to see the issue purely
in terms of the army, its morale and its armament needs, seeing little
reason to colour the issue with domestic political considerations. It is in
this context that a military spokesman has noted on numerous occasions the
close military coordination between the US and Egypt.

But this is not how another military expert sees it. In his opinion, it is
impossible to separate politics from the question of arms for Egypt. For
example, he said, in the current contest between President Barack Obama and
US Congress, one cannot overlook the fact that there is a major agreement
with regard to the management of Egyptian-US relations centring on military
aid to Egypt, which takes priority over economic assistance.

The F-16s slated to arrive are the block 50/52 versions. The F-16s that are
currently in the Egyptian arsenal are the A, B and C models of blocks 30/32
and 40/42. These have been in operation in Egypt since the 1980s. Perhaps
the importance of the new arrivals derives from the fact that they belong to
a more advanced line, even if other Arab countries possess subsequent models
with more enhancements. The UAE, for example, possesses F-16s from block
60/62. As for Saudi Arabia, it boasts the most expensive arms deals in the
history of US weapons sales, estimated in the neighbourhood of $60 billion
over ten years. Riyadh and Washington are currently contemplating yet more
deals of similar scale.

Cairo already has some 200 F-16s, but is looking forward to 20 new upgraded
ones. Israel may have only 102 F-16s, but it will retain the qualitative
edge when it obtains the F-35s. These fifth generation multi-role fighters
designed to perform ground attacks, reconnaissance and air defence missions
with stealth capability will not go into service for two years, but Israel
will get first dibs when they are marketed internationally a couple years
from now.

It has been suggested that they are unlikely to be deployed in the US Air
Force until they have first demonstrated their prowess in the skies of the
Middle East. With such advanced and sophisticated weaponry, Israel will
retain its qualitative military superiority not just over Egypt but over all
Arab countries combined. This only confirms that the current US-Egyptian
arms deal offers no breakthrough with respect to strategic equations.

But, domestically, it means quite a bit. Retired Brigadier General Safwat
Al-Zayat told the Weekly in a telephone interview from Doha that in the game
between the White House and Congress, the Zionist lobby may still try to
obstruct the deal. "Even though they know that the aircraft mean little in
terms of military balances, they feel they have to say something with a
political twist that includes Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brothers in a
useful sentence. But then, the White House is playing the same game," he

He continued: "Even if this bothers people in the military, it is obvious
that the finalisation of the deal on 11 December, which happened to be at
the height of the mass demonstrations in Tahrir Square against Morsi,
conveyed a political message. Between the lines, Washington was sending a
message to three parties. The first was to Morsi and it stated, 'We support
you. Move ahead.' The second was to the army and it said, 'We are
encouraging this man,' meaning Morsi. The third was to the opposition forces
and it said the same thing. We need to bear in mind that Morsi had been put
to the test during the last [Israeli] war against Gaza and passed with
flying colours from the US perspective."

If the above-mentioned US source had no reservations with regard to
Washington's embrace of the Muslim Brotherhood, another source close to the
same political circle complained that the Brotherhood were being two-faced
in their dealings with Washington which is to say that what is happening
on the ground in Egypt is different from what they try to market to US
public opinion. To this, a Brotherhood source responded: "How can we be sure
that the US administration is dealing honestly with us?" The implication was
that Washington is keeping its lines of communication open with the Egyptian
opposition and army.

Ambassador Haridi agrees that the F-16 deal signals an unprecedented level
of support for Morsi and the Brotherhood. He finds this regrettable because
"it leads me to understand that the Muslim Brotherhood reached power with US
approval, and this means the provision of services." Therefore, he added,
"Congress will not intervene, unless there is some dramatic excess or unless
the Brotherhood deviates from the framework of its understanding with
Washington. In any event, the Muslim Brotherhood in Cairo understands the
rules perfectly and has no intention of breaking them."

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