By Ezana Minas
The ongoing Egyptian military buildup is strange for a country that is in challenging economic condition, needs employment, prosperity and friendly cooperation in the neighborhood. It is an impressive as well as alarming effort in terms of budget, acquisition of modern weaponry, and training. Egypt under President Sisi has become the World’s third largest importer of weapons. But why is Egypt investing so heavily in its military? Which countries need to be wary?
Egyptian overall military strength is ranked twelfth in the world, just behind Germany, Italy, and South Korea, countries whose GDPs per capita are at least twelve times greater than Egypt’s.
Daily News of Egypt has just published an article months ago saying a high- ranking official told the News Paper that “Egypt is ready to strike deep inside any country to neutralize the threat either near its border or elsewhere.” Similar Military bravado and threat have been repeated by Sadat as well as Mubarak and the current President.
Traditionally, Egypt has been a country trying to be dominant in the Middle East highlighted by Nassir pan Arabic revolutionary flavor that led to the Swiss Canal and the six days wars. In the modern era, after gaining independence from Britain and after the “Free Officers” movement took power in 1952, Egypt became a contender for leadership of the Arab world, sometimes competing for the title with Iraq, Libya, Syria and Saudi Arabia and now a days with the GCC countries such us Saudi, Emirates and Qatar. In recent decades, however, Egypt’s influence has declined. This is due to economic weakness along with the Geopolitical changes and the financial and economic power of GCC countries in the Middle East, the Horn of Africa and the world at large.
Although the peace agreement with Israel and the American orientation bore many military and economic advantages, the hostile response to the agreement in the Arab world at that time damaged Egypt’s regional standing, especially given the growing economic and political power shifted to GCC Countries.
However, Egypt has never ceased to see itself as an important country. To a certain extent, the current, significant Egyptian military buildup stems from this self-conception. But Egypt does not have a ‘natural’ enemy on its borders or a country that threatens it for years, and it is puzzling ‘why Egypt needs building its army disproportionally to its needs. These kinds of military muscle can lead to miscalculations and costly adventure when the apex of the political decision making is occupied by military men. In the regions Egypt is located, there are ample evidences that no war could end in complete victory and there is significant difference between real and idealized mechanical process. No one will gain from war in these regions and there are already ample evidences of destruction. Iraq, Syria and Yemen are living example that have caused tremendous destruction and human suffering with bling militarism. The decisions of trigger-happy macho military brass and maneuvers of generals will be irrelevant to the final outcome of protracted struggle. If Egypt starts one war it is starting a thousand wars where people or countries in the surrounding will loose much more and start a non- ending conflict just like the Palestinian conflict.
Egypt’s military buildup over the last decade, particularly since President el-Sisi came into power in July 2013 is significant. It is important to review her capabilities, her actions and the possibilities that arise from them for countries in the region.
A. The Egyptian Army in the Egyptian Economy
The army in Egypt is not only a leading political player but also an economic ‘player’ and one cannot miss the heavy presence of the military in the economy. The military involvement in the economy began under President Gemmal Abdul- Nasser. The Egyptian military owns business that are in almost every sector and produce an extremely wide area of services and goods. It runs hotels, sea resorts and apartment buildings along with lavish villas. It owns cement, steel, jeep, fertilizer, home appliance, pasta and other factories; runs gas stations and construct toll highways. It run projects in the oil, gas and renewable energy
sectors. It is involved in scores of manufacturing and service providing companies producing merchandize varying from tank shells and ammunition to fertilizers, sport equipment, cement, pasta and cars. Egyptian army enjoys economic benefits such as “subsidized fuel inputs, control over lucrative real estate, preferential access to state contracts, and the use of special permits to exercise extralegal oversight in sectors ranging from petrochemicals to tourism. This has hindered the development of the private sector and equal benefit of the civilian population except those elite associated with the military brass.
In Egypt there is evidence to suggest that military officers, across all ranks, own their own enterprises and benefit significantly from the use of public infrastructure and facilities to increase profits. Furthermore, a network of military retirees either preside over or supervise government commercial enterprises and facilities, or participates in consultancy contracts.
In Egypt ex-generals occupy the top civilian positions in the state’s administrative apparatus in control of the key sectors, from public transportation systems to water and sewerage services, internet lines, social housing projects, and more. The military has been allowed to convert large segments of the defense industry to target the civilian consumer market and also create new business ventures, allowing the military to create a vast business empire with super access to state land, exceptional tax breaks, circumvented labor rights and functions outside public accountability. So much so in 2008 the American Embassy defined the army as a “quasi-commercial’ enterprise”.
In the mildest of all these if the military keeps on building its military hardware and also involves in politics and run the country, the likelihood of making a political errors or miscalculations in power relations is high. Sometimes, the military psychology confuses civilian political calculation and analysis with military logic. The repeated public threat by Egyptian officials is a key indication of trigger- happy army politicians etching to go into conflict. When military officials feel “powerful in terms of weapon accumulation they have a tendency to be military adventures, feel invincible, and try to solve issues by force. No matter how the end result will be disastrous.
B: Defense Budget:
Egypt’s defense budget was estimated above $ 9 billion since 2019, which is beyond the need of a developing country that needs to address the issues of economic prosperity, poverty and unemployment. In addition, the reported defense budget apparently does not include all acquisitions and military expenditure and military intervention in the country’s economy. Egypt puts additional resources into the military to those specified in the budget.
C.. The Egyptian Army Today
The Egyptian Army’s ground forces are built as a heavy mechanized force, mainly intended for large-scale combat maneuvers and not as expeditionary forces or for fighting with light, mobile forces against irregular enemy. They are organized in regional headquarters which hold both armored and mechanized divisions.
Western, Northern, Southern, Central military Regions and Second Field Army and third Field Army. The main branches of Egyptian Armed Forces are Egyptian Army, Egyptian Airforce, Egyptian Air Defense Command, and Egyptian Navy.
From 2010 and 2016 Egypt had four armored divisions; in 2016 the number of mechanized divisions grew from seven to eight; the number of artillery regiments were 15; the number of airborne brigades has remained three; special forces have not changed; and so on. Egyptian Rapid deployment Forces is one of the branches of Egyptian Armed Forces formed in March 2014 by the former Defense minister and current Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. The estimated number of its manpower may be between 468,000 to 438,000. Alternatively, because there are indications of a different trend and rapid buildup the last few years it is possible that the assessments may not be a true appraisal of the strength of the Egyptian army.
Even if I do not have information on new units, one can identify processes of modernization and a significant buildup of Egypt’s military forces. While in 2010 it was claimed that the Egyptian army had 973 modern M1 Abrams tanks, in 2016, the number mentioned by the same source was approximately 1,360. In addition, it was reported that Egypt intends to assemble Russian T-90 tanks in a factory to be built in her territory. Sources say approximately 400 to 500 such tanks.
In the field of troop carriers, Egypt purchased 762 MRAP (Mine Resistant Ambush Protected armored trucks) from the United States, of the kind that have proven themselves in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They have already been used in
fighting against ISIS forces in the Sinai, and a rough calculation will show they are capable of carrying the infantry of an entire mechanized division. An unknown number of Egyptian-made Timsah MRAPs that have already been observed in the Sinai Peninsula must be added, as well as the purchase of 130 military transport trucks from the Czech company, Tatra. Purchase of a further order of 220 trucks was on track.
In addition, Egypt is interested in upgrading or replacing its artillery systems. By mid-2017, it issued a request for proposals for 155 mm artillery systems from Russia, South Africa, South Korea and France.
Egypt also purchased S-300VM (Antey-2500) antiaircraft systems from Russia, a downgraded export version with an operational range of at least 200 km and missile interception capabilities (Egypt expressed interest in the newer
S-400 systems (against US opposition) as well as in the newest generation of the ‘BUK’ missile systems. According to Russian sources, the scope of the deal is about
$ 1 billion, and the Egyptians plan to equip three battalions – a full air defense regiment. The first of these systems were supplied to Egypt in the middle of 2017. They joined the short and medium-range BUK-M2E and TOR-1 / TOR-2 missiles purchased by the Egyptians in recent years from Russia, and seventy-five Avenger US-made antiaircraft launchers purchased a decade ago (In 2016-2017, Egypt made an unusual use of the system, which is actually a mobile version of the ‘Stinger’ shoulder missile: she anchored “Humvee” (“Hummer”) vehicles armed with missiles on board the new helicopter carriers that she purchased).
The Egyptian Army maintains a unique focus, at least for the Middle East, on air defense forces. These constitute a separate arm, and are estimated at 80,000 soldiers and 70,000 reserve soldiers, almost a sixth of the Egyptian regular army and reserves, in all branches (not including paramilitary forces and internal forces). This does not include the anti-aircraft defense that every division has – two air defense battalions. One can guess that the massive Egyptian reliance on air defense forces is related to the fact that during the 1973 war, the Egyptian Air Defense was more successful than the Egyptian Air Force. However, the likelihood of Egypt taking Israel on the Air might be suicidal so why is Egypt building its Airforce to such an extent with huge amount of resources spent on It with the growing unemployment and economic problems
If Egypt completes the construction of the planned nuclear reactor at el-Dab’a in the Marsa-Matruh area, it is reasonable to assume that the S-300 missiles will protect it. However, the number of missiles purchased – especially if the missiles are the longer-range models, capable of reaching 350 kilometers or more – provides not only protection of specific critical infrastructure, but also useful for offensive purposes. A battery of the longer-range model can be used on the surrounding countries. Source expressed concern that these anti-aircraft systems had nothing to do with the fight against terror.
The modernization is even more pronounced in the air and sea forces. The number of American F-16 aircrafts over the past decade has grown from 151 (of which 113 are relatively modern C/D models) to 208 or 220 (of which at least 177 are modern).It is puzzling how the Americans are extremely reluctant to sell any of these planes to sub-Sahara African countries. In addition, Egypt is diversifying its sources of procurement. For example, it purchased some 50 MiG-29s of the advanced M2 model (the deal, worth $ 2 billion, is expected to be completed this year. The first MiGs in the Egyptian Air Force were spotted in April 2017), and at least 24 French Raphael fighters in 2015, the first of which landed in Egypt less than a year after the signing of the deal.
Helicopters, too, were on the Egyptian shopping spree. Forty-six Apache attack helicopters (ten of which are of the advanced Apache Longbow model, were supplied in 2014 and recently Egypt is signed an agreement with a US company to refurbish a larger number of Apache helicopters) are joined by same number of advanced Russian made KA-52 attack helicopters. The first ones were observed in mid-2017 and were delivered to Egypt shortly after. Egypt also purchased from China an unknown number of Wing Loong armed UAVs, which are very useful for attacks against ISIS in the Sinai and have already seen operational use
With this re-equipping Egypt will retain one of the largest modern air forces in the Middle East and Africa, although Israel will still maintain a more advanced air force, including stealth fighters. So, it is reasonable to ask why does Egypt needs this? Why is the US so much committed to giving $1.3 billion a year arms supply as opposed to economic aid where Egypt needs it the most? What is the rational? Does the people of Egypt benefit most out of the economic or the military aid? Where is the moral high ground that the US claims?
The Naval sector:
There have also been significant developments in the naval sector, all after President Morsi was ousted and President El-Sisi took power. In 2014, Egypt signed a €1 billion contract with France for the construction of four” Gowind- 2500ʺ corvettes of about 2,500 tons for Egypt. A year later, it added a contract for a six-thousand-ton frigate (which has already been supplied), and two Mistral- class helicopter carriers (see below). They were joined in 2016 by contracts for two more corvettes, two patrol boats (and a communications satellite). In 2016 German 209/1400 submarines (more or less equivalent to Israel’s first generation ‘Dolphin’ submarines) began to replace the aging Chinese-made ‘Romeo’ submarines. It should be noted that this deal, although supplied during a-Sisi’s presidency, was signed back in 2012. In addition, the Russians supplied a new small 550ton P-32 missile corvette, armed with supersonic Moskit anti-ship missiles, in June 2016.
These ships join a wide range of older but still active ships, such as the four frigates from the American Oliver Hazard Perry series (4,200 tons) or four lightweight (600 ton) and speedy (41-knot) ships from the American Ambassador III series, which are supposed to have some stealth characteristics. As a result, the Egyptian navy is the second largest in the region, after Turkey, and is far removed from its image after the 1973 war, when it was perceived to be the “Achilles’ heel of the Egypt’s military.”
The most conspicuous acquisition, and some would say the most astonishing, were the two 21,000 ton French Mistral-class helicopter carriers, capable of carrying sixteen helicopters, as well as an armored battalion and an infantry battalion.
These ships were originally intended for Russia but were frozen due to the latter’s involvement in the Crimea. As a result, the Egyptians bought them at the price of nine hundred and fifty million Euros, or about $ 1.06 billion at the time of purchase, compared with the $ 1.53 billion the Russians were ready to pay for them.
This really is a bargain price, if for a moment one ignores the fact that Egypt is in financial difficulties, or of the fact that these are the largest ships of their kind throughout the Middle East and Africa. Before this deal, no one had thought that Egypt needed this kind of ship.
The commander of the Egyptian navy explained that the ships would be used to secure the Egyptian gas fields and to fight terrorism. This is quite surprising, to say the least, because it differs radically from concepts in which gas fields are protected by speedboats and anti-missile systems, and not by attack and reconnaissance helicopters flown from large, lightly armed helicopter carriers that are able to carry hundreds of their soldiers and land them on their enemies’ shores, all of which is not very relevant to protecting gas fields at sea.
The maritime and aircraft acquisitions suggest that the explanation that Egypt is preparing for the scenario of an urban uprising like in Syria, is difficult to believe, since it focuses largely on measures that would be useless in the early stages of such an uprising. If Egypt fears an urban insurrection, it would be better to invest a lot more in UAVs and armored light vehicles, and much less in corvettes and helicopter carriers.
Another, more logical option is that the ships were intended to enable Egypt to deploy forces rapidly in the Gulf region, a capability she currently lacks, since almost all of her buildup is unsuitable for rapid deployment by sea or air.
The fact that Egypt is not dependent on a single supplier enhances her status.
The Egyptian buildup pattern in recent years adds complexity for Egypt. For example, Egypt needs to maintain new aircrafts produced in the United States, Russia and European countries – each of course requires different spare parts, different training, and maintenance systems, which poses a considerable burden on the Egyptian army. However, strategically speaking, the fact that Egypt is not committed to a single supplier, but buys for anyone who is willing to sell to her at her terms, strengthens her position. She is not just another client dependent on one supplier, who can dictate conditions or stop the supply of spare parts and ammunition, but rather a customer courted by competing countries for contracts. Diversifying procurement reduces Egypt’s dependence on its suppliers and strengthens its ability to adopt an independent policy.
Weapons of mass destruction:
Egypt is developing weapon of mass destruction and Nuclear program. With its history of using weapons of mass destruction, Egypt remains one of four countries not to sign the Chemical Weapons convention and has not ratified the Biological
Weapons convention. Egypt’s chemical weapons program is the most developed. It is to be remembered that Egypt is one of the few countries to use chemical weapons after WW I during the North Yemen Civil war when phosgene and mustard gas was used against Royalist Forces in North Yemen.
A mere inspection of Egypt’s military power is not enough in order to determine her military buildup. Military forces don’t just move from one place to another. They need infrastructure; bases, roads (at least to a limited extent) and so on.
Egypt has made considerable investments in all these areas over recent years.
In light of Egypt’s success with constructing the new Suez Canal in the record time of a year, doubling its capacity (even if the economic results have so far been disappointing) as well as expensive projects such as the expansion of the Mohammed Naguib base near Alexandria, which according to the Egyptians is the largest military base in the Middle East, and the planned vision of new capital city it is evident that Egypt’s engineering capabilities should not be underestimated.
Some part of the development appears to be clearly for military purposes. Military installations, and new military camps able to house more than a brigade, are being built in various parts of Egypt. Surrounding countries should carefully watch Egyptian attempt to get a military base in Neighboring countries in the Horn of Africa. They are making their moves through military aid and cooperation.
In addition, Egypt built huge fuel reservoirs, some of which are camouflaged, and again this is far beyond the civilian needs. Some of the reservoirs are on a scale capable of serving an army, and some of them are strategic reservoirs of many millions of liters. In addition, Egypt is building many strategic fuel reservoirs. From 1973 to 2010, three fuel sites had been added. Since 2010 construction of at least three even larger reservoirs has begun.
While it is possible to believe that part of the development of the fuel reservoirs is for civilian purposes, even if it seems excessive for Egypt’s current needs and for those of the near future, the same can’t be said about the stockpiles of ammunition. An examination of satellite images since 2007 shows that all the ammunition depots have grown considerably, and that new and sometimes larger ammunition bunkers have been built.
Finally, we can point to an increase in the numbers of Egyptian tank transporters and the number of military bases of the tank transport units. Since 2010 three such bases have been built, which together have a capacity of some 720 transporters. It is hard to find a reason for this step, but its military implications are clear: Egypt is significantly improving its ability to mobilize large forces very quickly..
Egyptian capacity has steadily increased since President Sisi came to power . Given the fact that armored MRAP trucks are capable of moving on roads like any other vehicle, thus decreasing the use of tank transporters, this capacity enables Egypt to move several divisions at once – considering road limitations.
In contrast to the investment in airports, storage complexes and ammunition bunkers, it is clear that Egypt is not investing in defensive infrastructure but offensive ones. The newly-constructed Egyptian military infrastructure reinforces the deployment capability, increases the amount of ammunition stored, as well as fuel and other equipment – but it does not see the need to maintain defensive infrastructure.
The third link in the puzzle is training and military exercises. Naturally, an unskilled army with sophisticated equipment is less efficient than a skilled army with the same equipment, and usually also less so than a well-trained army with less sophisticated equipment.
The Egyptian army’s training has traditionally been viewed as mediocre, even if it was capable of successful planning and carrying out original and effective operational plans in the war with Israel. On the tactical level there was no doubt that after the well-executed combat crossing of the Suez Canal during Yom Kippur war, its combat performance was not particularly efficient. The dismal failures of Egypt’s elite Unit 777’s attempt to rescue flight 648 in 1985, as well as the botched Larnaca raid in 1978, only reinforced this image. Lack of initiative and motivation, a rigid centralized command structure, poor training, and other problems in the Egyptian Army is observable. Reports indicate a low level of at
least some of the Egyptian forces, and there is evidence of corruption and of recruits who serve in non-military positions, similar to the past.
However, Egypt has made a considerable effort to improve. In recent years, the Egyptian army has carried out extensive maneuvers, including full-scale division exercises, in which all soldiers in the participating units took part, together with their tanks and vehicles. The exercises have been on the rise in recently.
In addition, Egypt continues its traditional exercises with other countries, and adds some new ones. The biennial joint American- Egyptian military exercise “Bright Star” was held again in 2017, after being cancelled by the Obama administration in 2011, following the Egyptian revolution. Over the past five years, joint training exercises have been held with Jordan’s special forces; Egypt made parachute drops and house-clearing joint exercises with Russian paratroopers and special forces; an Egyptian unit was sent to Russia to train with Russian forces; Egyptian ships trained with Russian ships; the military has trained with forces from the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, with the Greek Air Force and Navy; and the Greek defense minister recently even declared a joint exercise with the Greek and Israeli air forces.
In any event, it is clear that the Egyptian military is training more than in the past, and with many more countries. It is also Building large training facilities, including for combat in built up areas.
- Possible Explanations
Piecing together the information about the military buildup, the infrastructure and the training exercises, indicates that the Egyptian army is undergoing considerable reform, and that Egypt is boosting its military capabilities. The military is purchasing newer equipment. The government is building new military infrastructure and dual-use infrastructure, mostly within the area from the Sinai to Cairo. Some of this infrastructure is apparently meant to enable fast deployment of troops to targeted areas, including aircraft, and to supply them without the need for supply convoys having to travel hundreds of kilometers.
Increasing the number of the tank transporters will also enable rapid deployment, as will the hundreds of new mine protected trucks that have joined Egypt’s Fahd wheeled armored personnel carriers. The extensive training of the various
branches, and in particular, the extensive joint exercises, indicate that the military is determined to preserve significant “conventional” large scale military capability, that is the ability to fight armored battles against other armies.
It’s hard to tell what’s driving the Egyptian military buildup. The buildup could be a disturbing sign. There are many possible reasons for a military buildup, including:
Buildup for the purpose of preserving its status in the Arab world, both as a means of balancing its economic weakness and due to the “arms race” in the Persian Gulf, which was largely caused by the Gulf States’ fear of the Iranians (even though the Saudis purchased less arms in 2016, in contrast to the sharp increase of previous years);
Creating an infrastructure for future Russian deployment in case the issue of democracy and Human Rights is raised by Congress or any time there is change in US government.
Preparations for a conflict with Israel or for the re-militarization of the Sinai which is plausible.
Strengthening the internal status of the government and the ruling class, in a country in which the army is, in many ways, the State itself.
Preparing Egyptian Army for the control of the Nile and preventing the rightful use of upstream countries particularly Ethiopia. With the exception of the possible use of the Airforce no chance fighting with Ethiopia on ground forces and it will be futile exercise for Egypt to take Ethiopians on the ground.
Each thesis is possible, but it is difficult to know which, if any of these explanations, is the reason for the Egyptian military buildup. However, Given the long-term likelihood of Israeli- Egyptian conflict, when we also look what is going on currently, Egypt flexing its mussel on the Nile may be a plausible scenario too. With the exception of its Airforce, the rest of the buildup is not that useful with possible conflict with Ethiopia unless Ethiopia’s Nabors give land access to Egypt which will be the beginning of many wars, regional crisis, and high level and multi years crisis for those who gave their land access. We should keep in mind that the constantly repeated phrase “all options are on the table” in the discussion on the Renaissance Dam with Ethiopia is in reference to military option.
President el-Sisi has stated that he is not afraid of an invasion because no organized army is threatening Egypt, but that Egypt needs a big army due to the unstable situation and the “vacuum” in the Middle East. According to his statements, the Egyptian buildup partially can be interpreted as a force for the rapid deployment of troops throughout the Middle East. Sisi has indeed declared his support of a united Arab force to deal with problems in the Middle East as well as Red Sea coalition forces and said that Egypt will play a part in this force.
However, the bulk of the Egyptian army is built as a heavy mechanized and armored army, and will not be able to quickly reach other countries, from the Gulf to mountainous region of Ethiopia. Light expeditionary force supported by the Airforce may be the strategy. Even that will not work with countries like Ethiopia, of a warrior tradition, proven record of routing foreign invaders as well as a strong tradition of being motivated for protracted war if an enemy provokes them.
Deploying light infantry units, MRAP trucks, and various types of wheeled armored personnel carriers using a neighboring country will not succeed and will be devastated.
In other words, while the Egyptian army can (if we ignore the difficulties that they are presently facing with ISIS) transfer large forces into Libya (except the border area and Libya’s legitimate government’s lack of capacity) , Sudan will meet with many more logistical difficulties. If it wants to use proxy territories to advance on countries like Ethiopia it will even be extremely difficult and costly with the exception of air raid. The new military cooperation treaty and joint exercise with Sudan is the strengthening of Egyptian engagement in the Sudan. The other alternative scenario of Israel being the target is suicidal. But one cannot rule out an inevitable conflict with Israel since the animosity of most of the Egyptian population towards Israel has increased due to the annexation of Jerusalem, Golan Heights and possibly West Bank. In addition, the likelihood of decline of support and aid from Europe and the US due to lack of Human rights and continued authoritarian rule with growing protest for democratization might shift the alliance system leading to confrontation with Israel.
It can also be for internal reasons (demonstrating power of the Military industrial elite in order to awe opponents, controlling the country, supporting an officer
political and military class, etc.) which may make greater sense than the need to contend with an external enemy.
Acquisition of weapons can also be connected to the army’s status in a society or the ability of its officials to derive a large profit from it, and not necessarily for any sort of operational planning.
Therefore, surveying Egypt’s abilities is not sufficient in order to understand her intentions. An analysis of their intentions on the surrounding countries is necessary – but it is not sufficient either.
However, the possibility of miscalculations when military officials occupy political center stage is real. With the accumulation of military toys and military arrogance the possibility of miscalculations and attacking a country is real. The history of Egyptian Military adventure, from the six days war to Yemen expedition, shows that. However, they ended up in losing in all.
While it is not possible to know at this point what the goal is of Egypt’s recent significant military buildup, the buildup itself speaks volumes. A comprehensive military buildup that involves the purchase of equipment, the improvement of infrastructure, and the enhancement of training – creates a new situation and forces neighboring countries to reflect and if need be to be prepared.
It is not possible to relate to this solely on the basis of an analysis of Egypt’s current leader’s intentions. Countries such as Israel, the conflict in GCC, the role of Turkey, Egyptian role in Libya, the Horn of Africa, the dam Ethiopia is building etc. must be analyzed to have a better understanding of the buildup.
The moment one party aspires to become stronger; the policies of others have to take this into account. Security is always relative. As Henry Kissinger had said, Absolute security for one party means total insecurity for other parties. In other words, the catch in responding to the military build-up of a neighboring country is that the response itself can create an arms race, especially with Israel. .
Let me conclude with with Ethio-Egyptian relations and the contention over the Renaissance Dam. Every drop of the Blue Nile water reflects the shared belief that the feelings of Ethiopian and Egyptian as well as Sudanese together. Egypt’s
National interest requires the establishment of close and cooperative relations with Ethiopia. Ethiopia has always guaranteed the flow of the Blue Nile and will continue to do so. Ethiopians will never want to threaten Egypt with the Nile which is its life line. They only want a negotiated a share that is fair and cooperative. However, if Ethiopia is militarily attacked in any form it will be a non- ending regrettable conflict to which Ethiopia will never knell down and will not be beneficiary for Egypt.
If we consider the Egyptian threat to the Ethiopian dam distance may be a major obstacle for the Egyptian military option. Countries such as Ethiopia are a little far from Egypt. Egypt has been trying to invest in aerial refueling capability, to expand the combat radius of all Egyptian aircraft staging from Egyptian airfields. Some defense analysts state that Egypt cannot reach places like Ethiopia effectively with its Airpower. Some think it can and they believe that Egypt has been working on air-fueling capability. US Airforce training Photo by staff surgent Amy Abbott taken at 0.3. 08 on 20 October 2007 shows an Egyptian F-16 trying to make contact with a KC-135 from the 336 ARS during inflight refueling training.
The training began in Egypt on November 20, 2007 and the American troops returned to the US on March. It is also reported in other sources that the UAE was said to be willing to help Egypt to go ahead with a project to acquire aerial refueling tanker aircraft in favor of the Egyptian Airforce. So, with these observations and taking from the recent statements and threat by Egyptian officials, including the recent Presidential speech, after observing an air force show, one can possibly conclude that the Egyptian Airforce can possibly reach out beyond its next-door Nabors.
The other possibility for Egypt is that the Dam is very close to the Sudanese border. Access to Sudanese airfields would place some of Egypt’s air force within range. However, operating from Sudanese territory could be politically complicated as well as militarily suicidal in the long run and would have international repercussions for Sudan along with Egypt. It will also be a total surrender of Sudanese sovereignty which will have a long lasting strategic and tactical damage in the Horn of Africa and long lasting conflict between Ethiopia and Sudan which is not beneficiary.
Another option is the insertion of special operations forces into Sudan with internal proxies and armed dissidents. Egypt has always been engaged in covert operations to destabilize Ethiopia and the proxies are readily available if not already operational. Egypt has a history of such kinds of activities in Eritrea and Somalia as well as recently most likely in Benishangul. From there, the forces could move across the border and either harass the construction of the dam or attempt to sabotage the structure under the guise of militants. This would allow Khartoum to realistically pledge that it had no idea there were “militants” there as it has done many times in the history of Ethio-Sudan relations. The recent bizarre territorial clam of erratic Sudan on Benishangul is a hint to the covert operations over there. The harassment tactic by special operations forces or militants may possibly delay the project, not arrest construction with many alternative counter measures for Ethiopia. Military conflict because of the Dam will be a permanent water security headache to both Egypt and Sudan.
Special operations forces teams would face their own series of obstacles in trying to affect the Dam. One, Ethiopians are excellent fighters and highly charged and united when it comes to foreign aggression. The Egyptian know this in history.
Dams are critical infrastructure and routinely protected relatively well in most countries by dedicated military units. Ethiopia would be no exception, especially with all the contention already surrounding the project. In addition, the Dam is long and wide with deep and strong concrete and will not be easy to damage it.
Ethiopia has constantly made it clear that it has no intention denying Egypt its fair share of the river as well as understanding its dependence on the Nile.
However, Ethiopia on the other hand would like Egypt to recognize the natural right of Ethiopia and negotiate an amicable solution and reach an understanding. Any option in terms of military confrontation Cairo chooses to exercise will be risky at best and will also come with severe long-term consequences from Ethiopia through possible diversion of all the more than 17 tributaries for the Blue Nile in central Ethiopia as well as international consequences. In addition, once Egypt started the conflict the good-will and cooperation from the Ethiopian side will be gone. Ethiopia will have all the justification to divert and use the more than 17 major tributaries and smaller rivers feeding the Blue Nile providing 86 percent of the Nile water. It will be extremely difficult and costly for Egypt to reverse and convince the rural
population of Ethiopia one’s diversion and irrigation based agricultural revolution starts with the tributaries.
Peace, cooperation and development to the Ethiopian, Egyptian and Sudanese people are a must with growing young population. Let us not beat the drum of war and destruction because it has never paid and it will never pay but we will end up in a much worse position that where we are.
Editor’s note : This article, By Ezana Minas, appeared first on P2P forum on May 18, 2021
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