Shortly after being appointed defense minister by Egypt’s then-president Mohammed Morsi, Mohammed Abdel Fattah el-Sisi launched a large-scale rearmament program, which included the purchase of submarines from Germany and the implementation of previous arms deals with the U.S. After overthrowing Morsi in a coup, Sisi has continued to rearm, striking deals to procure helicopters, ships, aircraft, and more from France and Russia with the financial assistance of the Gulf states. Yet, note Yiftah S. Shapir and Kashish Parpiani, Egypt hardly needs such arms. It is already well-supplied by the U.S., and its major threats come from insurgents in the Sinai and guerrillas in Libya and Sudan, all of whom can be combatted without so extensive an arsenal. Shapir and Parpiani suggest an alternative explanation:
[T]he large arms acquisitions should be seen in the broader context of Sisi’s doctrine and vision for Egypt, in place from the moment he assumed power. This vision sees Egypt resuming its former position as a regional power in the Middle East, with the capacity to project its power throughout the eastern Mediterranean, the Middle East, and Africa. . . .
The mere possibility of sending a landing force armed with battle tanks and accompanied by attack helicopters to [Yemen] or even as far away as Iran should give Egypt a strong say in the region. Egypt achieved this capability [through its recent purchases], with a great deal of financial aid from the Gulf states—Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait. Thus this process should be seen in part in the context of the Saudi-led coalition against Iran. . . .
In turn, there are major implications for Israel. For decades Egypt has maintained its obligations under the peace agreement with Israel. Furthermore, since Sisi took power in Egypt, the bilateral relations as well as the level of cooperation have improved considerably. Egypt’s current rearmament, then, should not worry Israel in the near term.
However, Egypt’s rearmament and its drive to become a regional power once again should be viewed by Jerusalem with caution. After all, the IDF is the only major military on Egypt’s borders, and Israel cannot avoid seeing any such rearmament as a potential threat. The acquisition of modern aircraft such as the Rafale and the MiG-29M will erode Israel’s qualitative edge in the air. . . . Of particular military concern for Israel are the [Russian-made] Antey-2500 surface-to-air missiles, which could affect the Israeli air force’s freedom of action even over Israeli air space, and the Moskit missiles on board the Molniya corvettes, which could affect the freedom of action of Israel’s navy.