Israel Should Be Concerned, but Not Alarmed, by Egypt’s Military Buildup

Jan. 12 2018

Since taking power, Egypt’s President Sisi has invested heavily in acquiring a variety of advanced materiel for his country’s armed forces, in addition to embarking on major infrastructure projects that cannot be justified in civilian terms alone. Cairo’s purchases, writes Yagil Henkin, do not suggest a military equipping itself to fight irregular forces—such as the Islamic State insurgents Egypt currently faces in the Sinai, or the insurgent groups it might have to fight in Libya. Furthermore, the infrastructure buildup is overwhelmingly in the east, in and near Sinai, rather than near the borders with Libya or Sudan. Henkin seeks to explain what might motivate Sisi, and how Jerusalem should react:

It’s hard to tell what’s driving the Egyptian military buildup. There are many possible reasons for a military buildup . . . : preserving [Egypt’s] status in the Arab world, . . . creating an infrastructure for future Russian deployment [in Egypt’s borders], preparation for a conflict with Israel or for the re-militarization of the Sinai, [and] 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. . . .

President 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 [preparation] 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, 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 force, and will not be able quickly to reach other countries, from Libya to Saudi Arabia. . . .

[T]he upshot is that Israel must maintain a basic capacity for mechanized warfare against modern armies. It must not assume that the present situation, in which Israel has had a crushing material military advantage versus its enemies (as in the Second Lebanon War and in recent wars against Hamas), will remain the same against other possible adversaries. . . . If the Muslim Brotherhood had remained in power in Egypt and had succeeded in carrying out an Erdogan-like revolution (that is, the purging of the army and bringing it under Brotherhood control), Israel would have found itself much more concerned [than it is now]. . . .

Israel must keep a careful eye on the changes in Egypt and their implications; and, at the same time, increase cooperation with Egypt as much as possible. Cooperation does not necessarily prevent future conflict, but it reduces misunderstandings and creates de-facto alliances. Such alliances reduce the chances of unintentional escalation. In other words, Israel’s great challenge is to maintain and improve relations with Egypt, and at the same time be prepared, without causing unintended escalation, for a situation in which the optimistic scenarios do not materialize.

Read more at Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies

More about: Egypt, General Sisi, Israel & Zionism, Israeli Security, Sinai Peninsula

What U.S. Success in Syria Should Look Like

April 26 2018

Surveying the history of the Syrian civil war, Jack Keane and Danielle Pletka explain that Bashar al-Assad’s brutal rule and vicious tactics have led to the presence in his country of both Shiite terrorists, led by Hizballah and backed by Iran and Russia, and Sunni jihadist groups like Islamic State (IS) and al-Qaeda. Any American strategy, they argue, must bear this in mind:

The best option is a Syria without Assad, committed to a future without Iranian or Russian influence. This is not a Pollyanna-like prescription; there are substantial obstacles in the way, not least those we have encountered in Iraq. . . . [But] only such a Syria can guarantee an end to Iranian interference, to the transshipment of weapons for Hizballah, and to the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction of the kind we saw used at Douma. (Iran has been instrumental in Syria’s chemical-weapons program for many years.) And, most importantly, only such a Syria can disenfranchise the al-Qaeda and IS affiliates that have found a foothold by exploiting the Syrian people’s desperation.

How do we get there? The United States must first consolidate and strengthen its position in eastern Syria from the Euphrates river to the eastern Syrian border. This involves clearing out the remnants of Islamic State, some several thousand, and ultimately eliminating pockets controlled by the Assad regime and Iranian forces in northeastern Syria. This would enable the creation of a control zone in the eastern part of the country as a base from which to build a credible and capable partner that is not subordinate to the Kurdish chain of command, while effectively shutting down Iran’s strategic land bridge from Iran to the Mediterranean. A regional Arab force, reportedly suggested by President Trump’s new national-security adviser, would be a welcome addition. But we should seriously doubt [the Arabs] will participate without American ground leadership and air support.

In western Syria, the United States should rebuild a Syrian opposition force with advisers, weapons, and air power while upping the pressure on Assad and his cronies to select a pathway to a negotiated peace. Pursuing a settlement in Geneva without such leverage over the Assad regime is pure fantasy. Finally, the United States and other Western powers must impede Iran’s and Russia’s ability to be resupplied. Syria’s airfields must be destroyed, and Syria’s airspace must remain clear.

Read more at National Interest

More about: Hizballah, Iran, ISIS, Politics & Current Affairs, Russia, Syrian civil war, U.S. Foreign policy