A grave and gathering threat

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One week after Egypt scuttled Israel's proposed UN resolution condemning the murder of Israeli children by terrorists, Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom met with Egyptian dictator Hosni Mubarak in Geneva.


Commenting on Wednesday's meeting on Israel Radio, Shalom explained, "The very existence of the meeting… show[s] more than anything that the Egyptians have tried to warm up relations with Israel."


Shalom met with Mubarak ahead of the autocrat's trip to Washington. In so doing, while Shalom received nothing for his trouble of meeting with Mubarak, Mubarak received Israeli cover ahead of his meetings with US President George W. Bush. And Mubarak could use such Israeli legitimacy.



This week, Egypt absorbed a public relations blow when the UN's Human Rights Report lambasted its miserable human rights record.


It is a shame that our foreign minister felt it necessary to confer such legitimacy on Mubarak. One of the worst-kept secrets in our region is that aside from Iran's nuclear weapons program, Egypt is the greatest looming threat to Israel's national security. As our governing officials pander to Mubarak and his top brass, these men oversee diplomatic and military policies that endanger the very existence of the Jewish state.


Egypt is generally applauded for what is considered its "constructive" role in attempting to end the Palestinian terror war. Mubarak's intelligence chief Omar Suleiman's efforts to secure a temporary cessation of terrorist attacks are viewed in a positive light.


In the Foreign Ministry's press release about the meeting in Geneva, the ministry said that Shalom "found that the Egyptian president was committed to the peace process." And yet Egypt plays a pivotal role in enabling, justifying, and prolonging the Palestinian terror war against Israel.


As Chairman of the Knesset's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee MK Yuval Steinitz points out, the Egyptian initiative to achieve a temporary cease-fire among the various Palestinian terrorist organizations is aimed not at achieving peace, but at "preserving Hamas's terror capabilities."


"In pushing for the so-called hudna, the Egyptians are trying to force a temporary cease-fire that will save Hamas from the demand that it be dismantled as is dictated by the road map," Steinitz explains. "Doing so is not only counter to the expressed demands of the road map.

It is antithetical to the objectives of the US war on terror. These call explicitly for an end to state sponsorship of terrorism and for the denial of safe havens and bases of operation for terrorists," he adds.


For the past three years, the Egyptian military has turned a blind eye to the constant smuggling of weaponry to Palestinian terrorist forces through tunnel networks in the Sinai Desert. "In enabling the continuation of the smuggling operations, Egypt has become the logistical base for Hamas," Steinitz argues.


Egypt's support for the continuation of the Palestinian terror war is part and parcel of an overall strategy of weakening Israel politically, diplomatically, and defensively while building up the Egyptian armed forces to a level of parity with the IDF. Dr. Arieh Stav, director of the Ariel Center for Policy Research, explains, "Egypt is an impoverished country. Its per capita income is $870.

And yet, it spends a quarter of its GDP on its military. Egypt has 450,000 men in uniform and another 450,000 men in its paramilitary units. This battle roster does not include its reserve forces. By way of comparison, at the height of World War II, Nazi Germany did not spend such a large proportion of its GDP on its war efforts."


Egypt's military capabilities include a sophisticated and well-stocked arsenal of chemical and biological weapons as well as advanced ballistic missiles capable of targeting Israel.


According to Dr. Dany Shoham from Bar-Ilan University's Begin Sadat Center, the Egyptian chemical arsenal includes VX, sarin, mustard gas, and luisite.


"Egypt was the first Middle East country to develop and use chemical weapons. It did so effectively in its war with Yemen between 1962-67," Shoham notes, adding, "Egypt's chemical and biological weapons procurement programs reached their height in the 1970s and 1980s.


"While in the 1990s, Egypt claimed alternately that its non-conventional arsenals were of a defensive nature or that it had no such arsenals, the fact is that there are no indications whatsoever that their chemical and biological weapons were dispensed with – to the contrary. Their weapons were also not rendered obsolete with the passage of time. There is in fact no certainty whatsoever that the Egyptians ceased their development programs."


Egypt's biological arsenal contains advanced strains of toxins, bacterial and viral agents. Egypt possesses varied and advanced dispersal systems for its unconventional weapons. These include chemical mines, artillery shells, aerial bombs, and ballistic warheads. Egypt's ballistic missile systems include advanced Scud and Nodong missiles. As late as this year, Egypt continued its ballistic missile collaboration with North Korea and there have been scattered reports of cooperation with Libya as well.


In the 1980's Egyptian scientists and engineers actively participated in Saddam Hussein's nuclear weapons programs. This Egyptian-Iraqi cooperation continued, with less publicity during the 1990's according to US government sources at the time. In the lead-up to the US-led invasion of Iraq, the Egyptian government refused US and British requests that those engineers and scientists be interviewed by US officials.


Egypt has continued to cultivate its weapons of mass destruction programs while modernizing its conventional armed forces. The $2 billion in annual US military assistance has allowed Egypt to transform its armed forces from a Soviet era force to a modern and sophisticated Western military.

Egypt has built local production facilities for the US M1A1 Abrams main battle tank. Israeli pilots have noted with alarm over the years that the US-trained Egyptian pilots in US-supplied F-16 fighter jets may well have achieved operational parity with the IAF.


And, Steinitz notes, "While Egypt has achieved near parity with Israel in ground and air forces, its naval power has outstripped Israel's. Today, the Egyptian navy has 2-3 times the number of naval platforms as Israel."


A former senior IDF intelligence officer allows that "Egypt's military buildup is beyond any proportion to conceivable external threats to Egypt and is a cause for alarm." Yet, at the same time, he argues that under Mubarak's dictatorship, Egypt has no interest in moving towards open warfare with Israel. "The problem will arise if a succession crisis ensues after Mubarak's death."


This argument, that 75-year-old Mubarak's despotic rule of Egypt acts as a barrier to protect Israel from his own massive buildup of Egypt's military forces, is the conventional wisdom on Egypt. It is voiced by officials throughout the political spectrum in Israel and accepted unquestioningly in Washington. The problem is that Egypt's military is explicit in naming Israel as the intended recipient of the full brunt of its massive might.


Starting in 1996, the order of battle at Egypt's annual Bader combined forces exercise has explicitly named the opposing force as "a small nation to the country's northeast." Unless the Egyptians are referring to the Gaza Strip, that nation is of course Israel.


"The Egyptian military has already achieved absolute superiority against any Middle Eastern and African state. Egypt has no military threat to deal with from anywhere
. It does not even have border disputes with any of its neighbors," Steinitz notes. "It is clear that Egypt is working to achieve military parity with Israel. This is made all the more dangerous when one bears in mind that in the event of a war, Egypt will not be fighting by itself but rather as part of a coalition of Arab states."


Steinitz also notes with worry the recent intensification of cooperation between the Egyptian and Saudi Arabian air forces.



The Saudi air force has drawn attention of late because after the US-led invasion of Iraq it stationed F-16 squadrons at Tabuk airfield, within striking distance of Israel. This deployment is in contravention of US pledges to Israel that the Saudi F-16s, flown by US-trained pilots, would be prohibited from using the Tabuk air base.


The US, which has almost singlehandedly overseen Egypt's conventional military ascendancy, has not made any serious attempt to alter Egypt's behavior. Again, the common wisdom is that Mubarak is a moderate who, regardless of his personal view of Israel, understands that it does not serve his interests to abrogate his country's peace treaty with Israel. And yet, largely as a result of the actions of officially-sponsored incitement, Egypt is one of the most anti-Semitic countries in the world.


As Steinitz notes, "Mubarak, through years of incitement, has prepared his people psychologically for war against Israel and has even brought them to assume that such a war is inevitable."


By signing a peace agreement with Israel, Egypt became the second-largest recipient of US military assistance in the world. It has received a pass for its anti-Semitism and active support of Palestinian terrorist organizations. Its massive militarization, non-conventional arsenal, and its refusal to develop its civilian economy or grant political freedom to its subjects have been systematically ignored.


In many ways, the Egyptian experience is mirrored by that of the PLO, itself an organization founded by Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1964. After signing the 1993 Oslo Accord with Israel, the PLO benefited from Israeli arms and US training of its forces.


Its incitement was ignored. Its corrupt autocracy in the territories was encouraged in the interest of "stability." The fact that on paper the PLO remains committed to peace with Israel preserves its international legitimacy in spite of its actions and declarations that prove unequivocally that it is still bent on Israel's destruction as its principle aim.


In Egypt's case, as Steinitz explains, "It is an alarming irony that while Israel has a peace agreement with Egypt, but remains in an official state of war with Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Syria, and Libya, Egypt causes Israel more damage diplomatically and constitutes a larger threat militarily than all these states that are still our declared enemies."


Originally published in The Jerusalem Post.

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