Cairo is seeking air-defense systems such as the advanced S-300 that Syria and Iran have sought, MiG fighter jets, and Kornet antitank weapons, which could cause Israel worry, according to a Washington Institute for Near East Policy report.
Despite the fact that Egypt has maintained the peace deal with Israel since 1979, a transfer of such advanced weapons “would degrade Israel’s qualitative military edge,” said the report, titled “Egypt’s arms deal with Russia: Potential Strategic Costs,” by David Schenker and Eric Trager.
“To be sure, the strategic cooperation and level of trust between Israel and Egypt, particularly on Sinai, has never been better. But changing the status quo could undermine that trust and perhaps even the Camp David peace treaty,” it said.
Egypt completed a $2 billion arms deal with Russia, financed by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, an Egyptian newspaper reported last month.
Asked if the US might take punitive action against Egypt if such advanced weaponry were included, Schenker, the director of the Program on Arab Politics and a senior fellow at The Washington Institute for Near East Policy, told The Jerusalem Post that the US would hold off until it can confirm such purchases.
“I would be surprised, though, if US diplomats are not speaking with their counterparts in Egypt about this and conveying concerns and potential consequences should these purchases actually occur,” he said.
“Egypt’s priorities right now should be all about counterterrorism operations, both in the Sinai and the Nile Valley,” Schenker added. “Russian helicopters fit the bill, though S-300s and sea-to-land missiles obviously do not.”
The report notes that helicopters play a key role in the country’s efforts to put down an Islamist insurgency in Sinai.
The Russian Rostvertol Mi-35 helicopters and perhaps the Mi-17 multipurpose helicopters are reportedly part of the deal.
Egypt’s moves to improve relations with Russia are seen as a way to counter the threat of US pressure. The US partial aid and weapons freeze was largely seen to be a punishment for the military coup and crackdown on former president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters.
Congress has moved to unfreeze aid to Egypt in 2014, but it still is unclear how it will play out.
Furthermore, the report notes that “Saudi Arabia’s funding of Egyptian weapons procurements has nullified Washington’s policy of tying military aid to political reform.”
Egyptians are paying attention to how Washington is supporting the popular uprising in Ukraine that toppled president Viktor Yanukovich. They compare this to the criticism Washington made of the coup in Egypt.
Egyptians see the US as an unreliable ally, stated the report, which led Egyptian army chief Field Marshal Abdel Fattah al-Sisi “to seek Moscow’s help in diversifying the country’s sources of military procurement.”
“Despite reassurances from Egyptian officials, the Russian weapons deal – if concluded – portends a gradual reduction in Washington’s ability to control the quality and quantity of weapons that Cairo receives, and to maintain Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region,” concluded the report.