Egypt, US aid and Israel

In mid-August, US President Barack Obama interrupted a golfing trip at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to condemn the military junta in Egypt for its violent attack on the Muslim Brotherhood government leaders.

October 9, 2013 21:55
3 minute read.
US President Barack Obama.

US President Obama 370. (photo credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque)


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In mid-August, US President Barack Obama interrupted a golfing trip at Martha’s Vineyard in Massachusetts to condemn the military junta in Egypt for its violent attack on the Muslim Brotherhood government leaders. Obama canceled a series of joint American-Egyptian military exercises called “Bright Star.”

But he refrained from using the “coup” word for what had happened in Egypt in July (though that is it was), because doing so would have entailed calling in question America’s $1.5 billion annual aid package to the most populous Arab state.

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Now, as America faces huge budgetary woes and increasingly looks to scale down its involvement in our region, the White House is considering cutting, if not halting, US economic and military aid to Egypt.

This would be a major turnaround in consecutive administrations’ policy. The Reagan administration did not cut off aid in 1981 after the assassination of Egyptian president Anwar Sadat. The Bush administration refrained from punishing Hosni Mubarak when, in defiance of a promise to Washington, he rigged elections and sent thugs to beat and kill protesters. Nor did Obama cut US aid after the ouster of Mubarak in 2011.

Would such a cut hurt Israeli-Egyptian relations? In talks with Washington back in August, Israel argued that it would. Such a cut might make it harder for Egypt to fight the security deterioration in the Sinai Peninsula, argued the officials.

They also said that ending US aid might endanger the Camp David Accords between Israel and Egypt.

The relative peace between the two countries has allowed Israel to direct limited military resources elsewhere, whether to the North, on the border with Hezbollah-controlled southern Lebanon, or in the West Bank.

Though US aid to Egypt is not linked to the Camp David Accords, Israel’s defeat of Egypt in the Yom Kippur War facilitated both. Anwar Sadat wanted to break away from his alliance with the Soviet Union, and the US was more than happy to step in. At the same time, Sadat signed a peace agreement with Israel. Now Israel is concerned that a cut in aid might lead Egypt to annul or amend the treaty.

But should Israeli official be arguing for continued US aid to Egypt and be quoted in the international media doing so? Admittedly, Israel prefers the military junta that calls itself the National Salvation Front to the coalition of the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi Islamist that took power in Egypt’s 2012 presidential elections.

The Jewish state, however, gains nothing by saying so publicly, particularly at a time when Americans are arguing that it is a matter of national self-respect to halt aid to Egypt in response to the coup, even if it would have little chance of influencing the new military rulers.

Besides, maintaining a peace treaty with Israel continues to be an Egyptian interest. If Egyptian leaders were convince this ceased to be so, they would not be deterred by the threat of losing US aid. And Egypt, like Israel, has an interest in maintaining law and order in the Sinai Peninsula.

Hundreds of billions of dollars have not cinched for the US the loyalty of Nouri al-Maliki’s regime in Iraq or Hamid Karzai’s regime in Afghanistan.

Money and aid and networking, it appears, do not buy influence.

Therefore, Israel should not be overly concerned with the prospect of the US cutting aid to Egypt.

As long as Cairo has an interest in maintaining good relations with Israel it will do so, regardless of US aid. If on the other hand for whatever reason Egypt’s leaders cease to see peace as important, the $1.5b. in aid will do little to stop the slide.

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