Israel: Egypt not a threat despite advanced weapons systems

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

TEL AVIV Egypt's military has failed to exploit its Western platforms, technology and combat doctrine and poses virtually no threat to Israel, a new study said.

The study by Tel Aviv University's Jaffee Center for Strategic Studies asserted that Egypt's military continues to operate under the same Soviet combat and training doctrine as that during the 1973 Arab-Israeli war. Egypt fought the 1973 war with Soviet advisers and weapons.

"It [Egypt] is an army that has changed its characteristics, from Eastern to Western platforms," Shlomo Brom, a senior researcher at the center, said. "But when you see how the army operates, there has been no change."

Egypt, with a force of 450,000 soldiers, about 75 percent of whom comprise the ground forces, has largely replaced its Soviet arsenal with U.S. platforms and weapons, Middle East Newsline reported. Egypt has an air force fleet of about 220 F-16s, 800 M1A1 main battle tanks, Apache attack helicopters and Hawk anti-aircraft batteries all procured since 1980.

But the report said Egypt, which receives $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid, has failed to implement the Revolution in Military Affairs [RMA], meant to exploit the Western superiority in precision-guided weapons, intelligence and command and control. As a result, Egypt despite obtaining many of the same platforms acquired by Israel has been unable to optimize its battlefield force.

"The assumption that the two sides' weapon systems [Egypt and Israel] are identical is also inaccurate," the report said. "Israel uses its highly developed technological infrastructure to alter the weapon systems that it receives and make them more suitable to the specific conditions of the conflicts in which it is likely to participate."

The study was based on information provided by U.S. military advisers who had served in Egypt. The study quoted the advisers as saying that Egypt's military has been hampered by its inflexible hierarchal structure, exaggerated sense of honor and lack of cooperation.

"Egypt in 2004 is not Egypt of 1973," said Brom, a former senior Israel Air Force officer who authored the report along with researcher Yiftah Shapir. "It is an open country. It has U.S. military advisers and they write."

The report said Egypt's air force has operated its F-16 fleet in the same way as the military used Soviet-origin MiG-21s more than 30 years ago. Egypt, the study said, has failed to train in the use of precision-guided weapons and lacks a maintenance infrastructure.

"The Egyptians will operate their F-16s [in any future war] using the same operating concept that they use for operating MiG-21s in the 1970s as indicated by the format for training and exercises of the present Egyptian Air Force," the report said.

The report, published in the "Middle East Strategic Balance 2003-2004," released on Monday," said Israeli F-16 pilots could defeat their Egyptian counterparts in any future conflict. Israel's Merkava would also overpower the Egyptian M1A1 tank, the study said.

The Jaffee Center envisioned a scenario in which Egypt's ground forces would be exposed to punishing Israeli strikes in any Egyptian attempt to cross the largely demilitarized Sinai Peninsula. The study said Egypt's lack of RMA would undermine the range of its F-16 fleet, mechanization of its ground forces and firepower of Cairo's large navy.

"In a conflict of the type expected in the early 21st Century, however, they [Egyptian military capabilities] will be relatively unimportant," the report said. "Furthermore, even in areas where Egypt has built its strength, the IDF [Israel Defense Forces] buildup has been at least as massive, and more so in most areas. The gap between the IDF and the Egyptian armed forces in the most important aspects has not narrowed; it has widened."

Brom said the Jaffee Center initiated the report in response to the concern expressed by Israeli military commanders and defense officials over what they termed Egypt's emerging military power. He said that those who warn against Egypt's procurement of U.S. and Western platforms fail to account for Cairo's lack of training and weapons suites.

The report said Egypt's air force has deployed "primarily outdated short-range guided weapon systems, such as the Maverick missiles." Egypt has also failed to procure the Joint Direct Attack Munitions, the AGM-130, or the Israeli-origin AGM-142, known as the Popeye.

Over the last 15 years, the report said, Egypt has sought to replace aging Soviet-origin anti-aircraft batteries with inferior U.S.- and European-origin surface-to-air missile systems. Cairo has also been modernizing its heavier Soviet anti-aircraft systems, including the SA-3 Goa.

At the same time, Egypt was said to be incapable of collecting and disseminating real-time intelligence. The study said Egypt has also been unable to operate its command and control systems and lacks adequate long-range visual intelligence gathering systems for the air force.

The study said Egypt would encounter significant difficulties should the military be ordered to acquire RMA capabilities. The obstacles would include a U.S. refusal to transfer advanced systems that could erode Israel's conventional military superiority, Israel's ability to improve its U.S. platforms and systems and the lack of Egyptian funding for a paradigm change in the Egyptian military.

"The Egyptian military regards its main role as defensive and as constituting a deterrent to Israel," the report said. "In accordance with this philosophy, it seems to feel fairly confident in its strength and believes that the quality and quantity of its equipment provides an adequate counterweight to Israel. The Egyptian military will no doubt aspire to upgrade this equipment, but so far it has evinced no serious impulse to change its military doctrine."

Copyright 2004 East West Services, Inc.

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