Comment by Dr. Yagil Henkin, Defense News, 10.01.2018
For a country that is in economic chaos and lacks a state enemy teeming at its border, the rapid buildup of Egypt’s military arsenal has raised eyebrows in Israel.
Egypt has acquired a long shopping list of arms over the years, and its amped-up arsenal has elicited more questions than answers among Israeli experts. The purchases — most of which occurred under Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi — indicate an Egypt dedicated to returning to its former glory and declaring to the rest of the region that it is a force to be reckoned with.
Some items on the list with the most hefty price tags include the acquisition of 387 M1 Abrams tanks since 2010 as well as 762 mine-resistant, ambush-protected, armored trucks; a $1 billion deal for an S-300VM anti-aircraft system; and 50 Mikoyan MiG-29 twin-engine fighter jets in a $2 billion deal expected to be completed by 2020.
That is a partial list of items Egypt has recently obtained, according to a paper by Yagil Henkin, a military historian with the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies.
“The problem with assessing Egypt’s military build-up is that people assume they know why Egypt is doing it. They built a very convenient explanation, but I don’t know the real answer. We should consider several factors,” he cautioned.
One obvious explanation is that Egypt wants to project a sense of power in a region of tumult. According to the commander of the Egyptian Navy, Adm. Osama Rabie, the shopping spree is intended to protect Egypt’s newfound natural gas resources and implement counterterrorism measures.
According to Henkin, however, that justification doesn’t hold water.
“This is quite surprising, to say the least, because it differs radically from concepts, such as the Israeli one, in which gas fields are protected by speedboats and anti-missile systems, and not by attack and reconnaissance helicopters flown from large, lightly armed helicopter carriers that are able to carry hundreds of their soldiers and land them on their enemies’ shores, all of which is not very relevant to protecting gas fields at sea,” Henkin wrote of Egypt’s new pair of French Mistral-class helicopter carriers.