US embassy cables: the documents
US embassy cables: Egypt’s strategic importance to the US
guardian.co.uk, Friday 28 January 2011 14.41 GMT
S E C R E T CAIRO
SUBJECT: SCENESETTER FOR GENERAL SCHWARTZ
Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey
1. Key Points
— (SBU) U.S.- Egypt military relationship is strong, but should change to reflect new regional and transnational threats.
— (SBU) More focus is needed on combating emerging threats, including border security, counter terrorism, civil defense, and peacekeeping.
— (S/NF) Egypt continues to improve efforts to combat arms smuggling into Gaza, but a decision by Field Marshal Tantawi to delay a counter tunneling project threatens progress.
2. (S/NF) SUMMARY: General Schwartz, welcome to Egypt. Since our Foreign Military Financing (FMF) program began almost 30 years ago, our strong military relationship has supported peace between Egypt and Israel and ensured critical Suez Canal and overflight access for U.S. military operations. The relationship, however, should now change to reflect new regional and transnational security threats. In FY2009, Congress removed conditions on U.S. assistance to Egypt. We and the GOE will be able to make the best case for continuing a robust FMF program by targeting funding for shared priorities like peacekeeping and border security, and must take more action on emerging regional security threats such as piracy.
3. (SBU) Summary continued. Your visit comes as Egypt continues its efforts to mediate a permanent cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, to facilitate intra-Palestinian negotiations to form a new, interim government, and to stop the smuggling of arms into Gaza. Many Egyptians see the new U.S. administration as a cause for cautious optimism in both the bilateral relationship and in U.S. engagement with the region. Special Envoy for the Middle East Senator George Mitchell has visited Egypt and the region twice and will likely return to Cairo in April. Your visit will fall on the anniversary of the April 6, 2008 nation-wide strike protesting political and economic conditions. At least one opposition group has called for another April 6 strike this year. We have requested meetings for you with Chief of Staff Lieutenant General Sami Anan and Air Marshal Reda. End summary.
Mil-Mil Cooperation: Ready for Next Level
4. (S/NF) President Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the USD 1.3 billion in annual FMF as “untouchable compensation” for making and maintaining peace with Israel. The tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear: Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace. We believe, however, that our relationship can accomplish much more. Over the last year, we have engaged MOD leaders on developing shared strategic objectives to address current and emerging threats, including border security, counter terrorism, civil defense, and peacekeeping. Our efforts thus far have met with limited success.
5. (S/NF) Decision-making within MOD rests almost solely with Minister of Defense Field Marshal Tantawi. In office since 1991, he consistently resists change to the level and direction of FMF funding and is therefore one of the chief impediments to transforming our security relationship.
During his tenure, the tactical and operational readiness of the Egyptian Armed Forces (EAF) has degraded. But he retains President Mubarak’s support, and so he and the top brass will most likely stay in position until Mubarak leaves the scene. COS Anan will welcome the lack of conditions on Egyptian assistance in FY 2009 funding and will seek support in convincing Congress of Egypt’s strategic importance. Anan should be reassured that Egypt remains a key U.S. ally, but stress that given the current economic downturn, Egypt should do more to justify continuing value by demonstrating through action its support for our shared regional security goals
6. (S/NF) One way to demonstrate Egypt’s continued strategic importance is through shifting more FMF funding to address asymmetric threats like terrorism and improving border security along its long and porous borders. We should also stress that our mil-mil relationship is much greater than the yearly flow of military assistance. Egypt could play a more active and influential role in regional security issues, including supporting and training the Iraqi military, deploying more peacekeeping troops to Sudan, joining neighbors in combating piracy, and stemming the flow of illegal migration. Another concrete display of a forward-looking security strategy would be to support CENTCOM’s efforts to re-invent Bright Star. Anan may lament the loss of large-scale Bright Stars. We should stress that Bright Star continues to be an important strategic statement for the U.S. and its regional allies, and solicit his input for ways to make Bright Star more relevant.
7. (S/NF) Both Anan and Reda will express concern over releasability issues and frustration with Egypt’s inability to procure restricted weapons systems. Some systems are not releasable because of Egyptian refusal to sign the necessary agreement (CISMOA) providing end-use assurances and ensuring proper protection of certain U.S. origin technology. Releasability is of special concern to the EAF as they prepare to purchase 24 F-16 aircraft that will require a costly retrofit with less-advanced weapons systems. Since 2006, the Department of State has notified Congress of six potential end-use violations by the Egyptian military. We are currently investigating two additional cases, one involving the visit of a Chinese military official to an F-16 facility on an Egyptian Air Force base. Other systems are either not releasable to any country or denied for political reasons, mainly due to concerns regarding Israel’s Qualitative Military Edge (QME). We should stress that decisions to release advanced weapons system are made on a country-by-country basis, but signing a CISMOA and expanding cooperation on current regional threats would be welcomed steps to our dialogue on releasability.
Israel-Palestine, Counter Smuggling
8. (SBU) The election of President Obama generated much optimism in Egypt and hopes that the new administration would quickly focus on problems in the Middle East. In particular, the Egyptian leadership wants the U.S. to urgently address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and Senator Mitchell has assured them that the Administration will press hard for progress. The Egyptians have traditionally served as an intermediary between us, the Israelis, and the Palestinians. Since the January 2008 Hamas breach of the Egypt-Gaza border, the Egyptian role has shifted to focus on intra-Palestinian reconciliation and the establishment of a lasting Hamas-Israel cease-fire. EGIS Chief Soliman has worked to cement a Israeli-Hamas cease-fire but believes he was badly undercut by the Israeli introduction of the release of IDF Corporal Gilad Shalit as a new pre-condition for the cease-fire. For the moment, rocket strikes from Gaza are relatively low in frequency.
9. (S/NF) Egyptian security forces continue to improve counter-smuggling efforts along the Gaza border and further afield, through increasing their security presence in northern Sinai and giving greater focus to preventing weapons from entering the Sinai. Egyptian officials claim to have identified and sealed over 100 tunnels since the beginning of the year, with new discoveries occurring daily. The Egyptian General Intelligence Service (EGIS) requested U.S. assistance to purchase 16 X-ray screening systems to monitor vehicular traffic into the Sinai for weapons and explosives, and we are currently exploring ways to provide the requested assistance. A recent decision by Tantawi to delay a FMF-funded counter smuggling project, however, threatens progress. In February, Tantawi insisted that the Army Corps of Engineers sever the satellite link necessary to calibrate seismic-acoustic sensors being installed along the Egypt-Gaza border to detect tunneling activity. He also insisted that the ACE disable GPS technology needed to accurately pinpoint tunneling activity. This decision will result in a four to five month delay to develop and implement a technical alternative. USG efforts to encourage Tantawi to reconsider, including from CENTCOM Commander General Petraeus, have been unsuccessful.
10. (SBU) Egypt has shown increasing confidence that Iraq has turned the corner, although concerns remain that the Shi’a-led government is prone to Iranian influence. On Iran, Egypt is concerned by rising Iranian influence in the region, has supported UN sanctions, and is increasingly active on countering Iran, e.g. in Gaza and to some extent in Lebanon, working with Saudi Arabia and other Arab states to support Lebanese political and territorial sovereignty. Egypt has deployed peacekeeping troops to the UN Mission in Darfur, just agreed to send troops to the UN Mission in Congo and is taking a greater role within the African Union on regional security and political issues.
Internal Politics and Economics
11. (SBU) We continue to promote democratic reform in Egypt, including the expansion of political freedom and pluralism, and respect for human rights. Egyptian democracy and human rights efforts, however, are being stymied, and the GoE remains skeptical of our role in democracy promotion, complaining that any efforts to open up will result in empowering the Muslim Brotherhood, which currently holds 86 seats in Egypt’s 454-seat parliament. Economic reform is ongoing although Egypt still suffers from widespread poverty affecting 35-40% of the population. Egyptian-U.S. trade has more than doubled in the last four years, reaching almost $9 billion in 2008. The U.S. exports to Egypt about twice as much as it imports. Egyptian banks operate very conservatively and have been spared involvement in risky financial products, but the effects of the global economic crisis on Egypt are beginning to be felt. As the global credit crunch worsens, Egypt remains vulnerable as exports, Suez Canal revenues, tourism, and remittances — its largest sources of revenue — are all down and likely to continue to fall.