February 14, 2011

U.S. Alliance with Egypt and Israel

The Nature of American-Egyptian Military Relations

By Ali Younes, Palestine Chronicle
February 14, 2011

It should come as no surprise that the ruling Egyptian Supreme Military Council announced its intent to honor all of Egypt’s regional and international treaties after it took over the reins of power from president Hosni Mubarak last week. This announcement was made to primarily assure the United States and Israel that the new post Mubarak political order in Cairo will remain formally committed to its peace treaty with Israel.

More than any other government branch; the Egyptian military owes its modern weapons, training, logistics, and equipment to U.S, military aid which came as a direct dividend of the peace treaty it signed with Israel in 1979.

In other words, the U.S is paying both Israel and Egypt for peace it sponsored between the two countries in 1979. The U.S payment to Egypt comes in the form of $ 1.3 billion military aid package and only about $250 billion in economic aid.

The Israeli Payment is worth over $3 billion dollar.

A state department cable in 2009 leaked by Wikileaks last year about the U.S-Egyptian relationship documented a meeting between a U.S. general and Egyptian military leaders. The cable sumarized relationship:

"President [Hosni] Mubarak and military leaders view our military assistance program as the cornerstone of our mil-mil relationship and consider the $1.3 billion in annual Foreign Military Financing as ‘untouchable compensation' for making and maintaining peace with Israel."

In another state department memo labeled “secret” the Egyptian military viewed "the tangible benefits to our mil-mil relationship are clear," it says:

"Egypt remains at peace with Israel, and the U.S. military enjoys priority access to the Suez Canal and Egyptian airspace."

The U.S. mil-mil relations with Egypt are not just about paying for new military weapons for the Egyptian army. The U.S military aid to Egypt, moreover, pays mostly for upgrades of existing weapons, training Egyptian military and regular maintenance and spare parts.

This military relationship, in exchange, gives the U.S. government leverage over Egypt that the new Egyptian leaders realize as an indispensible fact of life. Without the American military aid the Egyptian military, given the size of American-made weapons it has, will degrade and fall behind its potential enemies in the region.

During the last days of the Mubarak regime, some U.S congressional leaders spoke about cutting U.S. military aid to Egypt if its new leaders moved away from the U.S. national interests. This was the first and clear initial warning that the U.S. might trim its logistical or training support to the Egyptian military which will, in that case, degrade the Egyptian military in the long run and thus weaken Egypt’s strategic value in the region.

U.S. strategic planners calculate that the Egyptian military is unlikely to move away from its alliance with the U.S. due to its total dependence on the U.S. funding to maintain and sustain its American-made weapons. The reasoning behind this thinking is the situation both Iran and the U.S. found themselves in after the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979.

The Shah of Iran had acquired huge quantities of advanced U.S. weapons that were maintained by U.S .made spare parts and training programs. After the 1979 Islamic revolution, U.S advanced weapons were in position of an enemy state, but the U.S. ended its military aid programs to Iran, a decision that ultimately caused the U.S. weapons there to rust out of service.

A clear example of that is the U.S. made F-14 Tomcat fighter jets that were in service in Iran before the 1979 revolution. To this day, the Iranian air force has yet to recover from the impact of its dependence on U.S. contracts to service and maintain weapons purchased during the Shah era.

A similar situation could occur for the American-made Egyptian F-16s or its Navy frigates or tanks and armor vehicles. If the future leaders of Egypt decided to end their strategic alliance with the U.S, or end their treaty with Israel, the U.S then, can retaliate by ending its military assistance programs and deprive Egypt’s military crucial upgrades and service contracts.

A situation like that will severely damage the front line of the Egyptian air force, the F-16s, which without U.S spare parts and regular maintenance, will end up crumbling and become obsolete and will meet the same fate as the Iranian F14. In this unlikely scenario, Egypt will fall further behind Israel in its military capabilities; even if it compensated its losses with less advanced Russian and Chinese weapons systems.

For the future leaders of Egypt, the U.S. military aid to Egypt is a double-edged sword. On one hand the modern Egyptian military is almost a U.S. creation in terms of training, weapons, equipment and maintenance, and needs the U.S. support to maintain those advanced weapons systems especially that Soviet era weapons systems are on the way out. On the other hand, American military aid package will keep Egypt an American dependency and within the U.S. sphere of influence to advance the U.S. strategic interests in the region. Egypt in this case cannot chart an independent course in the Arab world much less lead it, nor can it match the much stronger Israeli army.

- Ali Younes is a writer and Middle East analyst based in Washington D.C. He can be reached at ali.younes@charter.net.

Dangerous Victims: Egyptian Revolution in Israeli Eyes

By Seraj Assi, Palestine Chronicle
February 14, 2011

The Arab World is suffering and in its suffering it threatens Israel.
'Israeli citizens are frightened,' said Israeli opposition leader Tzipi Livni in a moment of deep confession.
In fact, what Livni was saying, to paraphrase Franz Fanon, is this: "Mama America, see the Arab! I'm frightened! Frightened! Frightened!"

This is a typical colonial scene where the “frightening victims” are captured in a game that involves dehumanization and empowering and rendered silent and dangerous subjects at the same time. Never can they escape this colonial capacity to invite and contain contradictions and opposites.

Yet in the Israeli case the irony is far more acute. For not only does Israel see its victim as dangerous and potentially evil, but has itself become the victim. It is within this irony that the ritual of victimization came to dominate the master narrative of Israel’s colonial discourse and foreign policy. Not only has Israel become a country whose entire existence is dependent on the suppression of all Arab and Muslim peoples, but has relentlessly contributed to their suppression.

According to Israel’s imperial logic, it is only reasonable to suppress the lives of three hundred million people for the “security” of a few million Israeli Jews, no matter how fictitious this security claim is. The irony is while Israel continues to bill Egyptian revolution as a threat to its national security, its Palestinian citizens- for decades Israel’s internal “dangerous victims”- are taking to the streets to celebrate the victory of their Egyptian brothers. Motivated by human and national solidarity, they have never felt as secure as they do now.

Israel’s security is fundamentally the security of vision. And since the vision of Arab and Muslim despotism is the only guarantee for Israel’s cultural narcissism and ethnic superiority in the region, it must be preserved by any means, and precisely by brutal force for “Arabs only understand force”, as Zionists believe.

Yet Israel’s fear has a performative colonial function. Its obsessive insistence to remain “the only democracy in the Middle East” is not merely a representational fantasy, but an effective colonial strategy. It is precisely this vision that gives Israel’s colonial policies in the region its moral justification and authentic validity. Its “civilizing mission” in the region is completely dependent on its vision of Arab and Muslim undemocratic spirit.

It is Israel’s cultivated vision on Arab despotism that permits its former Prime Minister Ehud Barak to boast that “Israel is a villa in a jungle” and its President Shimon Perez to contrast democracy with peace:

“Mubarak is a great man committed to peace, but Egyptian youth want democracy.”
And when Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu issued his paternalistic warning to Egypt from “becoming another Iran” he was operating into the same imperial logic.

Here Israel’s ambition to reorder the world by the brutal force of Zionist propaganda reaches its extreme absurdity. Indeed, it is in Israel where suppression is equivalent to stability. It is there where Egypt, its people, history and culture are all reduced to one word: Camp David. And it is in Israel where international sympathy for Egyptian struggle for freedom and dignity is violently placed under what an Israeli journalist has recently called “the betrayal of the West.”

Even when the moment has arrived to contradict these proclamations, Israel continues to see itself as the civilization custodian surrounded by uncivilized enemies and unruly protestors. There is no doubt then that Israel’s fear of any prospective democracy in the Arab world is steeped in racism. For Arab democracy simply threatens Israel’s undisputed vision of Arabs that maintained itself regardless of any historical evidence disputing it. And since the evidence this time is too visible to be denied, it becomes too intimidating for the Israeli observer. As the vision is now defeated by the narrative, as it is yielding to the pressure of history, Israel’s fear turns into collective phobia and racist hysteria. The scene of an Arab getting out of the iron cage fashioned by the Israeli observer to violate the serenity of history is precisely what frightens Israel.

On February 02, 2011, an article published in Haaretz opened with the following:

“Edward Said was right. We are all infected with Orientalism, not to mention racism. For the site of an entire people shaking off the yoke of tyranny and bravely demanding free elections - instead of uplifting our spirits, fills us with fear, just because they are Arabs.”

This clearly illustrates how, by a strange change of fortune, Israel came to inherit Western Orientalist racism and produce its own “Orientals”. Indeed, it is in Israel where, to steal a line from Naomi Klein, “Jews made the shift from victims to victimizers with terrifying ease.” This ironic legacy of Western Orientalism now produced by the Zionist racist machinery is precisely what enables Binyamin Fuad Ben-Eliezer, himself an Arab Jew born in Basra in Iraq, to lament Mubarak’s departure by claiming that "Arabs are not ready for democracy.”

Yet Israeli Jews are not alone to inherit the ironic legacy of Western Orientalism in the region. Just a week after the Egyptian revolution broke up Mubarak too introduced his version of Orientalism. Not so different from Livni’s was his message to President Obama on ABC that

"You don't understand Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now”.
One might wonder what was left of Egyptian culture under Mubarak regime but a bunch of corrupt muftis and semi-intellectuals. In fact, one does not need a revolution to discover that Mubarak is the last one in Egypt to understand what Egyptian culture is.

Perhaps the most hilarious scene of Mubarak’s Orientalist doctrine was his “camelization” of the demonstrations in Egypt. By unleashing his thugs riding in on camels and horses to crush and terrorize peaceful civilian protestors on the streets Mubarak was sending a clear message to his friends in the West. That is Egyptians, when left to their devices, are nothing but a bunch of unruly savages unsuited to democracy and civilization. His barbaric response to one of the most civilized revolution in the region shows how deeply he believes in what he says and does.

Mubarak’s response is an extraordinary example of how local dictators act as colonial agents towards their people and how they too feed on the irony of “dangerous victims.” Victimization in its Mubarak’s version depends on the same logic of radical inversion. That is by presenting Egyptian protestors as collaborators and foreign agents Mubarak is following the Arab proverb: “He hit me and cried, he raced me to complain.” Yet Mubarak certainly knows, as well as his Israeli and Western interlocutors, that one of the motivations behind the revolution was precisely his scandalous collaborative role in the region.

It is in this context that the revolution against Mubarak regime becomes an anti-colonial struggle. His dehumanization of his people tied with his brutal violence against peaceful civilians is an unmistakably colonial symptom. Here the recent events in Tunisia and Egypt should not make us forget how Western violence was exported to the Arab world from the dawn of colonialism up to the present day, how it was brought home by ruling elites whose links to neocolonial and postcolonial metropolises are maintained through multiple forms of agency, and how authoritarian Arab regimes continue to feed on Western hypocrisy in regard to democracy and liberty, the same slogans that have provided the foothold for Western expansion in the region.

Nor should we forget that Western political stability in comparison to the Arab world should be interpreted against the background of its exploitation of the region which provided it with the wealth to support its relatively decorous life. To make no mistake about it, the obsessive emphasis in Arab and Western media on formal U.S. announcements and responses to events in Egypt and Tunisia can only show how deeply neocolonialism is steeped in the region.

Isn’t then a bitter irony to expect the United State to liberate Egyptians from the very conditions that make it function in the region? Wasn’t this very same discourse on the liberation of Arabs what allowed its imperial venture to take place in the region? Don’t all kinds of critique of Israel’s support for Mubarak’s regime seem absurd given the fact that by supporting Mubarak Israel behaves in accordance with its colonial interests in the region and any critique of it must begin with its colonial foundations instead of its contemporary political hypocrisy?

- Seraj Assi is a PhD student in Arabic and Islamic Studies at Georgetown University, Washington DC. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

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