The U.S. State Department announced on Wednesday that it would halt the delivery of large-scale military systems and cash assistance to Egypt’s government. It said “credible progress” must be made towards free and fair elections. US State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki said the United States is “recalibrating” its military aid to Egypt. While State Department did not provide a dollar amount, officials said the freeze amounted to hundreds of millions of dollars. According to officials, the US is halting the delivery of F-16s, Apache helicopters, Harpoon missiles as well as Abrams tank kits.
Such move had been widely anticipated, with deliveries of military equipment already frozen, and joint military exercises cancelled; this simply marked the end of more than 2 years of speculation surrounding the fate of the famed $1.5 Billion purse.
So, away from both the ultra-nationalistic rhetoric and the democracy advocacy garb, let us attempt to make sense of this situation and its true significance.
The European Union has maintained a more neutral stance than the US on the aid situation as any European aid cuts would be hard to implement since the bulk of current assistance is mainly directed at social programmes. EU governments also fear that any move to cut military assistance could hamper the Egyptian authorities’ ability to address attacks in the tremulous Sinai Peninsula.
Saudi Arabia, who has been positioning itself as the main supporter of current Egyptian regime, has rebuffed the US stance; Saudi rulers have openly affirmed that if the Americans cut aid, they will plug any deficit. Saudi Arabia along with Kuwait and UAE have already pledged $12 billion in the weeks following the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi.
Israel has expressed reservation towards the US decision. While Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has not directly commented on the decision, he said that Israel’s interest is in having a peace treaty in place, adding that the treaty is heavily based on US military aid. Other Israeli officials bluntly opposed such aid cuts, claiming that they might have effects far beyond Egypt.
Significance of the Move:
The cutoff of some of the US aid should not be looked at as merely symbolic nor is it directly related to the current political situation in Egypt. This suspension accentuates a strategic shift which is taking place in the region. While the aid has helped the United States achieve short-term political objectives, the field is drastically changing for the US; so despite the fact that the word “Recalibrating aid” was used, the reality suggests a brewing change of strategy. In short, the move signals that the US commitment to Middle East security at large is seemingly dropping off the list of America’s global priorities. In fact, the US has a plethora of reasons for such change of heart.
One time allies in the Gulf region are charging forward with policies at odd with Washington. Saudi Arabia and United Arab Emirates for instance have shown great disappointment when the US shelved possible military strikes against Assad’s regime. Most of the Gulf States are growing apprehensive as Washington attempts to make amends with Iran.
The anti-US rhetoric is growing louder in Egypt suggesting that the US can no longer appease the masses or the government; both have long anticipated the cut and are seemingly defiant.
For the US, there are also several logical arguments to accept these signals and move on with a new strategy. The US is overtaking Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and natural gas. In this sense, America is steadily decreasing its reliance on Gulf oil. In fact, the US is less dependent on Middle East oil than at any time in the past century. This in terms suggests that the US would be less willing to intervene in the Middle East.
Finally, when evaluating the military aid package as a cornerstone of the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, the US clearly sees no possible damage to the relation between the two archrivals. Israeli security officials often assert that relations with their Egyptian counterparts are strengthening. Recently, Amos Yadlin – former head of Israel’s military intelligence – has said the peace accord with Egypt is robust and will remain so despite the decision to scale back military aid.
So with the US aid money no longer securing US interests and partly no longer welcomed, the US has seemingly decided to move on.