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Egypt Index


United Nations Emergency Force and Israeli officers meeting with beduins in southern Sinai Peninsula, 1975
Courtesy United Nations, Y. Nagata

After the disengagement agreement of 1974, the threat of an Israeli attack on Egypt diminished significantly, and a second disengagement agreement was concluded in 1975. In 1979 Egypt and Israel signed a treaty of peace under which Israel agreed to withdraw its forces in stages from the Sinai Peninsula, further reducing the likelihood of a new conflict between the two countries.

Nevertheless, Egypt's experience of four wars with Israel continued to shape the thinking of Egyptian military planners. In 1986 Egyptian commander in chief Abdul Halim Abu Ghazala asserted that Israel still embraced a strategy of maintaining military strength superior to that of all of its neighbors combined. Egypt's policy, he declared, was to "neutralize" this strength so that it could not be used for aggressive purposes threatening the security of the Arab states.

A chain of Egyptian fortifications east of the Suez Canal was manned by the equivalent of about one-half of a mechanized division, which was less than Egypt was permitted under the peace treaty. Annual military exercises practiced reinforcement of Sinai by the five Egyptian divisions that could be quickly deployed across the canal. Egyptian deployments in the area had a defensive character, however, and their forces west of the canal occupied permanent bases that had existed for many years.

In addition to its concern about Israel, Egypt's 1,000- kilometer border with Libya remained a problem for Egyptian defense planners in 1990 despite a campaign of reconciliation by Libya's leader, Muammar al Qadhafi. Egypt believed that Qadhafi had amassed a stockpile of Soviet weaponry beyond any foreseeable defensive needs and was seeking additional advanced weaponry, including Soviet MiG-29 combat fighters and medium-range missiles. Libya had an estimated 40,000 troops backed by modern tanks, missiles, and combat planes at air bases adjacent to the Egyptian-Libyan border. Although Qadhafi announced in May 1988 that all combat forces would be pulled back from the border, the Egyptian minister of defense claimed in 1989 that a major part of the Libyan army was still deployed along the border zone.

Sudan, Egypt's neighbor to the south, presented no direct military problem for Egypt. The border between the two countries was unguarded except for policing to prevent smuggling and drug trafficking. Because the two countries shared a long cultural and political history, Egypt regarded Sudanese territory as providing added depth to the country's strategic defenses. Egypt was reportedly concerned about the coup in Sudan in June 1989 that brought to power a group of military officers identified with Islamism. The deterioration of Sudan's economy and internal security, accentuated by the mismanagement of the military junta, posed the danger of instability on Egypt's southern flank.

Egypt's role in Sudan was linked to its general policy promoting African regional stability and moderation. Egypt provided military assistance and advisers to Nigeria, Somalia, and Zaire and focused on Africa in marketing the products of its defense industry. Egypt sold arms to African nations that agreed to use them only for national defense rather than for domestic control over their citizens.

Egypt believed that the Red Sea was of vital interest to the country's strategic objectives because this body of water was closely associated with the security of the Suez Canal. Egypt believed, moreover, that any threats to the security of the nations surrounding the Persian Gulf or on the Arabian Peninsula could signal a threat to its own security. Against threats from Iran, Egypt had pledged its support to the states of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, and Oman. Egypt also expressed a willingness to play a larger role in the Persian Gulf through the provision of military advice, training, and sales of arms and equipment. Egypt chose, however, not to participate in a joint Arab force, which had been proposed to protect the GCC states against Iran. Egypt provided large quantities of arms to Iraq during the Iran-Iraq War, and thousands of Egyptians were working in Iraq.

Data as of December 1990

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