Middle East Quarterly
To the Editor:
Steven A. Cook provided a welcome dose of reality in his analysis (MEQ, June 2000) that U.S. relations with Egypt are not what they appear to be.
But I was puzzled by his characterization of the Egyptian military and its doctrine as defensive. Reports indicate that Americans trained the Egyptian forces in aggressive tactics and Egypt's newer tanks being able to traverse the Sinai in one day, or just half the time Israel needs to mobilize an antitank defense. Further, Anwar as-Sadat reportedly built tunnels for tanks below the Suez Canal, which may be yet operational. Meanwhile, Israel has cut down on its own training and supplies, and some of its weaponry is inferior to Egypt's. From all this, how does Mr. Cook conclude that the Egyptian outlook is defensive?
Richard H. Shulman
The author replies:
I too would be puzzled—if I gave any credence to the reports Mr. Shulman cites. I will address his concerns point by point.
• The U.S. training of Egyptian troops is primarily devoted to improving inter-operability in the event of a crisis in the Persian Gulf.
• "Tank tunnels" under the Suez Canal appear to be little more than a myth. Why would the Egyptians go to the trouble and expense of building these structures, only to cross the canal in October 1973 in rubber dinghies that were completely exposed to Israeli fire? Nor does it make sense that Egypt would have built them after that war, when Egypt controlled the eastern bank of the canal—eliminating any need for such very expensive tunnels.
• Egypt's most advanced main battle tank is the U.S.-designed M1A1; but, due to logistics problems, Egyptian forces cannot use these tanks in mobile fashion, and so deploy them as set battlefield pieces. Mr. Shulman’s notion that Egypt's mechanized forces could traverse the Sinai in a day is therefore not possible. Moreover, it was only recently, and at U.S. insistence, that Egypt acquired the armor piercing shells that help make the M1A1 so effective; until then, Egypt's commanders resisted acquiring the ordinance, expressing confidence that U.S. forces would supply the shells to them (from U.S. stocks) during a crisis.
• Pockets within the Israel Defense Forces do require modernization, but this does not mean that Israel is at a qualitative disadvantage vis-à-vis the Egyptians. One well-informed source in Cairo told me early in 2000 that, should hostilities break out between Israel and Egypt, the Israelis would establish air superiority within the first half-hour of battle.
Overall, the Egyptians have three primary security goals: developing a robust defense against any regional threats to their country's security, ensuring the stability of Sudan, and maintaining domestic order. As a result, they have sought to fashion their force structure in line with these objectives.
Steven A. Cook