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Will America's Delivery of F-16s to Egypt Threaten Israel?

There's been a flurry of speculation surrounding America's transfer of F-16s to Egypt both in Israel and the United States. Recently, Egypt and the United States held a joint ceremony marking the delivery of four new F-16 aircraft to the Egyptian Air Force, despite objections from Republican Senator, Rand Paul who attempted to pass an amendment banning weapon sales to Egypt, which the Senate voted down. U.S. Ambassador to Egypt, Anne W. Patterson noted that "...a strong Egypt is in the interest of the U.S., the region, and the world."

The United States will send a total of 20 new F-16 aircraft during the course of 2013, in addition to 200 Abram tanks. Egypt has 224 F-16s to date, as part of the 34-year security partnership between the U.S. and Egypt. "The United States has long recognized Egypt as an indispensable partner," said Patterson.

However, U.S. Senator Paul made it clear that he believed it was unwise to send American weaponry to an unstable Egypt. On the Senate floor, Rand declared:

I think this is particularly unwise since Egypt is currently governed by a religious zealot who said recently that Jews were 'bloodsuckers' and 'descendants of apes and pigs. This doesn't sound like the kind of stable personality that we would be sending our most sophisticated weapons to.

Rand further stated that the weapons transfer would make it "more difficult for Israel to defend herself."

In 2010, Mohamed Morsi declared as the Muslim Brotherhood's spokesman in a televised interview with Lebanon's Al-Quds TV that "we must confront this Zionist entity" and called on "all forms of resistance against "criminal Zionists." "The Zionists have no right to the land of Palestine," affirmed Morsi. The Egyptian president also stated:

"we want a country for the Palestinians on the entire land of Palestine on the basis of [Palestinian] citizenship. All the talk about a two-state solution and about peace is nothing but an illusion which the Arabs have been chasing for a long time now."

Dr. Yehuda Balanga, an expert on Mideast affairs, who teaches at Bar Ilan University's Department of Middle Eastern Studies, told me that while U.S. weapons transfer to Egypt was not new, under Morsi, the state of affairs was different. "Under Mubarak, the story [of armoring Egypt] was different, but Morsi's government may fall as the situation is very unstable and protests continue. The question of the recent American weapons transfer is simply timing."

Dr. Balanga does not see the current F-16 aircraft transfer as a threat to Israel. "In order for America to continue its influence in Egypt, they are obligated to these agreements which were signed during Mubarak's era," he explained.

While Dr. Balanga believes that Morsi speaks Muslim Brotherhood rhetoric in public, he also thinks that behind closed doors, Morsi's current leadership position has opened his eyes to Egypt's economic dependence on the United States. "There is also a realistic side to the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. They understand that they need the West both economically and financially in their current economic crisis," said Dr. Balanga. "The question is will Morsi's government align with the radical Islamic philosophy of the Brotherhood and carry out its more radical ideology or follow Western ideals and interests in order to continue to secure Western assistance?"

According to the Xinhua news service, Egypt's Finance Minister Momtaz al-Saeed stated in late December that the Egyptian economy "needed 14.5 billion U.S. dollars within 20 months to overcome the ongoing crisis."

Others, like Israeli statesman Dore Gold believe that although "arms transfer do not change the balance of power overnight, especially if only a few aircraft are involved... investing in weapons for projecting Egyptian military power over long distances should be re-thought..." In a recent op-ed piece in Israel Hayom, Gold stated that America should first wait for the Muslim Brotherhood to clarify what its true intentions are "with respect to its Middle Eastern neighbors."

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