Thursday,23 May, 2019
Current issue | Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)
Thursday,23 May, 2019
Issue 1266, (15 - 21 October 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Egypt’s army climbs global ranking

Ahmed Eleiba assesses the significance of this week’s signing of the Mistral aircraft carrier deal with France

Mistral aircraft carrier
Mistral aircraft carrier
Al-Ahram Weekly

At a ceremony at Al-Ittihadiya Palace in Heliopolis, Egypt signed two historic agreements with France. The first establishes the framework for bilateral military cooperation; the second finalises the sale to Egypt of two Mistral-class aircraft carriers.

The 1.2 billion euro deal will see Egypt become the first African and Middle Eastern state to deploy aircraft carriers.

The Mistral, a multi-role 22,000-ton amphibian assault ship, is 199 meters long and 32 metres wide and can travel up to 35 km per hour. It has accommodation for a 180-member crew and is equipped with a Simbad missile defence system and four 12.7-mm M2-HB Browning machine guns. The deck area of 5,200 square metres has six landing ports for military helicopters.

The signing of the contract on 10 October ended speculation over which country would acquire the ships, which were originally commissioned by Moscow.

The cooperation agreement strengthens the partnership between Egypt and France at the military level. It follows a series of important arms agreements, a 5.2 billion euro deal to buy 24 French Rafale jet fighters and a 900 million euro deal for a FREMM multi-purpose frigate. Egypt may also order two Gowind-Class corvettes to supplement the four ships it purchased in May 2014.

President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, Prime Minister Sherif Ismail, Minister of Defence Sedki Sobhi, Navy Chief-of-Staff Ahmed Khaled and Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukri attended the signing of the agreement alongside French Prime Minister Manuel Valls and Defence Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian.

In a sign of the strengthening Egyptian-Russian relationship, Russian sources have confirmed that the aircraft carriers will retain equipment that Moscow originally sent to France for installation on the ships.

Military experts say the decision to retain the Russian equipment suggests that a deal between Egypt and Russia involving the purchase 50 Kamov Ka-52 Hokum B attack helicopters could soon be concluded.

Acquiring the helicopters would consolidate Egypt’s naval assault system, which needs to be strengthened to safeguard the new Suez Canal, the Sinai coasts and offshore natural gas fields in the Mediterranean.

Alan Coldfi, director of Defense National, a French military affairs magazine, told La Liberation newspaper that the aircraft carriers were used during the French intervention in Libya in 2011 and Cairo was likely to use them to secure its border with Libya.

Other experts believe the strategic importance of the deal goes even further. General Hisham Al-Halabi says the deal will see Egypt become a key military power in the region while General Mohamed Qashqoush, military advisor at the Regional Centre for Strategic Studies in Cairo, stresses that Cairo’s recent arms purchases will ensure Egypt enjoys naval parity with Israel.

Egypt has emerged as the central player in regional security arrangements, a fact that was underlined by the visit of such a high-level French delegation, says Qashqoush. Cairo has won international and regional support for its drive to establish stability and fight terrorism across the Middle East.

The recent deals concluded with Paris and Moscow have boosted Egypt’s regional standing. According to Credit Suisse’s Business Insider, Egypt’s army now ranks as the world’s twelfth strongest, two places ahead of the Israeli army, which Business Insider ranked at 14. The Credit Suisse report was based on data provided by Stockholm International Peace Research Institute’s (SIPRI) Yearbook 2015.

An Israeli TV 2 news item cited the Credit Suisse ranking of the 20 most powerful armies in the world and reported that military experts in Tel Aviv were shocked by the Israeli army being placed below that of Egypt.

In Cairo, military experts cautiously welcomed the report, though at least one senior expert on intelligence and national security affairs questioned what conclusions could be realistically drawn from the global rankings.

He speculated that the military manoeuvres Egypt has conducted in recent years may have been factored in with Cairo’s diversification of its armaments suppliers, resulting in Egypt’s high ranking.

“The Rafale and Mistral deals undoubtedly lifted the Egyptian ranking,” General Mohamed Ibrahim told Al-Ahram Weekly.

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