U.S. approves large arms sales to Egypt, most recently anti-tank missiles

Despite its dire human rights record and its serious economic situation, the Biden administration has approved a potential sale of anti-tank missiles and other equipment to Egypt.

The U.S. administration on Thursday informed Congress that it has approved a potential sale of $691m worth of anti-tank missiles and other equipment to Egypt.

The sale, if completed, would include 5,070 TOW 2A anti-tank missiles, tools, equipment and training services.

This move comes as US officials say that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine presents an opportunity to pry Egypt away from orbit of Russian arms.

The weapons would help Egypt replenish its existing stockpiles of armaments and be used for counter-terrorism operations and border security operations, according to a statement released by the Department of Defense.

“This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Major Non-NATO Ally that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East,” the statement added.

Egypt has been engaged in a years-long campaign against militants in the Sinai peninsula. Earlier this month, the Islamic State group claimed responsibility for an attack that killed 11 Egyptian soldiers in the Sinai.

A country of more than 100 million straddling the Middle East and North Africa, Egypt is a strategic US ally in the region and home to the Suez Canal, the vital shipping artery through which 12 percent of world trade passes.

It receives about $1.3bn in US military aid annually, the second-highest amount of any country after Israel.

However, ties between the two allies have come under strain over the Biden administration’s critique of human rights issues in the country.

Last year, the administration withheld $130m in military assistance to Egypt, citing human rights issues. That decision was criticized by some US lawmakers who said it didn’t go far enough.

In recent years, Egypt has also diversified its suppliers of armaments, striking deals with France and Russia. Between 2017 and 2021, Moscow was the single largest provider of arms to the country, as Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi looked to hedge against reliance on the US.

But Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and western sanctions have hamstrung Moscow’s defence industry, raising hopes among US officials that they can pry Egypt, as well as other Middle Eastern states, away from the Kremlin’s orbit.

The State Department’s 2023 budget proposal included a carve-out de-linking Egyptian human rights conditions from some military aid to the country, a move US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken said would give the US “maximum flexibility” in its approach to arms sales.

He said Russia’s stalled invasion of Ukraine and the poor performance of its armaments might lead Egypt to reconsider its relationship with the Kremlin.

“That presents a strategic opportunity for us, one we want to make sure that we also have [the] flexibility to take advantage of.”

On a trip to the region this month that included a stop in Egypt, the new commander of all US forces in the Middle East, Army General Michael “Erik” Kurilla, said he had gained “a new appreciation for Egypt’s prominent role in the Middle East”.

Kurilla’s predecessor told Congress in March that he believed the United States would sell Egypt F-15 aircraft, in another sign that the US is looking to boost arms sales to Egypt.

The Defense Security Cooperation Agency on 19 May issued a press release on approval of the sale of Tow 2A Radio Frequency (RF) missiles and support to Egypt. The press release reads:

[The State Department has made a determination approving a possible Foreign Military Sale to the Government of Egypt of TOW 2A Radio Frequency (RF) Missiles, Support, and related equipment for an estimated cost of $691 million. The Defense Security Cooperation Agency delivered the required certification notifying Congress of this possible sale today.

The Government of Egypt has requested to buy five thousand (5,000) TOW 2A, Radio Frequency (RF) missiles, BGM-71E-4B-RF; and seventy (70) TOW 2A, Radio Frequency (RF) missiles, BGM-71E-4B-RF (Fly-to-Buy Lot Acceptance missiles). Also included is missile support equipment; technical manuals/publications; spare parts; tool and test equipment; training; U.S. Government technical and logistical support, contractor technical support, and other associated equipment and services; and other related elements of logistical and program support. The estimated total cost is $691 million.

This proposed sale will support the foreign policy and national security of the United States by helping to improve the security of a Major Non-NATO Ally that continues to be an important strategic partner in the Middle East.

The proposed sale will enhance Egypt’s capability to strengthen its homeland defense by replenishing its stocks. The missiles will be used for counter-terrorism and border security against armored threats and fortified positions. Egypt will have no difficulty absorbing these additional missiles into its armed forces.

The proposed sale of this equipment and support will not alter the basic military balance in the region.

The principal contractor will be Raytheon Missiles & Defense, Tucson, AZ. There are no known offset agreements proposed in connection with this potential sale.

Implementation of this proposed sale will not require the assignment of any additional U.S. Government or contractor representatives to Egypt.

There will be no adverse impact on U.S. defense readiness as a result of this proposed sale.

This notice of a potential sale is required by law. The description and dollar value is for the highest estimated quantity and dollar value based on initial requirements. Actual dollar value will be lower depending on final requirements, budget authority, and signed sales agreement(s), if and when concluded.

All questions regarding this proposed Foreign Military Sale should be directed to the State Department’s Bureau of Political Military Affairs, Office of Congressional and Public Affairs.]