Sisi’s Gamble
… The time for talking, promises, accolades and pleasantries has ended …
OE Watch Commentary: Suppose the Saudi-led campaign in Yemen were to incorporate a ground component in the near future. Armchair strategists in the Arabic-language cybersphere generally agree that the key mission for such a force would be to secure Aden so that deposed Yemeni president Abd Rabbo Mansour Hadi and his backers can assemble and regroup. As to the composition of this theoretical construct, most commentators believe that after being rebuffed by Pakistan, Saudi Arabia is counting on Egypt to contribute to any hypothetical ground component. The decision is a weighty one for Egypt’s leadership, as the ghosts of Abdel Nasser’s failed military campaign in Yemen in the 1960s (blamed for Egypt’s 1967 military defeat by Israel) loom large in the national consciousness. Although in public Egyptian leaders have offered unwavering support for the Saudi campaign, consensus at the highest levels should not be taken for granted, as the first accompanying article explains.
Historical burden is not all that makes this a complicated decision for Egyptian leaders. There are practical reasons too: for well over a year, the Egyptian military has been unable to put down a domestic insurgency in the Sinai. Fighting in Yemen, even if as part of a coalition, is unlikely to be any easier and may weaken Egypt’s position in the Sinai. Egypt’s only stated national security interest in Yemen is ensuring unimpeded maritime transit flows through the Red Sea. In a recent interview published in the daily al-Masry al-Youm, Mohab Mamish, a former head of Egypt’s Navy who was recently appointed to head the Suez Canal Authority, makes clear that Egypt shares this interest with the great powers and hence is not overly concerned with having to assert its position on this issue. Egypt’s participation in “Decisive Storm” is therefore not framed in the language of imminent threats to national security, but rather the language of alliances and the importance of halting both Iranian expansionism and religious extremism while preserving the status quo in the Gulf.
On 30 March Egyptian Defense Minister General Sedqi Sobhi met with a contingent from the country’s Airborne Rapid Deployment Forces (RDF), who were preparing to deploy to the UAE and participate in the latest round of the “Righteous Arrow” (Siham al-Haq) exercises, hosted by their Emirati counterparts. A joint Egypt-UAE force conducted airstrikes over Libya earlier this year, and one would expect this partnership to underpin any deepening of Egyptian involvement in Yemen. On 11 April, upon returning from a brief trip to meet with his Pakistani counterparts, Sobhi attended a military parade of the RDF (for background on the RDF see: OEWatch/201406/MiddleEast_05.html). Egypt’s Ministry of Defense uploaded video highlights from the event. The images portray a well armed force with firepower to match or exceed that of anyone on the ground in Yemen. The RDF also includes elements from the country’s elite anti-terrorism 777 and 999 units. Following the parade Sobhi headed to Riyadh, where leaders of Egypt and Saudi Arabia agreed to form a committee to discuss holding a joint military exercise in Saudi Arabia. The countries have held three other joint exercises since 2008, as the third article notes. According to an analyst cited in the article, a key goal would be to get Egyptian forces to interface with their Saudi counterparts while also getting acclimated to a Yemen-like environment. End OE Watch Commentary (Winter)
Source: Gamal Sultan. “Has Egypt decided to send ground troops to Yemen?” al-Mesryoon. 6 April 2015.
The time for talking, promises, accolades and pleasantries has ended. [Sisi’s] decision will have a high cost regardless and thus the hesitation and worry is understandable. What is most notable is the seeming disagreement within Egyptian sovereign institutions on this issue, as some appear clearly against intervention, particularly a ground intervention. Retired GEN Samih Saif al-Yazal, who is close to a known state institution realizes this and has clearly and firmly rejected the idea of participating in the war, considering doing so a major strategic blunder…. Saif al-Yazal would not be allowed to speak on such a matter on his own or without a green light, thus we should understand his words to represent the viewpoint of an important part of Egypt’s leadership… it is clear that Egypt has moved from the era of festivals, celebrations, songs and political calm that followed the deposing of Morsi and the Muslim Brothers, to a stage of difficult and fateful decision-making….
Source: “Mamish reveals details of the navy confronting American forces,” al-Masry al-Youm. 23 March 2015.
Q: Isn’t it possible that the United States would use the Huthis to pressure Egypt with the threat of Bab al-Mandab, especially following the recent American-Iranian rapprochement?
A: Even if that were true, would countries like China, Japan, Korea, Russia and India allow the United States or its proxies in the region to close Bab al-Mandab?…
Source:Mohammed Naser. “The Saudi-Egyptian exercise… training or paving the way for going into Yemen?” Masr al-Arabia. 16 April 2015.
The Tabuk-1 maneuvers took place in Tabuk, northwestern Saudi Arabia, from 7-22 November 2008. Tobuk-2 took place in Hamam, near the Egyptian city of Alexandria, on 21 October 2010. Tobuk-3 was held in Saudi Arabia and lasted from 8-20 May 2013. This last one is the largest joint exercise in history for the two countries… Hossam Sawailim, a strategic analyst, said that the expected exercise between Egypt and Saudi Arabia aims to train Egyptian troops in difficult terrain in preparation for a ground war against Huthi forces in Yemen… it will allow participating countries to exchange military experiences and train in a variety of settings…