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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)


(Commentary by Reuven Pedahtzur, Ha'aretz, 1.7.96, p. B1)

Originally, the leak from the U.S. Congress, which revealed details of Egypt's procurement of new ballistic missiles, was, in fact, intended to signal President Mubarak that it is worth his while to moderate his extremist colleagues in the Arab world, and to act to alleviate some of the pressure on Netanyahu's government.

However, this missile deal has significance which goes far beyond the narrow framework of the current disagreements between the Israeli and the Egyptian governments on issues such as the redeployment in Hebron, or the future of the Golan Heights.

The procurement of Scud-C ballistic missiles should be viewed as an important and worrisome strategic decision by President Mubarak. The stationing in Egypt of missiles with a range of more than 500 kms., capable of hitting any target on Israeli territory, considerably alters the balance of deterrence between the two countries, and gives Egypt a new type of offensive capability.

Since the early 1970s, when they procured Scud-B missiles, with a range of only 300 kms., and up until recently, the Egyptians accepted their inferiority vis-a-vis the Israeli air force's capability to attack Egypt's rear, without their being able to respond to this effectively, and without their having a real deterrent option.

In the second half of the 1980s, Egypt was a partner, with Iraq and Argentina, in the project to develop a ballistic missile with a range of 1,000 kms. (the Condor 2), but when the project encountered economic difficulties, it left the project, did not make an exceptional effort to procure an alternate missile, and made due with its nine Scud-B missile launchers, which are about 25 years old.

The stationing of the Scud-C missiles enables Egypt to attack Israel's rear and to threaten to exact a heavy toll from Israel if it attacks targets inside Egyptian territory. The Egyptian decision to procure these new weapons, which clearly possess strategic significance, should greatly concern Israeli defense policy-makers. They should ask why, after 25 years, and nearly two decades after it signed a peace treaty with Israel, Egypt has decided to undermine the existing, stable strategic balance with Israel.

One possible answer is related to the ongoing and stubborn Egyptian attempt to apply pressure on Israel, in order to get it to soften its positions on the nuclear issue, and to agree to enter negotiations over the future of it's nuclear option. As is known, all of these attempts have been in vain, and it is possible that after the American administration derailed Egypt's struggle to force Israel to join the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT), Mubarak decided that he must establish facts on the ground and present a strategic option of his own, to face Israel's non-conventional option.

Whether this is the motive which led to signing the missile deal with North Korea, or whether there were other motives for this, the result is what is important. For the first time, Egypt possesses the certain capability of attacking any point in the Israeli rear. Those who seek to reassure, and who point to the fact that -- in an era in which there are peaceful relations between the two countries, Egypt's procurement of this capability has no far-reaching significance -- must address the possibility that the current regime could fall and Egyptian policy could change.

The U.S. Central Intelligence Agency's report, which is the basis for the leak about the Egyptian missile deal, places special emphasis on the concern about long-range ballistic missiles possessed by an Egyptian regime with an anti-Western orientation.

At the press conference given by the IAF commander at the end of his term of service, Maj.-Gen. Herzl Bodinger addressed the issue of countries in the region arming themselves with ballistic missiles. "For the first time since 1948," Bodinger said, "the Arab states have the ability to attack any point in Israel. If there is total war, several hundred surface-to- surface missiles will fall on Israel." The addition of Egypt to the list of countries with the ability of striking "any point in Israel," must arouse great concern in the IDF.

The procurement of the ballistic missiles is but one component in the wide-ranging arms build-up being carried out by the Egyptian military, especially since the Gulf War. Between 1991-95, Egypt signed arms deals worth $8.89 billion with the United States alone. The Egyptian army is undergoing an accelerated modernization process, consisting mainly of absorbing advanced American weapon systems, such as F-16 planes, Apache helicopters, Perry class frigates, Stinger anti-aircraft missiles, advanced American battle tanks and precision-guided munitions, mostly air launched.

The decision to procure new ballistic missiles should also be examined against the background of Egypt's dependency on American weapons, and in light of the fact that the Egyptians receive a $1.3 billion annual military grant from the United States, as part of an overall annual aid package totalling $2.1 billion. After all, the Egyptians were aware of the fact that when details of the deal with North Korea became known, the American administration was liable to impose sanctions on them, because Egypt violated the U.S. law designed to prevent missile proliferation. The readiness of the Egyptian leadership to risk a sharp American response indicates, therefore, the great importance which they ascribe to acquiring this strategic weapon.

President Clinton's administration will apparently refrain from imposing sanctions on Egypt in the wake of the ballistic missile procurement. President Mubarak is still too vital a player for the Americans in the very complex game which they are conducting in the Middle East. However, that does not reassure Israel. The massive weapons acquisition process taking place in a country which has signed a peace treaty with Israel, and especially its offensive nature, raises questions and requires that extreme caution be used in making strategic plans in the era of peace.

Date sent: Wed, 03 Jul 1996 15:19:15 +0200 From: IIS News Analysis <analysis@israel-info.gov.il> Subject: opeds: An Alarming Arms Build-Up, "Ha'aretz", July 1, 1996 To: Multiple recipients of list ISRAEL-MIDEAST <ISRAEL-MIDEAST@PANKOW.INTER.NET.IL> Send reply to: ASK@ISRAEL-INFO.GOV.IL

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