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Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

Missile Programs

Egypt has a highly developed weapons production capacity, second in the Middle East only to Israel. In the early 1960s, President Gamal Abdel Nasser pursued a crash missile production program with German assistance at "Factory 333" in Heliopolis, a few miles east of Cairo. (1) Three rockets were reportedly under development there: the 375-km range al Zafar, the 600-km range al Kahar, and the 1,000-km range al Raid. All three systems were canceled when the West German government put an end to the cooperation in 1966. (2) However, in the early 1970s, the Soviet Union supplied Egypt with Frog-7s and Scud-Bs, a few of which were fired against Israel in the Yom Kippur War with little or no effect. (3)

Egypt is believed to have produced the Scud-B indigenously - perhaps modifying them to extend their range - with some North Korean assistance. (4) An enhanced Scud-C (called "Project T"), with range/payload of 450 km/985 kg, is reported to have been developed and may be in service. (5) In cooperation with the French Société Nationale des Poudres et Explosifs (SNPE), Egypt has developed, produced, and deployed the Sakr-80 rocket as a replacement for the aging Frog missiles. The Sakr factory is responsible for producing the warheads, launchers and fire control systems for the Sakr-80. Various warheads were under development there in early 1988, including an HE armor piercing warhead, an antipersonnel/antimateriel submunition warhead, and an antitank minelet warhead; however, a chemical warhead was not planned. (6) According to press reporting from June 1990, China has signed a protocol with Egypt to help modernize the Sakr missile factory, "enabling it to produce a newer version of Soviet antiaircraft missiles, the surface-to-surface Scud-B and Silkworm and the Egyptian Sakr rockets." (7)

Egypt began collaborating with Argentina on the Badr-2000 (which parallels the Argentine Condor II) in 1984. The Badr/Condor was to be an advanced two-stage, solid-fuel, inertially guided ballistic missile, and was described as "state-of-the-art." It was expected to deliver a 700 kg payload over 1,000 km, accurate to within 100 meters. (8) In late September 1989, Assistant Secretary of State John Kelly testified to the House Foreign Affairs Middle East Subcommittee that Egypt had terminated its cooperation with Iraq on the Condor II. (9) He did not explain when or why the Egyptians withdrew from the project. However, this move followed Egyptian embarrassment over the attempted smuggling, in June 1988, of 200 kg of carbon-carbon material, which is used as a protective coating for ballistic missile warheads. The Egyptian defense minister at the time, Abdel Halim Abu Ghazala, was implicated in the scandal, and was fired in April 1989. (10) Although the Condor II cancellation was a severe set-back to the Egyptian missile program, the collaboration did enhance indigenous capabilities - as did North Korean and other assistance - and provided considerable missile-related technology that undoubtedly has been applied to the Scud improvement program. (11)

Prior to the 171-nation vote in 1995 extending the NPT, Egypt launched a high visibility campaign to pressure Israel into signing the Treaty. Since the beginnings of its nuclear program in the early 1960s, Israel has fostered a deliberate ambiguity about whether it has developed and deployed operational nuclear weapons and has refused to be a NPT signatory. This ambiguity has allowed Israel to hold a nuclear Sword of Damocles over any potential Arab state threatening it with WMD, while preserving its freedom from NPT constraints. Despite early credible evidence that Israel was intent on becoming a nuclear weapons state and Nasser's vow that, in response, Egypt would "secure atomic weapons at any cost," Egypt has apparently made no significant effort to allocate resources or seek outside assistance in developing a nuclear weapons capability. (12) Nor is there any evidence that Egypt has attempted to develop chemical or biological warheads. Thus, Egypt shows no intention of converting its Scud-Bs and -Cs into WMD.

Concerning missile proliferation, Egypt, though not a member of the MTCR, does not appear to be exploiting its presumed missile production capacity to market these weapons. Resource constraints may be one explanation for Egypt's modest missile capabilities. Another may be that its missile force has been developed only to the level needed to maintain status as a leader among the Arab states and a negotiator with the West. As the recipient of two billions dollars of U.S. aid annually, Egypt has good reason to choose diplomatic pressure, rather than arming Israel's enemies, to get Israel to sign the NPT as part of the Middle East peace process. Its continuing diplomatic efforts bear this out.

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Page last modified: 24-07-2011 04:39:42 ZULU