The United States unlocked $1.3 billion in yearly military assistance to Egypt on Tuesday in what analysts said was part of an effort to reassure traditional Arab allies in the Middle East.
The American Interest‘s Walter Russell Mead argued that the resumption of aid — which was cut when Egypt’s army deposed the country’s elected Islamist president, Mohamed Morsi, in 2013 — should be seen within the context of American nuclear negotiations with Iran.
Egypt and other Arab states, like Saudi Arabia, worry that the United States will acquiesce in recent Iranian strategic gains in the Middle East — notably in Iraq where Tehran supports the Baghdad government’s fight against the self-declared Islamic State — as part of an agreement to stop Iran from developing nuclear weapons.
Secretary of State John Kerry last month reassured Arab Gulf countries that a nuclear deal would not involve a “grand bargain” with Iran. Yet allies in the region are nervous. As the Atlantic Sentinel has pointed out, any form of rapprochement between Iran and the United States would come at the expense of the Arabs’ perceived role as the Shia state’s balancers.
If the Americans see Iran as less of a threat to stability in the Middle East, there is less of a need to maintain awkward alliances with unsavory regimes on the other side of the Persian Gulf.
However, if the United States are indeed “pivoting” on the Middle East Shia-Sunni divide, they cannot be seen abandoning their traditional allies either — if only because Iran could conceivably extract more concessions from the nuclear talks if it sees the Americans as too eager to do a deal.
Hence the return of aid to Egypt which is the second largest recipient of American military assistance after Israel.
The supply of new Abrams tanks, F-16 fighter jets and Harpoon missiles is of symbolic importance — “the Egyptian government has long viewed the weapons hold as impugning its legitimacy,” according to Mead — and of practical assistance as well. Last week, Egypt joined a Saudi-led military intervention in Yemen to check the advance of Iranian-backed rebels on the port city of Aden, the last stronghold of the internationally-recognized government that is allied to other Arab nations and the United States.
Egypt has also used F-16s to carry out airstrikes against Islamist militants in Libya where the American diplomatic mission in Benghazi was attacked in 2012.