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entries tagged with: Egypt


Who is in the military junta ruling Egypt?

Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, right, the Egyptian defense minister, greets Adm. Mike Mullen, chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, in Cairo on Monday. Department of Defense/Chad J. McNeeley

WASHINGTON – One guy we know, and we’re pretty sure he’s not in charge.

The other guy we don’t know so well, and it looks like he might be in charge.

The other three guys — who knows?

The five figures composing Egypt’s Supreme Military Council are commanding the rapt attention of a world already transfixed by the unrest that last week unseated President Hosni Mubarak, Egypt’s autocratic leader for 30 years.

They appeared on state television in a pose typical of the region’s leaders: sitting along a table, ramrod straight and inscrutable. They are running the Egyptian show, although they have promised speedy elections to replace Mubarak and the parliament they dissolved.

The Sphinx-like TV pose accrued a Sphinx-like riddle in the wake of the sudden transfer of power: Who exactly are they?

Extraordinarily, the Egyptian sources routinely tapped by Westerners for inside information were responding to queries this week with a shrug emblematic of the degree of how much has changed in Egypt. They don’t seem to know much either.

Ehud Ya’ari, an Arab affairs expert with Israel’s Channel 2, said that information was lacking because Mubarak for years had played his cards close to his vest. He and a small circle of advisers were the only interlocutors with Israel and the West.

“We have a big problem here: We don’t know the Egyptian army,” Ya’ari told a conference call convened by the Jewish Federations of North America. “The Egyptian army was kept by Mubarak outside all dealing with Israel except for liaison officers in the Sinai. Israelis do not know the Egyptian generals who now form what I would describe as a military junta.”

For the record they are Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, the defense minister; Lt. Gen. Sami Hafez Enan, the military chief of staff; Vice Adm. Mohab Mamish, commander of the Navy; Air Marshal Rada Mahmoud Hafez Mohamed, commander of the Air Force; and Lt. Gen. Abd El Aziz Seif-Eideen, commander of the Air Defense.

The two figures emerging as the ones to watch are Tantawi and Enan. They both are known to have served in wars against Israel, in 1967 and 1973. What they did, however, is hardly known, much less the stuff of legend.

Mubarak, by contrast, made his name between those two wars when he resisted Soviet pressure, as Air Force commander, to run raids over the Sinai. That made his reputation as a man wise enough to pick his battles — one that served him well until his fruitless effort to resist calls to resign.

Tantawi, who is in his mid-70s, already has been dubbed “Mubarak’s poodle,” although this might derive simply from his having served in the outgoing government. He is, in any case, a known quantity.

“We know a lot more about Tantawi than Enan in terms of roles they played in the former regime and this regime,” said J. Scott Carpenter, the deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs from 2004 to 2007 and now a senior fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

What is known about Tantawi suggests that he is not in control, although he is nominally the most senior officer on the council.

“The officers, from a number of generals and colonels on down, don’t hold him in high regard,” Carpenter said.

Tantawi, trained by the Soviets, is seen as the old guard by a younger generation of officers trained by the United States to be forward thinking, according to Joel Rubin, an analyst with the National Security Network who during the last Bush administration headed the State Deparment’s Egypt desk.

“He’s perceived as a yes man to Mubarak — not charismatic, not someone perceived as leading a rebellion,” Rubin said.

Tantawi was visible but did not make himself known, Carpenter said.

“I’ve only met him a couple of times,” he said, “and both times I have been struck how he’s not dynamic, hard to converse with, not forthcoming — he doesn’t seem to get it.”

Worse, he apparently had a tin ear when it came to cultivating loyalty.

“He’s mishandled some of the relations he’s had with senior military officers, being late with salary payments, holiday bonuses,” Carpenter said.

Rubin said Enan, believed to be between 64 and 68, had better relations with U.S. officials. He was the point man for military relations with the United States, meaning he handled the requests for equipment through the $1.3 billion in U.S. defense assistance Egypt gets annually that is believed to constitute as much as 80 percent of the country’s materiel.

Enan was in Washington on just such a consultation with his Pentagon counterparts when the protests erupted on Jan. 25.

“He understands our culture, he’s someone who’s seen as responsible and responsive,” Rubin said.

Carpenter said that was the impression he got from the Americans he spoke to, but he noted that outside of the interactions on defense assistance, not much else was known about Enan.

“Our military perceives him as thoughtful and very active,” Carpenter said. “He was one of the people they were talking to during the run-up” to Mubarak’s ouster, “when they thought there would be real violence.”

One narrative, as related by Rubin, has it that Enan clashed with Egyptian Vice President Omar Suleiman over who controlled the transition. Under the Suleiman plan, Mubarak would have remained as a purely titular president.

Suleiman had the upper hand until Mubarak, in a defiant Feb. 10 speech, went off script and insisted he was keeping some powers. That led to his formal ouster — and Enan’s emerging triumphant. Suleiman is now out of the picture.

Carpenter heard the same story, but from American officials. From Egyptian interlocutors he heard that Enan had argued within the military for a tougher line against protesters. The fact that the military held back, according to this narrative, suggests that Enan was overruled.

But by whom?

“No one knows,” Carpenter said.

JTA Wire Service


With Egypt in turmoil, Israel rethinks readiness for multi-front war

Leslie SusserWorld
Published: 18 February 2011
Lt.-Gen. Gabi Ashkenazi, the outgoing chief of staff of the Israel Defense Forces, speaks at the Herzliya Conference Feb. 7 about what the Israeli military is doing to meet emerging threats. Yotam From

JERUSALEM – Although it’s still far from clear how the uprising in Egypt is going to play out, the volatility there is already raising questions in Israel about the Jewish state’s readiness for a war on several fronts.

The optimistic view in Israel is that a wave of democracy will sweep the Middle East from Cairo to Tehran, making war in any form less likely.

News Analysis

The pessimists — there are many here — see an ascendant Islamic radicalism taking hold in Egypt and elsewhere, thus compounding the military threats facing Israel.

In the Israel Defense Forces, generals are planning for worst-case scenarios.

In a series of farewell addresses this month, outgoing IDF Chief of Staff Gabi Ashkenazi offered a rare insight into how the Israeli military sees the emerging threats and what it is doing to meet them.

Ashkenazi spoke of “tectonic changes” in the region, leading to gains for the Iranian-led radical axis at the expense of the region’s moderates. He pointed to the growing dominance of Hezbollah in Lebanon, the Islamist shift in Turkey, and now the danger that Egypt, once the linchpin of the moderate camp, will fall into the orbit of radical Islam.

Things could get even worse, he said, when the Americans finally pull out of Iraq, leaving that Shiite-dominated country free to lurch toward the radicals.

In Ashkenazi’s view, all this means that the IDF needs to prepare for a significant broadening of the spectrum of threats against Israel. Not only does the IDF have to be ready to fight a simultaneous war on several fronts, it must be able to wage very different kinds of warfare — from “low intensity” irregular conflict with terrorists, to classical conventional warfare against regular armies, to missile warfare against states or powerful non-state actors like Hezbollah.

Even though the threat of terrorist or missile attack might seem more imminent, IDF doctrine under Ashkenazi has put the emphasis on war between regular armies.

“We must train for classic conventional warfare. It poses the biggest challenge, and from it we can make adaptations to other forms of warfare, but not vice versa,” Ashkenazi argued earlier this month at the 11th annual Herzliya Conference on national, regional, and global strategic issues. “It would be a mistake to train for low-intensity conflict and to think that the army will be ready overnight to make the switch to full-scale warfare.”

During Ashkenazi’s watch, which began in 2007 in the wake of the army’s much-criticized performance in the 2006 Second Lebanon War, the IDF focused on enhancing its already impressive accurate long-range firepower, rebuilding its neglected capacity for sweeping armored maneuvers, and honing coordination for joint ground, sea, and air strikes. Training on all relevant parameters was increased by an estimated 200 percent.

According to Ashkenazi, Israel’s “smart” guided missile firepower is at the cutting edge, and in some aspects the IDF may even be a world leader — for example, in its ability to pinpoint targets in the heat of battle and bring lethal fire to bear within seconds.

Despite the focus on conventional warfare, the IDF also developed specific capabilities for terrorist and missile warfare. This includes a four-layered anti-missile defense system starting with the Arrow missile, which is capable of intercepting long-range missiles at altitudes of above 50 miles, to the Iron Dome system for shooting down low-flying, short-range rockets.

In any future missile war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Ashkenazi says the IDF will apply conventional warfare skills, committing ground forces to attack the enemy in its embedded positions and considerably shortening the duration of the conflict.

Perhaps the most dramatic stride forward made by the IDF over the past few years is in field intelligence. If in 2006, its “bank” of targets in Lebanon numbered approximately 200, today the figure is in the thousands. Ashkenazi insists that firepower is meaningless unless there are targets of high military value.

“Show me your targets and I will tell you what your military achievement will be,” he declared at the Herzliya Conference.

All this adds up to a military doctrine that is likely to give the IDF the capacity to wage different kinds of warfare simultaneously on several fronts: the so-called Revolution in Military Affairs, or RMA. Israel sees an edge here over potential foes: While Israel has inculcated this sophisticated, real-time interoperation of accurate long-range firepower, high-grade intelligence, command and control, and joint forces operations, its potential adversaries have not.

For comparison, the largely American-equipped and -trained Egyptian army — with some 700,000 troops (450,000 in the standing army and about 250,000 reserves), 12 ground force divisions, and approximately 3,400 tanks and 500 fighter planes — is considered by far the strongest in the Arab world. Some of the equipment is state of the art: Egypt has about 1,000 Abrams M1 tanks and just over 200 F-16 fighters.

But the Egyptians have not even begun to incorporate RMA.

“RMA requires a great deal of training of a very special kind,” Yiftah Shapir, director of the Military Balance Project at the Tel Aviv-based Institute for National Security Studies, told JTA. “In my view there are just two armies who have these capabilities at the highest level: the U.S. Army and the IDF. And simply buying the platforms does not give this kind of capability.”

Indeed, largely because of the RMA disparity, Shapir says that in the event of war between Israel and Egypt, he would expect a result similar to that achieved by the American army in Iraq in 2003.

“The American army in Iraq was not any bigger than Israel’s standing army. They had only three divisions, one of which came late,” Shapri said. “True, their air force was much bigger, but it was mainly because of the advantages of RMA that they defeated an army of 21 divisions in two weeks. I would expect the IDF to achieve a similar result, perhaps not quite so easily or with so few casualties.”

Not that anyone thinks the Egyptians will be quick to wage war on Israel or abrogate the peace treaty between the two countries. If Egypt did, at the very least it would forfeit the $1.3 billion it receives in annual American military aid.

Moreover, to launch a ground war against Israel, Egypt would have to order the American-led multinational peacekeeping force out of Sinai, the huge buffer zone between the two countries. That’s something a new regime would be unlikely to undertake lightly.

Nevertheless, Israeli generals already are insisting that in an increasingly unstable region, they will need more platforms and more troops. Otherwise the IDF, fighting on several fronts, could find itself overextended.

The change of events in Egypt portends a major argument in Israel over increasing the defense budget here.

JTA Wire Service


Post-Mubarak, Obama embraces Middle East reform

Ron KampeasWorld
Published: 18 February 2011

WASHINGTON – A combination of calculation, luck, and principles is steering the Obama administration to emphasize democracy and human rights in the Middle East in the post-Mubarak era.

On Tuesday, President Obama laid out a revamped strategy that takes into account U.S. strategic interests in the region while also emphasizing the need to accommodate uprisings that have swept away governments in Egypt and Tunisia, as well as protests nipping at U.S. allies in Barhain, Jordan, and Yemen.

News Analysis

“I think my administration’s approach is the approach that jibes with how most Americans think about this region, which is that each country is different, each country has its own traditions,” Obama said at a White House news conference that was supposed to have been devoted to his proposed budget.

“America can’t dictate how they run their societies, but there are certain universal principles that we adhere to,” he said. “One of them is we don’t believe in violence as a way of — and coercion — as a way of maintaining control. And so we think it’s very important that in all the protests that we’re seeing in — throughout the region — that governments respond to peaceful protesters peacefully.”

U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in a news briefing Monday following her meeting with House Speaker John Boehner on Capitol Hill at which she cited change in Egypt as a reason for not slashing foreign spending. State Department

The shift from a policy that had emphasized working with powers that be in the region to one urging accommodation of human rights on the ground resulted in part from the high-risk game Obama played as the grass-roots effort to unseat President Hosni Mubarak after 30 years of rule unfolded in Egypt.

Obama administration officials, including Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, at first had expressed confidence in Mubarak, a longtime ally valued in part for maintaining peace with Israel.

When Mubarak proved defiant, however, and offered only limited concessions to protesters, the White House managed to get out a condemnation in the narrow window before it became clear that Mubarak was on his way out.

On Feb. 10, after Mubarak repeated that he would stay until September, Obama put out a statement within an hour calling on Egyptian authorities “to spell out in clear and unambiguous language the step-by-step process that will lead to democracy and the representative government that the Egyptian people seek.”

Within a day Mubarak had resigned, and the White House was able to bask in the impression that its most recent statement had urged him to go — pronto.

That has led to a dynamic of Washington pressing for greater liberties throughout the region while gently reminding the parties that the United States will continue to preserve its interests, said Steve Clemons, an influential foreign policy analyst who has attended National Security Council meetings on Egypt.

“The focus now is to preserve core national interests with other governments, particularly in the Middle East, and at the same time not to put ourselves at odds with publics in the Middle East,” he said.

That means insinuating reminders of where American interests lie in the regions into the same statements that uphold the rights of protesters to call their governments to account.

Obama in his remarks Tuesday was careful to praise Egypt’s transitional military government for offering reassurances that it would preserve the peace treaty with Israel — a signal to candidates in Egyptian elections to take place later this year that the United States would expect the same assurances from an elected government.

“There’s still a lot of work to be done in Egypt itself, but what we’ve seen so far is positive,” Obama said. “The military council that is in charge has reaffirmed its treaties with countries like Israel and international treaties.”

More such pronouncements expressing U.S. strategic interests should be forthcoming, said Steve Rosen, a former top analyst with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“There’s great anxiety in Israel about all this, although the Israelis have restrained themselves,” Rosen said. “The simple reality is Israel and America’s alliances are with the thin strata of the elite, not with the masses.”

Rosen said that Republicans are not checking Obama because they are under the influence of the party’s neoconservative wing, which for ideological reasons also is embracing the pro-democracy forces in the region.

“Lacking any kind of criticism for its failure to bring up strategic issues, the administration has had a free ride politically,” he observed.

In at least one area, Iran, the Obama administration is using its embrace of democratization to advance strategic goals. Obama and Clinton have referred to the success in Egypt as an example that should spur forward similar protests this week in Iran.

“We have sent a strong message to our allies in the region, saying let’s look at Egypt’s example as opposed to Iran’s example,” Obama said. “I find it ironic that you’ve got the Iranian regime pretending to celebrate what happened in Egypt when, in fact, they have acted in direct contrast to what happened in Egypt by gunning down and beating people who were trying to express themselves peacefully in Iran.”

Administration officials also are using the crises and change in the region to hit back at congressional Republicans who before the upheaval spoke of slashing foreign assistance. Clinton made the Middle East changes a focal point of her congressional meetings this week.

“Events in Egypt show how important it is that we have a global diplomatic presence, a presence that will be ready to handle crises, prevent conflicts, protect American citizens overseas, and protect American economic and strategic interests,” Clinton said after meeting Monday with Rep. John Boehner (R-Ohio), the speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives.

JTA Wire Service

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