In September 1999, Brigadier-General Amos Gilad, head
of the research division of military intelligence, reported that Egypt,
despite its massive military build-up, was not seen as a threat to Israel.
Unfortunately, Gilad's remarks were not an isolated utterance. Indeed, it
appears that Israeli strategic planners have taken an exceedingly myopic
view vis-à-vis Egypt. For the past two decades, while Israeli
intelligence and strategic planners have been asleep, Egypt has
systematically reinvented its military in order to position itself to
achieve its strategic objectives. Indeed, history may note that the
failure of Israeli intelligence and strategic planners to anticipate,
preempt, and formulate a viable response to the two-decade long Egyptian
military build-up was its greatest blunder, rivaling in its failure to
anticipate and respond to Egyptian intentions prior to the outbreak of the
1973 Arab-Israeli war .
This article analyzes the congruence between Egyptian
intentions (regional strategic objectives), and its capabilities (military
force). Egypt has three medium and long-term strategic objectives. First,
Egypt desires to create a credible deterrent to counter regional military
threats. Second, it desires to supplant Israel and become the primary
strategic partner of the United States in the region. Finally, it hopes to
reassert its historic leadership role and become the regional hegemon.
Egypt is entering a period in which it has a window of opportunity to
achieve its medium and long-term strategic goals. The external destruction
of Iraq in the Persian Gulf War, the internal turmoil of Iran following
the death of the Ayatollah Khoumeni, and the deaths of Hafez Assad of
Syria and King Hussein of Jordan, have opened a window of opportunity for
Egypt to reassert its leadership role of the Arab world and emerge as the
Ironically, the only threat to Egypt's regional
supremacy is Israel. Only Israel possesses the requisite technological
expertise, economic might, and military superiority to challenge Egypt.
For this reason Egypt has a vested interest to insure that Israel is not
assimilated into the region. In this respect, Israel and Egypt are engaged
in a zero-sum game, in which Israel's assimilation into the region weakens
Egypt's ability to achieve its strategic objectives. This accounts for
Egypt's incessant anti-Israeli rhetoric and its vociferous opposition to
Israel in virtually every area.
Compounding the challenge to Israel is the massive
regional influx of state-of-the-art Western military hardware, in
unprecedented quantities. This unfettered, massive proliferation of modern
Western weaponry is shifting the regional balance of power in favor of the
Arab states. This is especially true in the case of Egypt. Today, Egypt
can field a military that rivals Israel in both quantity and quality. Only
recently have Israeli strategic planners realized the growing confluence
between Egyptian strategic objectives and its ability to project the
requisite force to achieve those objectives. However, Israeli concerns are
muted by the conflicting messages it is sending to the United States and
other Western allies.
Unless current trends are reversed, the prospects of
a future Arab-Israeli war will increase exponentially as more and more
weapons find their way to the Middle East. This will occur regardless of
the outcome of the current peace process. Indeed, it appears that the
Israeli policy of withdrawing from territories captured in the 1967
Arab-Israeli war, without achieving real peace, will only exacerbate the
likelihood of future conflict.