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Egypt Follows Israel, Eyeing U.S. Aid without Pre-Conditions

Egypt and Israel may be at a crossroads in their relations, but each is violating the terms of its U.S. military assistance.

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Inter Press Service

The United States, the largest provider of military aid to Israel, has rarely, if ever, succeeded in using its leverage to get the Jewish state to abandon its continued repression of Palestinians or halt illegal settlements in occupied territories.

Since 1949, and through 2010, Israel has received a staggering 105 billion dollars in U.S. aid, of which 61.3 billion dollars went as outright military grants – gratis and non-repayable.

As one critic remarked, Israel's longstanding relationship with the United States has been predicated on a single premise, best described as: "Give us your money — and mind your own business."

Egypt's new interim military government, led by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, head of the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), seems to have taken a cue from the Israeli playbook.

As it cracked down on human rights and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in Cairo last week, including two pro-democracy groups funded by Washington, the military leaders were virtually telling the United States: "We want your money but don't interfere in our domestic political affairs."

Since 1979, the United States has provided Egypt with a total of 64 billion dollars in economic and military aid, mostly grants, at an average of about two billion dollars annually, of which 1.3 billion dollars are outright military grants.

Dr. Natalie J. Goldring, a senior fellow with the Center for Peace and Security Studies in the Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University, told IPS that Egyptian forces were short- sighted in raiding NGO offices.

"The magnitude of their error was compounded by the fact that they chose to attack organisations that are serving as election monitors, including the International Republican Institute and the National Democratic Institute," she said.

She said it's not yet clear what the U.S. Congress will do. Congress as a whole seems to strongly support a continuing aid relationship with Egypt.

"However, there is increasing concern about misuse of U.S. aid and materials. This is reflected in increasing support for conditioning U.S. aid on consistent Egyptian progress toward democracy," added Goldring.

Pieter Wezeman, a senior researcher at the Arms Transfers Programme of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI), told IPS that Egypt, like Israel, depends heavily on the United States both for military aid and for weapons systems.

Egypt's total military expenditure in 2010 was estimated at about 3.9 billion dollars, according to published figures. And U.S. military aid accounted for over 30 percent of that total.

Asked if Egypt can survive a cut in U.S. military aid, Wezeman said, "Obviously if the U.S. would end its military aid, which as you say is unlikely, it would create some substantial financial problems for Egypt."

In terms of access to technology the problems would also be substantial, he said.

In the past decade (2001-2010) SIPRI has estimated that about 70 percent of all Egyptian imports of major arms came from the United States.

Key arms deals between the United States and Egypt in the past 10 years (and through 2011) include orders for 575 M-1A1 tanks and 44 F- 16 combat aircraft and a wide variety of other weapons and support equipment.

"A key problem in the longer term for Egypt would be to maintain its large arsenals of advanced U.S. military technology without U.S. assistance," Wezeman said.

He said Egypt could replace U.S. equipment, "although at substantial financial costs in terms of access to technology".

Wezeman said countries such as France and the UK may be step into a gap created by the United States.

"And as long as Egypt is willing and able to pay, countries such Russia, China and smaller suppliers such as Ukraine would be willing to supply all possible military equipment, as they have been all the time," he said.

Israel has never suffered any major cuts in U.S. funding, largely because of the political influence it wields in the U.S. Congress.

But Egypt is a very different story. The United States has continued to maintain its military links primarily because of the 1978 U.S. brokered Camp David peace treaty and Egypt's dominant role in the Arab world.

Goldring told IPS both domestic and international programmes should be evaluated to ensure they're effective because the Camp David accords were signed more than 33 years ago.

"Taxpayers have the right and the responsibility to ask whether the aid packages associated with the Camp David accords have had the intended effects," she said.

She said U.S. aid to Egypt may have helped prevent further wars with Israel. "If so, I believe that funding was well worth the investment."

"Even so, countries have also violated the conditions under which the U.S. government has provided aid and weaponry. They need to be held accountable for their actions. Pictures of protesters holding tear gas canisters labeled 'made in the USA' don't serve U.S. democratic goals," said Goldring.

Egypt's military is expected to play a key role in three upcoming events: the continuing parliamentary election runoffs; the drafting of a new constitution; and the presidential elections later this year.

The administration of President Barack Obama is expected to set aside about 65 million dollars in U.S. aid specifically to "help foster electoral democracy".

Goldring told IPS "aid must be accompanied by accountability".

"This is true whether we're talking about aid to Israel or aid to Egypt. It's also true when we are discussing aid to Greece and Turkey," she added. "Far too often, the U.S. government has looked the other way when recipients of U.S. aid and arms have used U.S. weapons against their citizens."

Goldring said too often, recipients of U.S. aid seem to be saying, "Just give us the money and go away."

"The U.S. government has a responsibility to ensure that our aid is being used as we intended. We can't afford to just 'go away'," she added.

"The U.S. government has frequently advocated giving situations more time when analysts have raised concerns about recipients' actions and their use of U.S. aid and weaponry." This is sometimes a sensible approach, she said. "But in this case, waiting may risk lives. Being passive is not the answer."

"If the U.S. government is silent when abuses of human rights occur, it becomes complicit in those violations," Goldring declared.

Thalif Deen is a contributor to Inter Press Service.

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