Mike Curtiss (31 Jan 2011)
"He's Moving the Kingdoms and Kings Into Proper Battle Position"

Dear John,
          Came acrossing this 'Jewel' in it's proper order today; Wow!

Despite peace treaty, Israel has maintained ability to fight two-front war

The story goes that an Israeli army chief of general staff once came to his headquarters and announced that he had some good news and some bad news. The bad news was that

Egypt now has top-of-the-line, sophisticated U.S. weaponry.

The good news was … that Egypt has top-of-the-line, sophisticated U.S. weaponry.

American military support – and the spare parts to keep the equipment running -- comes with conditions attached, including that they aren’t used against Washington’s Israeli ally. Nevertheless, Israel never abandoned its doctrine to maintain forces capable of fighting a two-front war, even if it hadn’t faced Egypt on the battlefield for over 37 years and has formally been at peace with it since 1979.

Currently, the Egyptian threat is regarded as low that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) has deployed female soldiers to patrol the frontier. The mixed male-female Caracal battalion, a crack combat unit, has proven to be efficient in border patrol, but even its commander has acknowledged his soldiers wouldn’t be there in any conventional war setting.

At army headquarters in Tel Aviv, lights burned bright over the weekend as Defense Minister Ehud Barak convened top commanders and intelligence officer to assess the possible scenarios of the Egyptian upheaval.

Sunday morning, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu told his Cabinet he was “anxiously monitoring” events in Egypt. “Our efforts are designed to continue and maintain stability and security in our region. I remind you that the peace between Israel and Egypt has endured for over three decades and our goal is to ensure that these relations continue.”

Still, 30 years of “cold peace” have never eliminated the deep-rooted insecurities and mutual distrust between the Israeli and Egyptian armed forces. While the peace treaty has given the IDF relief in building its battle order, the military has never taken its eye off its southern neighbor and war plans still call for a hefty reserve force to be set aside for dealing with Egypt, no matter where a confrontation may break out..

Since coming under the U.S. orbit in the wake of the 1979 peace treaty with Israel brokered by Washington, Egypt has received $1.3 billion in annual U.S. military aid. Egypt’s army launched an ambitious modernization plan, cutting its personnel from about 600,000 to 340,000 to build a mobile and efficient force.

Egypt’s most impressive achievement has been its air force, which the Military Balance published by the Institute for National Security Studies, describes as “the most far-reaching transformation of any air arm in the Middle East.” Egypt has about 200 advanced American F-16s and some two dozen French Mirage 2000 interceptors. It also has 100 attack helicopters, compared with just 80 in Israel, according to the Center for Strategic International Studies.

Furthermore, Egypt has some 500 multiple rocket launchers (twice the number as Israel) and nearly half of its 3,100 tanks are Western, including nearly 1,000 M1s. The Egyptian Navy is the most robust in the eastern Mediterranean basin, with 10 frigates, four submarines and 23 missile boats.

Egypt has had surface-to-surface missile since the early 1970s and its Scud rockets reportedly are capable of reaching anywhere in Israel.

Egypt had in the past generation been relegated to a very marginal actor in the IDF threat assessment. But slowly, Egypt has been moving front and center and its increasingly sophisticated and Western military today represents, on paper, the biggest conventional military danger to the IDF.

Israeli military officers have spoken privately about the concern over the aggressive character of the Egyptian buildup. Until now, the IDF, too, has been caught in a double bind. It sees the Egyptian army preparing to fight, yet is hesitant to call Egypt an enemy out of fear of turning it into one.

Nevertheless, watching Egypt spend $1.3 billion on weapons every year, even if IDF intelligence believed Cairo had no clear interest in war with Israel, didn’t pass quietly; particularly after annual military exercises included simulated crossings of the Suez Canal and fighting against an enemy which fit the profile of Israel.

Today, the IDF holds two low-readiness armored divisions opposite Sinai. But IDF contingency plans call for Israel to hold back another three divisions from another front to be shifted against Egyptian forces, should they move on Israel, according to Jane’s Intelligence Review.

Ironically, Egypt’s modernization program has presented a scenario never faced by Israel before with its half indigenous/half U.S.-made weaponry possibly squaring off against similar Western weapons held by Egypt.

Alex Fischman, long-time military analyst for Yediot Ahronot, the nation’s largest daily, warned that now was the time for Israel to make “political and security modifications.” These included creating additional forces for Israel’s Southern Command.

The defense establishment in Israel has long spoken of the end of the Mubarak era -- after all, he is 83 and no one lives forever. But the intelligence was caught off guard by the contagion effect of popular uprising across North Africa. Yediot Ahronot quoted an unnamed senior Mossad official saying as recent at January 6 that they did not foresee any immediate threat to the ruling elite in Egypt.

Just like the Israeli intelligence didn’t foresee the fall of the Shah of Iran in 1979, Hamas takeover in Gaza in 2007 or the serious deterioration of the strategic ties with Turkey in past two years, no one saw this coming either.

But in terms of long-range strategic planning, ironically, it won’t have too much of a serious impact on Israel’s battle order or defense doctrine. While the ability of the Egyptian military to pose a threat to Israel grew, the peace treaty kept the probability of war breaking out low. This is bound to undergo a rethink now. The pace of a change in intention can be swift.

Eli Shaked, a former Israeli ambassador to Egypt, said he didn’t believe the peace treaty would be harmed if associates of Mubarak inherit the regime. But this was definitely not the case if other scenarios developed, he said.

“The problems is where one of the opposition groups, whether it’s the Muslim Brotherhood or the radical Islamists or … the non-religious [opposition] parties, then I think that there will no longer be any commitments whatsoever from their side to this special ties between Egypt and the West, the U.S. and Israel,” Shaked told The Media Line. “Then I see a danger to the peace treaty with Israel.”

He added that U.S. demands for democratic free elections in Egypt would bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power and was “a very serious American mistake.”

The entry of Egyptian forces into the demilitarized Sinai is a violating of the peace agreement. But Israel is flexible with Egypt when it comes to bending the rules of the treat. It had allowed a full brigade to deploy along the border in northern Sinai to prevent smuggling. And it would likely allow more forces in to put down growing discontent among the Bedouin.

Shaked, who served in Cairo from 2003-2005, recalled his jealously over the warm relations he saw between Israel and Egyptian military commanders.

“They treated each other like officers and gentlemen, quite unlike the Egyptian diplomacy. As a diplomat, I envied the officers who had found a way to cooperate and to discuss issues and problems in the most gentlemen-like way,” Shaked said. “The diplomats I knew from the Egyptian side, they were always talking about conflict and struggle and war.”

In 1980, Israel received F-16 jets two years earlier than expected after the jets built for the Shah of Iran were diverted after Islamic fundamentalist overthrew him and abruptly ended the close alliance between Israel and Iran. For intelligence officers, it was a lesson never to be forgotten; that the distance between a close ally and a fundamental Islamic regime is just so short.