Pentagon to Israel: Sway Congress against Egypt cuts

Jerusalem says military aid freeze to army chief el-Sissi would harm regional stability

Adiv Sterman is a breaking news editor at The Times of Israel.

Egyptian army soldiers patrol in an armored vehicle, backed by a helicopter gunship, during a sweep through villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in May 2013. (AP)
Egyptian army soldiers patrol in an armored vehicle, backed by a helicopter gunship, during a sweep through villages in the northern Sinai Peninsula, Egypt, in May 2013. (AP)

An Israeli request to US legislators to restore all American military aid to Egypt was orchestrated at the behest of high-ranking US officials in the Pentagon and the US State Department.

According to a report in Maariv on Wednesday, the Israeli effort came about after US officials, including some who are close to US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, urged Jerusalem to help influence Congress against the cuts.

“The Pentagon, even at level of Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel, understood full well what the aid cuts would mean for the Egyptian economy and for regional stability,” an unnamed Israeli official was quoted by Maariv as saying.

“[They] requested from Israel to work to soften those in Congress who supported the aid suspension.”

According to US federal law, all non-humanitarian aid to a country whose leadership was overthrown in a coup must be suspended. For months, the Obama administration had been debating whether to label the ouster of Islamist president Morsi’s ouster a coup, a step that would force the government to stop sending aid to Egypt.

In October, the US finally announced that it would freeze a sizable portion of the $1.5 billion it provides Egypt each year.

The US said it would continue to provide support for health and education and counterterrorism, spare military parts, military training and education, as well as border security and security assistance in the Sinai Peninsula, where near-daily attacks against security forces and soldiers have increasingly resembled a full-fledged insurgency.

Israeli officials told their US counterparts that it was “a strategic error” to cut aid to Egypt, and that the US needed to look at “wider interests,” Channel 2 News reported following the freeze.

The officials urged Washington to cancel the cuts altogether, and if that was not possible, to at least redirect military funding for planes and tanks to instead bolster the fight against terror. This advice was ignored, but the funding already in place for fighting terror was not cut, as it might otherwise have been, according to the report.

The Israeli officials reportedly told their American counterparts that undermining Defense Minister and army chief Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi might simply lead him to seek military assistance instead from Gulf states and Saudi Arabia.

The TV report did not specify which Israeli officials raised their concerns with their American counterparts.

Last week, a Senate panel approved a bill that would grant President Barack Obama the option to override federal law under certain circumstances, a step that would make it possible for the US to restore aid to Egypt.

Wider congressional support for the measure is still unclear.

The bill was drafted by senators Robert Menendez, a Democrat, and Bob Corker, a Republican, who were both approached by Israeli officials about the Egyptian aid cuts, Maariv reported.

Menendez is considered a close associate of Ron Dermer, the Israeli ambassador to the United States.

Times of Israel Staff contributed to this report.

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