The emergent Egyptian-Gulf alliance: Libya and Yemen in the crosshairs

by Ahmad Jamaleddine, Al-Akhbar English

It seems clear that the ties between Egypt and the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC), with the exception of Qatar, are evolving dramatically in economic and military matters, at a time when the unrest in Yemen and Egyptian concerns over the continued chaos in Libya are leading to a profound military cooperation between the two sides.

Cairo – An Associated Press report published earlier this week, quoting Egyptian and Gulf officials, said that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait were discussing the creation of a military pact to take on extremists in the region, particularly in Libya and Yemen, with the possibility of creating a joint force to intervene around the Middle East. The report said this alliance would operate separately from the anti-ISIS coalition led by the United States.

Certainly, such an alliance would stand to bring a number of gains, especially for Egypt. For instance, Saudi Arabia will be funding arm deals on behalf of Egypt, reportedly including those signed with Moscow. This is while other Gulf countries have expressed their willingness to help finance deals for arms and fuel, which Egypt has to import.

So far, there has been no formal declaration regarding the nature of this alliance, but there are reports indicating the idea follows a meeting between the military leaders of the international anti-ISIS coalition in Washington in mid-October.

Despite the fogginess of the information available regarding the required contribution of each country in the alliance in question, the chief of staff of the Egyptian army, General Mahmoud Hijazi, is said to have put the matter forward to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. According to Egyptian sources, there are extensive discussions regarding its feasibility.

Sources close to the Egyptian presidency said that the alliance would see the expansion of joint military exercises, with Saudi and Emirati forces training in Egypt in the coming period. The sources said the alliance would then be operationalized to tackle insurgent groups in Yemen or carry out strikes in Libya, pointing out that there are grave concerns in the Gulf regarding possible threats from Yemen and Iraq.

The same sources said the UAE and Saudi Arabia would fully fund the operations, while Egypt would provide logistical support. However, the sources discounted direct ground operations in the first few months of the formation of the presumed structure.

There are indications Egyptian military airports in western Egypt could be used to launch air strikes in Libyan territory when needed, carried out by Egyptian, Saudi, and Emirati warplanes in coordination between the commands of the three armies.

Logistically speaking, the Egyptian army cannot at the present time participate in any ground force aiming to carry out external operations, with the exception of its peacekeeping roles around the world, though these involve no more than a few hundred troops. Another issue is the stigma the Egyptian public associates with its army’s participation in the Kuwait liberation war in 1991, and the precarious internal fronts the army is operating along. President Sisi is aware of the implications of the sensitive phase the Egyptian army is currently undergoing, but at the same time, he has a desire to assert Egyptian influence in the Arab region.

Speaking to Al-Akhbar, Egyptian security expert Major General Mahmoud Abdel-Aal said, “Talk about forming an Egyptian-Gulf military alliance is natural, given the challenges the Arab countries face from extremist elements, and the chaos that foreign powers seek to spread in several Arab countries under the name of the Arab Spring.” “The Libyan experience in change has taken the country into a spiral whose final features would not become clear for many years to come,” he added.

For his part, military expert Major General Ahmed Abdul-Hakim said, “The military strategy followed by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi does not allow implicating the army in any battles that would cause losses to the Egyptian forces,” and added, “The Egyptian-Gulf alliance is part of the attempt to rein in extremist forces in the region.”

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