Egypt boosts navy amid Turkish threats in the region

Differences and conflicts between Egypt and Turkey have intensified, while Turkish threats became clear in the Mediterranean, which disturbed Cairo and prompted it to conclude armament deals for the Egyptian navy to face any military dangers from the Turkish side.

al-monitor Egyptian navy officials speak to an unmanned underwater drone (R) operator during the International Mine Countermeasures Exercise in the Gulf, Nov. 3, 2014. Photo by REUTERS/Hamad I Mohammed.

Jul 1, 2020

Egypt is seeking to provide more arms to its army in light of the Turkish threats in the Mediterranean and Libyan territories.

Reports have been circulating since mid-June about Egypt acquiring the Russian super-defense system dubbed the “Bastion” to secure its coasts and gas fields in the Mediterranean. 

The Bastion system has the ability to protect 600 kilometers (373 miles) of coast and secure a sea area of 100,000 square kilometers (38,600 square miles), and is armed with vertical launch platforms with a total of 36 rockets.

In 2015, Egypt signed contracts with Russia to buy $3.5 billion worth of arms, to be gradually handed over. The contract came in light of the shaky relations between Cairo and Ankara following the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi in 2013.

The 2015 deal included a Bastion system and 12 fourth-generation Modern Air Force fighters, Sukhoi Su-30MKI, fourth-generation MiG-29M, Mi-35M attack helicopters, S-300VM anti-ballistic missile systems, Tor ME2, Kornet anti-tank missile complexes and Mi-17 transport helicopters.

Egypt is strengthening its naval capabilities in light of the challenges it faces in the Mediterranean, especially after Turkish newspaper Yeni Safak, which is close to the ruling Justice and Development Party in Ankara, reported in mid-June that Turkey plans to establish a naval military base in the Libyan city of Misrata overlooking the Mediterranean.

Not only did Egypt conclude deals with Moscow to arm the Egyptian navy, it also plans to sign a contract with Italy for the same purpose. Italian newspaper La Repubblica reported June 12 that Cairo plans to sign with Italy the largest military deal with a European country worth about $10 million euros ($11.2 million).

The newspaper said that the major deal includes two Bergamini-class FREMM frigates, in addition to four other frigates that will be built specifically for Egypt.

According to Global Firepower, a website specializing in military affairs, the Egyptian navy ranks seventh globally, while Turkey ranks 20th.

On June 20, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on the Egyptian army to be ready to carry out any operation in Libya to protect its national security, during his visit to the army forces at a base near the western border, in conjunction with increasing Turkish military action in western Libya.

The Egyptian military readiness and support of the Egyptian navy was not limited to armament; the Egyptian navy carried out a joint naval training with the Spanish navy in the Red Sea and Mediterranean on June 18, in response to Turkey conducting a training for its navy and air forces in the Mediterranean on June 12,

Another Egyptian-Spanish naval training took place on June 25 in the Red Sea. Egyptian military spokesman Col. Tamer al-Rifai said that the training “is one of the specific combat exercises that contribute to achieving cooperation between the marine formations to confront threats and hostilities.”

Meanwhile, Israel has expressed its concerns about Egypt boosting the capabilities of its navy, as Israeli media reported, most notably Israel Defense magazine that published an article in May, saying, “The Egyptian navy is improving at a secret and rapid pace,” explaining that the Israeli navy is not willing to reveal the action it will take to deal with this development.

Maj. Gen. Nasr Salem, military expert and adviser at the Nasser Higher Military Academy, told Al-Monitor, “The Egyptian army follows a policy of deterrence, which depends on the principle of preparing for war, even if it does not want to fight — that is, equip itself with force, arm and display its strength in joint exercises until its enemies retreat.”

He added, “The Egyptian navy is ranked globally in terms of strength, armament and personnel, and it is mandated to protect Egypt’s wealth in the Mediterranean and Red Sea and protect gas exploration projects.”

Salem noted, “The Egyptian navy has strengthened itself in order to meet the challenges Egypt faces within the Mediterranean, namely the threats by hostile countries.”

He explained that “there is no good reason for any country to be disturbed by strengthening and arming the Egyptian navy because the Egyptian creed is defense and not attack.”

Salem expects that the Egyptian navy’s ranking would improve during the next year due to its increased armament and major arms deals.

Gen. Yahya al-Kadwani, a member of the parliamentary Defense and National Security Committee, told Al-Monitor, “Egypt faces regional threats that have clearly emerged since 2011 after a number of neighboring countries such as Libya and Syria collapsed, as well as in 2013, after the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule ended. Those countries’ extremist groups have been waiting out the storm in Egypt, so the Egyptian army — responsible for protecting the country — recognized these challenges and worked to increase its armament.”

He added, “Such challenges were clear after the Turkish aggression against Libya and the explicit threat to the Egyptian borders, so the state decided to support the army — especially the navy — with weapons and training.”

Kadwani noted that Egypt's military strength guarantees the stability of the region as a whole and protects the Arab countries from Turkish expansionist ambitions, explaining that Egypt — under Sisi’s reign — relied on a policy of diversifying arms sources so that it would have the ability and freedom to arm the Egyptian army.

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