Mar 23, 2022 - World

Israel urges Biden administration to sell F-15 fighter jets to Egypt

Four F-15s fly over North Carolina on May 28, 2017. Photo: Jeff Siner/Charlotte Observer/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Israel is encouraging the Biden administration to approve a major arms deal with Egypt for the sale of F-15 fighter jets, two senior Israeli defense officials told Axios.

Why it matters: The Israeli lobbying efforts show the depth of the Israeli-Egyptian relationship in recent years and the efforts Israel is making to improve relations between Washington and Cairo.

The big picture: Democrats and Republicans demand the Biden administration put conditions on military assistance to Egypt, including improving the human rights situation in the country.

  • In the process of approving arms sales with Arab countries, the administration must also notify Congress and say whether the deal harms Israel’s qualitative military edge in the region.
  • Israeli support of the F-15 deal could significantly help in convincing the Biden administration and members of Congress to approve it.

Driving the news: The outgoing commander of CENTCOM Gen. Frank McKenzie told the Senate Armed Services Committee last week that the U.S. plans to approve the sale of advanced F-15 jets to Egypt.

  • He added the deal has been under discussion for a long time.

Behind the scenes: Israeli officials say the F-15 deal came up in the last year as Egypt began to rethink an agreement it signed with Russia at the end of 2018 for the purchase of Su-35 fighter jets.

  • The Trump administration threatened to impose sanctions on Egypt if the deal with Russia went through.
  • The Egyptians stressed they signed the deal with Russia because the U.S. didn’t agree to provide them with advanced jets.
  • Egypt had already been rethinking the Russia deal, but after U.S. and other Western countries ramped up sanctions on Moscow over the invasion of Ukraine, Egyptian officials started to look even more seriously for an alternative to the Su-35 deal.

In recent weeks, Israeli officials told the White House National Security Council, the State Department and the Pentagon that they support the F-15 deal.

  • The Israelis said it was better for the U.S. and Israel to have U.S. weapon systems in Egypt instead of those from the Russian or Chinese governments, the two Israeli defense officials said.

Between the lines: One senior Israeli official told me that Israel has been concerned for a long time about the strained Egypt-U.S. relationship and thinks that strengthening and improving U.S.-Egyptian ties is in Israel’s interest.

Flashback: After signing the peace agreement with Israel in 1979, Egypt became the second-largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel. The Egyptian military receives $1.3 billion annually from the U.S., which is mostly used to purchase U.S. military equipment.

  • Following the military crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood government in 2013, the Obama administration halted several arms deals with Egypt. Since then, there has been a decline in arms deals with the U.S., and the Egyptians started buying weapons from Russia.
  • In late January, Secretary of State Tony Blinken decided to continue withholding $130 million from the annual U.S. military aid to Egypt after determining that the Egyptian government failed to address the Biden administration’s concerns regarding human rights.

What they're saying: A spokesperson for the White House National Security Council said the Biden administration is in regular consultations with the Egyptian government about specific defense needs.

  • The spokesperson added that U.S. military assistance to Egypt is “an important part of the strategic partnership” between the countries and supports “Egypt’s important role in promoting regional stability."
  • A State Department spokesperson said, “As a matter of policy, we do not comment on or confirm proposed defense sales until they have been formally notified to Congress.”
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