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Better Isn't Always Better
by James Dunnigan
March 10, 2011

With the change of government in Egypt, Israeli intelligence is reviewing its files on the Egyptian military in case the peace treaty between the two countries is cancelled. Israel has been keeping an eye on the Egyptian military since the late 1940s. Israel got sloppy in the early 1970s, and missed the reforms Anwar Sadat introduced, which led to some Israeli setbacks early in the 1973 war. The Israelis quickly recovered, and took advantage of Egyptian exuberance. The Egyptians have since celebrated their early successes in the 1973 war, and largely ignored their eventual defeat.

Unlike the Egyptians, the Israelis learned from their mistakes, and keep learning. Egypt, meanwhile, has allowed their armed forces to decline in effectiveness. Although the Egyptians have received over a thousand American M1 tanks and over 200 U.S. F-16 fighters since the 1980s, they have allowed corruption and smugness to destroy the capable forces they had in 1973. One way Israel has tracked this is from the interviews they did with captured Egyptian soldiers from the 1948, 1956, 1967 and 1973 wars. While they found that the quality of the enlisted personnel remained stable, the quality of the officers and NCOs declined. There was some improvement between 1967 and 1973, but all indications are that the decline resumed after 1973.

Meanwhile, Egypt expects over a thousand U.S. M-1 tanks to make a difference. The problem is that the Egyptians do not spend enough time training with these vehicles, nor do they maintain them well. Same with the 2,500 older U.S. M-60 and Russian tanks. Egyptian training and maintenance suffered in comparison to how the Israelis operate. That will make a big difference in any future war.

Egypt has the fourth largest F-16 force in the world, with over 210 aircraft in service and two dozen on the way. The new order would give Egypt 240 F-16s. This is the core of their air power, as their remaining force consists of aging French Mirage F5s and Mirage 2000s, Russian and Chinese MiG-21s, and a few U.S. F-4s. The main reason Egypt has so many F-16s is because, as part of the 1977 peace deal with Israel, the U.S. has been providing several billion dollars in military and economic aid a year. The understanding is that most of this money will be used to buy American products. The F-16 seemed like a good choice, if only because Israel was very happy with them. But the Israelis have upgraded their F-16s with locally made electronics and weapons, while stressing lots of pilot training. Any future war between Israel and Egypt would see a lot of F-16s shot down, and few of them would be Israeli.

Unless another military reformer like Anwar Sadat shows up, Egypt would be most fortunate if it maintained its peace treaty with Israel.

 

 


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