The Obama administration will suspend most aid to Egypt in response to the ouster of President Mohamed Morsi and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the military.
What will be maintain, however, is the support for border security operations in the Sinai. Israel views the aid as an essential element of its 1979 peace treaty with Egypt, and essential to the maintenance of stability in the region.
But one Israeli official, speaking to the New York Times, warned that the United States “is playing with fire,” adding, “you cannot disassemble the peace treaty and take out this part or that part,” the official said. “But there are other elements in this conundrum. This is not just about Israel. This is about America’s standing in the Arab world.”
The decision is the second made by the administration that has worried Israeli leadership, after Obama’s phone call with the new Iranian President Rouhani. The suspension of aid to Egypt will halt aid the Egyptian military has cherished from its relationship with the U.S. — tanks, fighter jets, and helicopters — but the administration will keep money flowing to support the government’s counter-terror operations.
In the aftermath of the Egyptian military ousting President Mohamed Morsi and a severe crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood — who is now outlawed — the White House refrained from formally designating the action of the military a coup d’etat, which would have legally required the Obama administration to suspend all aid to Egypt.
“The law does not require us to make a formal determination – that is a review that we have undergone – as to whether a coup took place, and it is not in our national interest to make such a determination,” said State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki. “We have determined we are not going to make a determination. Given that our legal team was an important part of this process, certainly, I would refute any notions that we were flouting the law,” Psaki added.
But the move lends credibility to the administration’s critics,who slammed Obama for foolishly providing an Islamist regime with some of the most effective operating systems in the world. It was only until the Egyptian military became hostile to the radical Muslim Brotherhood that the White House began to gradually restrict certain components of American aid. Earlier this year, the delivery of several F-16 fighter jets was delayed and a military exercise was cancelled, as well.
Now, the decision to halt aid to Egypt came only after more violence against the Muslim Brotherhood, who repeatedly break the law and threaten to oppose the military, not the single element of institutional stability in the country.
On Sunday, the 40th anniversary of Egypt’s 1973 attack on Israel, the Muslim Brotherhood ensued more violence in the streets of Egypt, when clashes broke out between opponents of the coup and security forces, leaving at least 51 dead and more than 200 injured.
The State Department announced the decision late Wednesday afternoon, after press reports emerged that an aid cut-off was imminent. The State Department said that the U.S. is “holding” a dozen F-16s; a similar number of AH-64 Apache helicopters; four M-1/A-1 tank kits (tanks that are shipped in pieces and assembled in the receiving country); and an unspecified number of Harpoon missiles (typically an anti-ship missile).
In addition, the U.S. is not proceeding with the planned transfer of $260 million in cash to the Egyptian government. However, these funds were already on hold pending the outcome of talks between the Egyptians and the International Monetary Fund.
The U.S. is also not proceeding with a $300 million loan guarantee slated as part of our foreign military financing programs. However, the administration is moving forward with an IMET program (International Military Education Traning), and aid to Egypt for education, health care, private-sector development and governance-strengthening funding.
Officials said the U.S. will not default on payments to U.S. military contractors and vendors whose services had been engaged for these purposes.
“My feeling is we should look and make a determination, is what took place a coup,” Sen. James Inhofe (Okla.), the top Republican on the Senate Armed Services Committee, said after meeting with Deputy Secretary of State Bill Burns. “In the event that it should be necessary, it would be very easy to pass a law to give a waiver.”
Senators, including Sen. Rand Paul R-KY, have called for President Obama to label Egypt a coup, but to seek a congressional waiver so the United States can continue providing foreign aid to the country. The State Department, at the moment, has no intention of revisiting the issue.
“Certainly, abiding by our legal obligations is always a priority to the United States and always something we’re focused on. But there is a greater context here in terms of our national security interests, in terms of the millions of people who’ve expressed their grievances in Egypt,” Psaki said.
The trial of ousted President Mohammed Morsi is slated to begin November 4.