The Egyptian army moved this week against jihadist elements in the northern Sinai Peninsula, near the border with the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip, in the aftermath of an ambush on an Egyptian military convoy. At least 72 terror suspects were detained in the ensuing raids.
The anti-terror campaign comes amid ongoing criticism of a recent White House decision to freeze U.S. security assistance that had been reserved for Egypt. The Egyptian army has deployed an array of U.S.-built-and-provided assets in its efforts to stabilize the Sinai Peninsula. Apaches purchased with U.S. assistance were critical in providing air cover for an operation targeting jihadist infrastructure. Egypt has sought cutting-edge technology from Raytheon to detect smuggling tunnels that the army says are used to facilitate the transfer of materials and personnel between the Sinai and the Gaza Strip.
The administration’s decision to freeze aid explicitly exempted assets that Egypt would use to target jihadists in the Sinai. David Barnett, a researcher at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, immediately expressed skepticism regarding the feasibility of distinguishing Sinai-bound weapons from other kinds of weapons. Bloomberg columnist Jeffrey Goldberg noted that even if the distinction was feasible – even if the administration wouldn’t “be cutting off Egypt’s counterterrorism aid” – “alienating generals who are currently acting in the national-security interests of the U.S. could be interpreted as shortsighted.”
Observing among other things the Egyptian campaigns in the Sinai, Heritage Foundation senior research fellow James Phillips yesterday assessed that the partial aid freeze was the worst of both worlds:
The decision tries to split the difference between the Pentagon, which argued that aid to Egypt furthers U.S. security interests, and human rights activists who contend that Egypt’s new government must be punished for its crackdown against the brotherhood. But splitting the baby is likely to satisfy nobody in Washington or Cairo.
Instead, a partial aid cutoff is likely to further erode American influence in Egypt, which has declined rapidly under President Obama. It risks rupturing ties to Egypt’s military, which shares American concerns about Islamist extremism and offers the best hope of eventually salvaging a stable democratic system in Egypt.
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