Don't Try to Scare Us

It would be better for the defense establishment not to magnify the Egyptian threat in order to justify unnecessary budgetary demands.

The defense establishment isn't wasting precious time. Even though it is still unclear where the turmoil in the streets of Cairo and Alexandria is leading, defense officials have already made it clear that there is no alternative to increasing the defense budget.

After all, a substitute for the Iranian threat had to be found quickly. Otherwise, someone might wonder whether former Mossad chief Meir Dagan wasn't right in saying an Iranian nuclear bomb isn't imminent, and therefore think the defense budget should be reduced a bit.

And of course, the more fear we spread, the better. If we assert authoritatively enough that the Egyptian threat will increase immeasurably following regime change in Cairo, then not only will there be no criticism of the size of the defense budget, but no one will be able to oppose increasing it.

But the truth is that the Egyptian threat will not increase, even if President Hosni Mubarak's regime is toppled. And if the Moslem Brotherhood seizes power in Egypt, it will actually decrease significantly.

In the coming days, we will almost certainly hear quite a lot about how the Egyptian army is strengthening itself with advanced Western arms and about the exercises it carries out in which Israel is the enemy. That is true, but it doesn't change the existing picture: The balance of forces with the Israel Defense Forces, the region's geostrategic conditions and Egyptian interests all make launching a war against Israel completely illogical.

True, the Egyptian air force is equipped with about 220 F-16 fighters. But a study by the U.S. Defense Department asserts that there has been no change in the training level of the Egyptian air force since it transitioned from Russian to American arms. What that means is that an Egyptian pilot cannot utilize the full potential of the F-16's weapons systems.

The gap between the Israeli and Egyptian air forces is also maintained by the fact that in addition to the F-16s (and even those are models inferior to those the Israeli air force receives ), the Egyptian air force is equipped with older fighter planes, including MiG-21 and Phantom jets.

Egypt has also built up its armored corps, which now has about 700 advanced American Abrams tanks. But if the Egyptians want to go to war against Israel, these tanks will have to cross the Sinai peninsula, a buffer zone 200 to 300 kilometers wide. Since Sinai is a desert, sparsely populated and with almost no vegetation, it is an ideal killing zone. Should the Egyptian army dare to cross the Suez Canal and enter Sinai, it would find itself in a trap in which the IDF, with its precision armaments and air superiority, has an absolute advantage.

A seizure of power by the Muslim Brotherhood would lead to an immediate halt of American military aid, joint exercises and the supply of spare parts, which are critical to maintaining the fighter planes. In that case, the Egyptian army's strength would be quickly eroded.

And as for the fighting ability and modernization of the Egyptian army, the U.S. study said that while the army seeks to modernize its weaponry, it has evinced no urgency about changing its military doctrine.

It also true that the Egyptian army trains for war against Israel. But this stems mainly from the fact that Egypt perceives Israel as a real threat.

In the eyes of the Egyptian regime, Israel is an unstable country that tends to use force to resolve political problems. Egypt believes there are extreme elements in Israel whose rise to power could lead to aggression against it. A case in point is the 2001 warning by then-MK (and now Foreign Minister ) Avigdor Lieberman that the IDF could destroy the Aswan Dam.

It would therefore be better for the defense establishment not to magnify the Egyptian threat in order to justify unnecessary budgetary demands. But in any case, it's worth realizing that its anticipated fear-mongering has no real basis.