- The Washington Times - Monday, January 31, 2011

U.S. military and intelligence agencies would lose vital air, land and sea assets if Egypt falls into the hands of radical Islamists, as Iran did in 1979, foreign policy analysts say.

The U.S. armed forces are entwined with Egypt’s military more than with any other Arab country’s. But if Islamists seize Cairo, as the mullahs captured Tehran, this complex relationship unravels.

“Let me count the ways,” said Ken Allard, a retired Army colonel and military analyst. “They are our biggest strategic partner in the Middle East. At that point, you’ve lost your biggest Arab partner. Geostrategically, the mind boggles.”

The U.S. Navy would not be able to use the Egyptian-run Suez Canal. The 150-year-old waterway sharply reduces sailing time for Atlantic-based carriers and other warships going from the Mediterranean to the Red Sea and Persian Gulf, and to wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

The Air Force likely would lose overflight rights into the Middle East, and the Army would lose a partner in building the M1A1 tank.

Anti-government protesters offer their evening prayers Monday in front of an Egyptian army tank securing the area during a protest in Cairo's Tahrir Square. A coalition of opposition groups called for a million people to take to Cairo's streets Tuesday to demand the removal of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak. (Associated Press)
Anti-government protesters offer their evening prayers Monday in front of an Egyptian ... more >

“If you are talking an Iran scenario, these are some of the things that happen first,” Mr. Allard said.

Egypt receives more than $1 billion in U.S. military aid each year and uses it to buy tanks, F-16 fighters, Patriot anti-aircraft missiles and other weapons systems.

The region’s other U.S. allies sent their militaries to Egypt for an exercise known as Bright Star to practice urban warfare, air assaults and ground operations.

Egypt is the birthplace of the shadowy Muslim Brotherhood, a fraternity committed to replacing secular governments with autocrats who follow Shariah, or strict Muslim law.

Amid the ongoing protests against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, the Brotherhood announced that it wants to share power with Mohamed ElBaradei, an opposition leader who is a former head of the U.N. International Atomic Energy Agency.

 “If we lose Egypt to the Brotherhood, it is absolutely devastating,” said former Rep. Peter Hoekstra, who led the House Select Committee on Intelligence. “The Egyptians are a key stabilizing force for us throughout the Middle East.”

“It raises the basic question of everyday military operations,” the Michigan Republican said.

“Do they facilitate our use of the Suez? Do they frustrate, meaning to make it inconvenient, or do they downright make it impossible?”

A radicalized Egypt likely would stop hosting the scores of Egyptian officers who come to the U.S. to attend service schools such as the Army War College. The Pentagon thinking is that decades of training have helped turn out generations of commanders comfortable with civilian rule and human rights.

“Our military has benefited from the interactions with the Egyptian armed forces — one of the most professional and capable in the region,” Defense Secretary Robert M. Gates said during a 2009 visit to Cairo.

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