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Egypt, Russia Seal $2B Arms Deal

Saudi Arabia and UAE foot the bill for sale of advanced defense systems, helicopters, aircraft and anti-tank missiles.
By Gil Ronen and Ari Soffer
First Publish: 2/9/2014, 11:37 AM

Illustration: S-300 missile defense batteries
Illustration: S-300 missile defense batteries
Reuters

Egypt has concluded an arms deal with Russia worth $2 billion, a senior official source told Egyptian daily newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm, noting that the Egyptian and Russian sides reached agreement on all details of the agreement over the past few weeks.

The source, who asked not to be named, said the two Gulf kingdoms of Saudi Arabia and the UAE played a “vital role” in sealing the deal.

The official revealed that the first tranche of Russian weapons to Egypt will be delivered before mid-2014. The delivery and payments will both be phased, he explained.

In November, Russia declared that it had received an Egyptian offer to buy advanced defense systems, military helicopters, MiG-29 aircraft and anti-tank missiles with a combined value of $2 billion. The overall cost of the purchase was in fact double, but cash-strapped Egypt would only pay half of that, according to the source. The apparent show of Russian largess was no act of altruistic generosity, however; the Kremlin has been aggressively capitalizing on perceived American weakness in the Middle East to - particularly over crises in Iran and Syria - to expand its own sphere of influence in the Arab world, which until recently was limited to Syria.

According to reports in a Kuwaiti newspaper late last year, one of the objectives of the arms deal was to enable a newly pro-Russian Egypt to achieve military parity with the United State's closest ally in the region: Israel.

Saudi Arabia and the UAE, along with Kuwait, have been Egypt's top Arab financiers following the overthrow of Islamist president Mohammed Morsi, with financial and in-kind aid totalling about $12 billion. Since the overthrow of Morsi's predecessor Hosni Mubarak in 2011, the north Africa state has seen its economy go into a virtual free-fall, and now relies heavily on foreign support.

Saudi Arabia's intelligence chief, Prince Bandar Bin Sultan al-Saud, reportedly told European diplomats in October that his country plans to scale back its cooperation with the US in efforts to arm and train Syrian rebels, according to the Wall Street Journal.

The decision was said to be the result of Riyadh's "frustration" with the Obama administration's foreign policy in the Middle East, and reflects a growing sense of discontent by one of America's staunchest Arab allies.

That statement came days after the Gulf Kingdom surprised observers by turning down a temporary position on the United Nations Security Council, in what it said was a protest at the Security Council's ineffectiveness in solving regional conflicts.

Saudi Arabia is also said to be concerned about American overtures to its arch-foe, Iran, and alarmed at what they see as an incoherent and weak American Middle East strategy.

“The Saudis are very upset. They don’t know where the Americans want to go,” WST quoted a "senior European diplomat" as saying.