Egyptian armored units (illustration)
Egyptian armored units (illustration)Reuters

Egypt held its "Badr 2014" military maneuver between October 11 and November 6, its largest exercise since 1996 which was only half the size - according to a senior security expert the Nile state has its sights on Israel, despite the peace treaty.

Col. (res.) Dr. Shaul Shay, former deputy head of the Israel National Security Council, detailed the maneuver in Israel Defense on Saturday, analyzing the massive military preparations.

According to Shay, Egypt wants not only to improve security domestically, but also "it hopes to reassert its historic leadership role and become the regional hegemony. ...With the rise of (President) Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a new generation of military leadership in Egypt has taken control of the country’s armed forces."

The security expert continued "Exercise 'Badr 2014' and the creation of the RDF (Rapid Deployment Force) signals a move toward enhancing Egypt’s more offensive, conventional, asymmetric and counterinsurgency capabilities both within and beyond the country’s borders."

Speaking directly about what that means for Israel, Shay noted that the exercise is meant to prepare for "a potential conflict with Israel."

"Israel is quietly stepping up its military co-operation with Egypt as both countries confront security threats from jihadist groups in the Sinai region and Hamas in Gaza strip. However, Egypt continues to see Israel as its primary military potential threat despite a decades-old peace treaty," analyzed Shay.

Shay quoted Egyptian Military Spokesman Brig. Gen. Mohammed Samir as calling the recent maneuver "the largest and most sophisticated strategic exercise in terms of planning, training, and size of forces involved." He noted that the Egyptian army is the largest in Africa and the Middle East, with most of the country's $1.5 billion in US yearly aid being military aid.

Egypt likewise in February sealed a $2 billion arms deal with Russia, after Russia in November said Egypt offered to buy advanced defense systems, military helicopters, MiG-29 aircraft and anti-tank missiles.

Preparing for Sinai mobilization?

In one part of the maneuver, a simulation of a Suez Canal crossing was held on October 27 by the Third Army. The drill included establishing movable bridges to allow vehicles and tanks to cross, with APCs (Armored Personnel Carriers) crossing accompanied by air force units and boats.

The maneuver is significant in that the peace agreement with Israel forbids large-scale Egyptian military mobilization in the Sinai, although Egypt's military has been recently more active in the region while trying to put down rampant violence by salafist terrorists, with some warning that the increase in Egyptian military presence could potentially signify a threat to Israel.

In another drill on November 3, Sisi attended the main phase of air force exercises in Wadi Nartun. Over 250 combat fighters and helicopters took part in over 60 air sorties, in cooperation with paratrooper units, Egyptian commandos and the Central Military Region regiments.

Recent Egyptian ousters like the sinking of an Israeli ship?

On the naval front, Shay noted "the Egyptian Navy is the largest navy in Middle East and Africa, and is the seventh largest in the world measured by the number of vessels."

He added the annual exercise of the navy is held on Navy Day, October 21, a date established after an incident on that day in 1967 in which the Israeli destroyer "Eilat" was sunk by Egyptian missile boats about 12 miles from Port Said around four months after Egypt's defeat in the 1967 Six Day War.

Sisi released a statement likening the success of the recent ousters of former presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohammed Morsi with the October 21 sinking of the "Eilat."

"Sisi noted that these events changed the reality of Egypt politically, economically and socially, and he praised the navy as one of the main branches of the Egyptian military," reported Shay.