Washington — The debate over whether the United States should continue military aid to Egypt is roiling Washington; pitting political idealists against realists; separating liberals, conservatives and neoconservatives — and dividing supporters of Israel.
Israel and the lobby backing it in the United States have made clear that they oppose suspension of aid to Cairo, fearing that it would endanger the Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty and undermine Egyptian forces that are cooperating with Israel. But some traditional backers of Israel, including political conservatives, are arguing in favor of punishing the Egyptian interim government for its bloody crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, citing the need to take a moral stand even at the cost of ignoring concerns voiced by Israel.
In Egypt, the future of relations with Israel is largely viewed as marginal to the broader struggle over its national identity. But in the United States, the Israel issue has become one of the key arguments for maintaining aid to the controversial Egyptian regime.
The United States has provided Egypt with more than $71 billion since 1948. The majority of that aid has been delivered after Egypt signed the 1979 Camp David peace accords with Israel.
Though not a formal part of the accords, the aid was intended to serve as a sweetener and to compensate both sides for costs they’d incur as a result of signing the peace treaty. For Israel, those costs included relocating air forces bases from Sinai and redeploying along the new border; for Egypt, the aid was meant to boost its economy and to compensate for losing trade with the Arab League nations following its accord with Israel.
Originally, the aid was based on a 3-2 ratio in favor of Israel. In the past decade, the ratio has shifted even more toward Israel, which now receives double the aid given to Egypt.
“The Israelis reached the conclusion that the ratio set in 1979 inhibited the amount of the aid they can get,” said Graeme Bannerman, a former State Department official who later worked as a lobbyist for Egypt in Washington.
In the last fiscal year, America gave Egypt $1.3 billion in military aid and an additional $250 million in civilian economic assistance. The aid package is composed primarily of American-made weapon systems, including advanced F-16 fighters, Apache helicopters and Abrams tanks, as well as ammunition and spare parts.
(Israel is permitted to spend a small part of its aid money on its own weaponry.)