U.S. “Halts” Delivery Of F-16s To Egypt
The United States has placed a halt on a planned shipment of F-16s to Egypt in the wake of the removal of former President Morsi and the protests that have gripped the country for the better part of this month:
WASHINGTON — President Obama, in his first punitive response to the ouster of Mohamed Morsi as president of Egypt, has halted the delivery of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian air force.
Mr. Obama, administration officials said, wanted to send Egypt’s military-led government a signal of American displeasure with the chaotic situation there, which has been marked by continued violence, the detention of Mr. Morsi and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, and a transition that has not included the Brotherhood.
Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel relayed the decision to Gen. Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, the head of Egypt’s military, a senior official said, and did not say when the Pentagon might reschedule the delivery.
“Given the current situation in Egypt, we do not believe it is appropriate to move forward at this time with the delivery of F-16s,” the Pentagon press secretary, George Little, said on Wednesday. He did not cite any specific actions by the Egyptian military.
The White House emphasized that the decision did not have implications for $1.5 billion in American aid to Egypt, which it has said it does not want to cut off for now. The administration is reviewing that aid but has scrupulously avoided referring to Mr. Morsi’s ouster as a coup d’état, which could force its suspension on legal grounds.
In the immediate aftermath of Mr. Morsi’s ouster, the administration said it did not plan to halt the F-16 shipment. But officials said they were disturbed by how events have unfolded since then. Holding up planes is a modest, but unmistakable, symbol of that concern — “an inside fastball to the military,” in the words of a Pentagon official.
“We’ve been very clear with the military: we understand this is a difficult situation but we want things to get back on track,” said an official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing the diplomatic sensitivities of the decision. “Trying to break the neck of the Brotherhood is not going to be good for Egypt or for the region.”
The warplanes are part of a deal the United States and Egypt reached in 2009 for the delivery of 20 F-16 C/D fighters during 2013. The first batch of aircraft was delivered in January, with more scheduled for this summer and another delivery late this year.
The summer delivery already had been delayed once, for logistical reasons, when it was determined that the American pilots who would ferry the F-16s to Egypt might have difficulty leaving the country on commercial carriers because of the mushrooming political unrest.
The decision was described by some Pentagon officials as carefully calibrated to signal American displeasure but not go so far as to rupture the relationship or put Egypt’s security at risk.
The jet fighters have little role in Egypt’s domestic unrest, and Egypt is not facing an imminent external threat that would require adding four more warplanes to its security forces, said one Pentagon official. The greatest blow might be to the pride of the Egyptian military.
In all likelihood, this is will end up merely being a short delay in the delivery of the full compliment of war planes that were part of the original deal and that the Egyptian military will receive its planes at some point in the future, most likely quietly after all the controversy has died down. Indeed, I’d suspect that this has already been communicated to the Egyptians and that this entire “halt” to delivery is intended to make it appear that the United States is scolding the Egyptian military when, in reality, we really aren’t.