U.S. Secretary of Defense Visits to Mideast Allies: What Messages Does He Have for Sisi and Netanyahu?

a year ago




In late January 2023, U.S. President Joe Biden’s administration sent Secretary of State Antony Blinken with a large political team to Egypt, Tel Aviv, and the West Bank to achieve several goals.

The visit aimed to impose calm in the occupied Palestinian territories and improve human rights in Egypt, but it did not achieve its objectives.

In the West Bank, the Israeli Occupation continued to implement the plan of mass destruction and mass killing of Palestinians through daily incursions, as happened in the “Huwara Holocaust” on February 26, 2023, and the second Jenin massacre on March 7, 2023.

In Egypt, the brutal repression and arrests continued to the point of targeting the detainees in the Aqrab Badr prison. There were three distress messages were leaked revealing the attempted suicide of 55 detainees, the strike of the general guide of the Brotherhood, and the continuation of the killing under torture and amid medical negligence.

Still, the regime of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has recently issued extremely brutal and harsh sentences from an exceptional court (State Security) on March 5, 2023, with imprisonment between 5 years and life sentence for 29 male and female activists because of their peaceful activity in a human rights organization (the Egyptian Coordination for Rights and Freedoms).

It seems that the administration of Joe Biden decided to deal more strictly, to protect its interests in the region from the actions of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and the head of the Egyptian regime, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. It also seeks to determine what is required of each of them to guarantee a calm atmosphere in the occupied territory and to send additional messages regarding human rights.

The U.S. sent the military this time after the failure of the politicians, perhaps because they are more capable of conveying direct threats related to support, security, and arms deals.

In this context, the visit of U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin to Jordan, “Israel,” and Egypt on March 5, 2023, raised questions about the purpose and the relationship between them.

The main goal is to prevent the explosion of the occupied Palestinian territories during the month of Ramadan, and its repercussions on the Cairo and Amman regimes, and then to preserve Washington’s interests in the two countries.

The Austin tour indicates that the security understandings that resulted from the five-way meeting in Aqaba on February 26, 2023, with the participation of America, Jordan, Egypt, “Israel” and the Palestinian Authority, did not succeed in curbing the Israeli Occupation escalation or providing calm.

Hence, the diplomacy of the Pentagon (the U.S. Department of Defense), led by Austin, came to compensate for the failures of the State Department, especially since the relationship he has with the leaders of the armies and leaders of the three countries is good and he can succeed.

Because the “military messages are decisive and strong,” Washington sent Austin this time to warn the leaders of “Israel” and Egypt of an impending explosion if the extremist policies of Benjamin Netanyahu’s government and Sisi’s repression continue in Egypt amid a state of popular tension, according to observers.

This is compared to the messages of politicians such as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, who did a previous tour for the same purpose but failed.

They see the intervention of America’s military generals directly in solving political problems in the region, given the nature of the relationship between the U.S. Department of Defense and regimes such as Egypt, Jordan, and Netanyahu, indicates that there are great dangers.


Messages for Sisi

Austin is poised to send a clear message on the need for Sisi to respect human rights. “I fully expect him to bring up human rights, respect for fundamental freedoms,” the U.S. defense official told Reuters on March 6, 2023.

Under Sisi, who, as army chief, led the 2013 ouster of Egypt’s first democratically elected president, there has been a long crackdown on political dissent that has swept up liberal critics as well as Islamists, according to the source, who may be the first American official to refer to the “Islamists” as an opposition movement facing unprecedented repression from the Sisi regime.

The importance of the American military’s visit to Egypt stems from a fact highlighted by the Egyptian journalist residing in Washington, Hafez al-Mirazi, in an article on Al-Manassa News in early February 2023, about their relationship with the Sisi regime.

He emphasized that “the U.S. Department of Defense is the one who controls Sisi, and the U.S. military is the one who takes decisions regarding Egypt,” not the foreign ministry or the presidency.

He explained that “there is a specificity in the U.S. military relationship with Egypt, and the top priority between the two sides is to maintain stability, in the sense of preserving the status quo of regimes friendly to Washington.”

The U.S. military’s approach to Sisi to ease repression and release detainees came in conjunction with the Egyptian and international civil society organizations’ call to the United Nations Human Rights Council in an open letter on February 24, 2023, to adopt a resolution on the human rights crisis in Egypt, warning that repression and impunity in the country are deeply undermining efforts to address corruption, inequality, ecological destruction, and larger social injustices.

“The government of Abdel Fattah el-Sisi prefers to silence criticism of its corrupt, iron-fisted rule rather than take serious steps to ensure real reform. This approach is leading Egypt toward disaster,” said Jeremie Smith, Director of the Geneva Office of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS).

However, “the Egyptian government has failed to implement almost all the promises and commitments it has made concerning human rights reform,” according to the letter.

After landing in Cairo, March 8, 2023, Lloyd Austin confirmed that America’s defense partnership with Egypt is an “essential pillar” of Washington’s commitment to the Middle East.

Austin made the remark on Twitter after touching down in Cairo on the latest leg of his Middle East tour. He was greeted by senior Egyptian military officials at the Cairo airport, according to AP.

“I’m here to strengthen our coordination on key issues and to pursue opportunities to deepen our long-standing bilateral partnership with Egypt,” Austin posted on Twitter, without detailing the discussions and without referring to the issue of human rights.


Messages to Netanyahu

“The Israeli government is a threat to the U.S. Interests, not just values,” this is how The National Interest magazine summarized on March 6, 2023, the importance of Minister Austin’s visit.

It pointed to the extreme damage to American interests caused by the extremist Israeli government.

“Certainly, the regimes of such countries as Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and the Gulf states are strong enough to weather any storm in the Palestinian-occupied territories, yet the impact on them could translate into policies and practices that are inconsistent if not outright contradictory to U.S. interests (as well as, of course, values). These might include a crackdown on street protests and suppression of freedom of speech against anyone who might use the situation to criticize the complicit or explicit relations between any of these regimes and Israel.”

So, with the stifling bad economic conditions in Jordan and Egypt, the stability of these countries, representing key allies of Washington, will be threatened.

Therefore, “the damage of Israel’s current government, in other words, is as much to U.S. interests as to its values. It is time for Washington to confront this fact and consider the damage that the Netanyahu government is about to inflict on American strategic interests in the Middle East and beyond,” according to The National Interest.


Iran Is Present

Another goal of the visit was indicated by Dana Stroul, the U.S. Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense for the Middle East, in statements to Al-Jazeera channel on March 5, 2023, by confirming that Iran will lead the discussions of the Minister of Defense in Jordan, Egypt and “Israel.”

The U.S. administration is deeply concerned about the great progress made in the Iranian nuclear program and its effects on Washington and “Israel” goals, according to U.S. newspapers.

U.S. military officials believe that Iran is crossing America’s red line and approaching a nuclear bomb.

Under Secretary of Defense for Policy, Colin Kahl, said in early March 2023 that Iran is capable of producing enough fissile material for one nuclear bomb in “about 12 days.”

Kahl also confirmed to Banks that the White House had offered to rejoin the deal this past summer, but “the Iranians were not willing” to accept.

“And, of course, Iran’s behavior has changed, since then, not the least of which [is] their support for Russia in Ukraine,” Kahl went on.

Senior Israeli officials stated to Walla, a Hebrew website, on March 3, 2023, that the visit of the Minister of Defense to the region is in order to confront recent developments, especially Iran’s enrichment of uranium at dangerous military rates.

They explained that before his visit to “Israel,” the Israeli Minister of Strategic Affairs, Ron Dermer, and the National Security Adviser, Tzachi Hanegbi, visited Washington to discuss Iran’s progress in the Iranian nuclear program and other security issues.

Israeli TV website i24NEWS confirmed in March 2023 that Defense Minister Lloyd Austin was visiting “Israel” to discuss Iran’s recent progress in its nuclear program.

In a tweet prior to the visit, Secretary Austin said: “I’m on my way to the Middle East region to meet with key leaders and reaffirm the U.S. commitment to regional stability and advancing the shared interests of our allies and partners.”

The Pentagon spokesman, Brig. Gen. Pat Ryder, repeated the same meaning, stressing that the Secretary of Defense’s visit aims to meet leaders and several key partner countries to reaffirm the United States’ permanent commitment to the Middle East region, increase regional security and stability, and deter potential threats.

Al-Monitor website stated on March 2, 2023, that “Austin’s trip aims to further assuage Middle Eastern leaders’ doubts over the Biden administration’s commitment to the region’s security needs following increased scrutiny on arms sales and U.S. military drawdowns in Afghanistan and the Persian Gulf.”

Retired U.S. Marine Corp General Frank McKenzie, who headed American forces in the Middle East until last year, said the region is significant to the United States in part because of China’s growing role.

“I think this trip is an excellent example of an opportunity to continue to tell people in the theater [region] that they remain important to us,” added McKenzie, now leading the University of South Florida’s Global and National Security Institute.

“Ties between China and Middle Eastern countries have expanded under the region’s economic diversification push, raising U.S. concerns about growing Chinese involvement in sensitive infrastructure in the Gulf, including in the United Arab Emirates,” Reuters.