The changing skies of the Middle East

The skies of the Middle East are changing very fast. The latest change is the deal that Egypt signed with Russia earlier this week to purchase military hardware worth about $2 billion.

The deal became possible after Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates offered financial help to Egypt, which was almost bankrupt.

Discussions with the Russians to purchase advanced weapons systems date back to November 2013, when the Russian defence minister and foreign minister visited Cairo for talks.

Egypt’s moves to improve relations with Russia are seen as a way to counter US pressure, whose partial freeze of aid to Egypt was largely seen to be a punishment for the military coup and crackdown on former president Mohamed Morsi and his supporters. Egypt feels that it was deserted by its biggest ally.

The US Congress has initiated a process aimed at unfreezing aid to Egypt in 2014, but it still is unclear how it will end. Even if the aid is fully restored, Russia is back in the game as far as Egypt is concerned after years sitting on the bench.

The Saudis and other Gulf states have been supporting the military-backed interim government that overthrew the Muslim Brotherhood regime.

So the Egyptian airforce may soon operate Russian-made fighter aircraft. And this is only the beginning. Other countries in the region, mainly the Gulf area, may also sign deals with Russia.

President Putin has decided to increase military sales in parallel with investing in the Russian defence and aerospace industries.

Israel is following with great interest, as the Egyptian almost “pure” American inventories start to get a Russian flavour.

At this stage this is a mild flavour – but it may become a strong one.

When you consider the growing activity of the Turkish defence industry and its efforts to become a substitute supplier to some countries in the Middle East, the picture is even clearer. One example is a deal to sell the Turkish-developed Anka UAS to the Egyptian airforce.

The map of suppliers and consumers of military hardware in the Middle East is changing, with Israel observing closely.

At this point the situation does not call for changes in Israeli deployment or tactics. Israel and Egypt are at peace: a cold one, but still not affected by the huge changes in Egypt since the ousting of president Mubarak.

Recent years have shown once again that changes in the region happen very fast and have far-reaching effects.

It can therefore be assumed that somewhere in Israel someone is studying the situation very carefully.

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