President Abdel Fatah El-Sisi of Egypt, one of America’s closest allies in the Middle East and a major recipient of U.S. aid, recently ordered subordinates to produce up to 40,000 rockets to be covertly shipped to Russia, according to a leaked U.S. intelligence document.
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A portion of a top secret document, dated Feb. 17, summarizes purported conversations between Sisi and senior Egyptian military officials and also references plans to supply Russia with artillery rounds and gunpowder. In the document, Sisi instructs the officials to keep the production and shipment of the rockets secret “to avoid problems with the West.”
The Washington Post obtained the document from a trove of images of classified files posted in February and March on Discord, a chat app popular with gamers. The document has not been previously reported.
The disclosure comes as Russia is fighting a war with Ukraine, in which both sides are seeking resupply of depleted arsenals.
In response to questions regarding the document and the veracity of the conversations it describes, Ambassador Ahmed Abu Zeid, spokesman for Egypt’s Foreign Ministry, said that “Egypt’s position from the beginning is based on noninvolvement in this crisis and committing to maintain equal distance with both sides, while affirming Egypt’s support to the U.N. charter and international law in the U.N. General Assembly resolutions.”
“We continue to urge both parties to cease hostilities and reach a political solution through negotiations,” he said.
A U.S. government official, speaking on the condition of anonymity to address sensitive information, said: “We are not aware of any execution of that plan,” referring to the rocket export initiative. “We have not seen that happen,” the official added.
Pentagon spokesperson Sabrina Singh noted that the Justice Department has opened a probe into the leak of classified documents.
Providing arms to Russia for its war in Ukraine would represent a potentially explosive gambit for Egypt, a nation that, despite deepening ties with Moscow, remains deeply invested in its partnership with the United States, which for decades has provided the country more than $1 billion a year in security aid. The document does not explicitly say why Russia is interested in acquiring the rockets, but its military has been expending huge amounts of ammunition in the war, and the U.S. government has claimed that North Korea is clandestinely supplying Russia with artillery rounds and that China is considering doing the same.
Egypt and other American partners in the Middle East have attempted to stay on the sidelines of Western nations’ standoff with Russia over Ukraine, seeking a potential hedge against America’s declining role in the region and new means to ensure their economic and military security. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has raised commodity prices globally and put serious pressure on Egypt, the world’s top importer of wheat, which has received more than 80 percent of its wheat from Russia and Ukraine in recent years.
“Egypt is one of our oldest allies in the Middle East,” said Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations committees. “If it’s true that Sisi is covertly building rockets for Russia that could be used in Ukraine, we need to have a serious reckoning about the state of our relationship.”
Sarah Margon, director of U.S. foreign policy at the Open Society Foundations and the Biden administration’s onetime nominee for the State Department’s top human rights post, said that “an intentional sale and delivery of rockets to the Russian government, which has committed such explicit war and other atrocity crimes, is just beyond the pale, especially for an ostensibly close U.S. ally.” [Continue reading…]