Obama cancels joint war games with Egypt

Updated 18 August 2013

Obama cancels joint war games with Egypt

CHILMARK/VINEYARD HAVEN, Massachusetts: President Barack Obama announced on Thursday that the United States is canceling joint military exercises with Egypt next month, saying normal US cooperation cannot continue in light of the armed forces’ bloody crackdown.
“The United States strongly condemns the steps that have been taken by Egypt’s interim government and security forces,” Obama said on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard, where he is on vacation.
“We deplore violence against civilians. We support universal rights essential to human dignity, including the right to peaceful protest,” he said in his first public remarks since the crackdown began early Wednesday. More than 600 people have been killed and thousands wounded.
Washington provides $1.3 billion in military aid and about $250 million in economic aid to Egypt every year, which it has been reluctant to cut off for fear of losing leverage there and in the broader region.
Stopping military exercises in Egypt was one clear way the White House could show its displeasure. It was the first significant US move to penalize Egypt’s military rulers. Previously, the US government had announced a decision to halt delivery to Egypt of four US-made F-16 fighters.
Some analysts and lawmakers questioned whether the cancelation of the “Bright Star” military exercises was enough.
“This falls well short of the fundamental rethinking and reorientation that is necessary right now,” said Shadi Hamid, director of research for the Brookings Doha Center and a fellow at the Saban Center for Middle East Policy at Brookings.

“If the US wants to reestablish its leverage it will actually have to do something to show it is serious. The first serious step would be cutting aid, then there would be no doubt that finally the US is serious about using its leverage.”
Obama said the state of emergency should be lifted in Egypt and a process of national reconciliation started.
“While we want to sustain our relationship with Egypt, our traditional cooperation cannot continue as usual when civilians are being killed in the streets and rights are being rolled back,” Obama said.
“Going forward, I’ve asked my national security team to assess the implications of the actions taken by the interim government and further steps we may take as necessary with respect to the US-Egyptian relationship.”
He did not elaborate, but the State Department said the United States would review its aid to Egypt in “all forms.”
The military drill, which dates back to 1981, is seen as a cornerstone of US-Egyptian military relations. It began after the Camp David Peace Accords between Egypt and Israel.
Obama, who departed for a game of golf shortly after making his statement, vented frustration that both sides in the Egyptian conflict were blaming the United States for the turmoil in the country since the military ousted Mohamed Mursi, Egypt’s first freely elected president, on July 3.
The United States has insisted it is not taking sides. But it chose not to condemn Mursi’s ouster or call for his reinstatement, leaving the impression that it had tacitly sided with the military and accepted a coup.
“We’ve been blamed by supporters of Mursi. We’ve been blamed by the other side as if we are supporters of Mursi. That kind of approach will do nothing to help Egyptians achieve the future that they deserve,” Obama said.
“We want Egypt to succeed. We want a peaceful, democratic, prosperous Egypt. That’s our interest. But to achieve that, the Egyptians are going to have to do the work.”

Calls for end to aid
On Thursday, hundreds of supporters of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood stormed a government building in Cairo and set it ablaze, venting their fury at the crackdown on the Islamist movement.
Egypt, the Arab world’s most populous nation, is of strategic importance because of its peace treaty with close US ally Israel and its control of the Suez Canal, a vital waterway for trade and for the US military.
Despite scrapping the joint military drills, the United States signaled it would maintain ties to Egypt’s generals.
Pentagon spokesman George Little said Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel spoke “at length” on Thursday with Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, and the contacts would continue even as Washington assessed the various aspects of its relationship with Egypt.
He said the issue of aid was affected by “a complicated set of factors.”
Cutting off US aid to Egypt could be tricky because of complex financing arrangements that allow Egypt to stretch out its purchases of US military equipment over several years; breaking the contracts would impact US defense contractors as well as the Egyptians.
Held every two years, the “Bright Star” exercise was also canceled in 2011 because of the political turmoil in Egypt following the ouster of longtime autocrat and US ally Hosni Mubarak.
Several thousand US troops had been slated to participate in the exercise, which was due to begin Sept. 18, said Max Blumenfeld, spokesman for US Central Command, which oversees operations in the Middle East and central Asia. He said past exercises focused on integration of naval forces, airborne operations, field exercises and disposal of explosive ordnance.
Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat and chairman of the Senate appropriations subcommittee in charge of foreign aid, said that military aid to Egypt should stop under a US law that triggers an aid cutoff if a military coup has taken place. The administration has repeatedly said it has not determined whether the military’s actions in Cairo amounted to a coup.
“While suspending joint military exercises as the president has done is an important step, our law is clear: aid to the Egyptian military should cease unless they restore democracy,” Leahy said in a statement.
The full Senate Appropriations Committee late last month voted to tie aid to Cairo to the restoration of a democratically-elected government in Egypt. But the legislation is still working its way through Congress and has not become law.


Israeli Cabinet postpones vote on West Bank annexation

Updated 7 min 48 sec ago

Israeli Cabinet postpones vote on West Bank annexation

  • A Cabinet vote on annexing territories on Sunday was not technically feasible because of various preparations
  • Hard-line Israeli nationalists have called for the immediate annexation of West Bank settlements
JERUSALEM: A senior Israeli minister said on Wednesday that a Cabinet vote to endorse annexation of parts of the West Bank will not take place early next week, despite Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s pledge a day earlier to act quickly after the US released a peace plan rejected by the Palestinians.
Netanyahu said he would ask the Cabinet to advance the extension of Israeli sovereignty over most Jewish settlements and the strategic Jordan Valley, a move that would likely spark international outrage and complicate the White House’s efforts to build support for the plan.
Tourism Minister Yariv Levin told Israel Radio that a Cabinet vote on annexing territories on Sunday was not technically feasible because of various preparations, including “bringing the proposal before the attorney general and letting him consider the matter.”
Hard-line Israeli nationalists have called for the immediate annexation of West Bank settlements ahead of the country’s third parliamentary elections in under a year, scheduled for March 2.
They have eagerly embraced the part of President Donald Trump’s peace plan that would allow Israel to annex territory but have rejected its call for a Palestinian state in parts of the occupied West Bank.
The Palestinians angrily rejected the Trump plan which largely adopts the Israeli position on all the thorniest issues of the decades-old conflict, from borders and the status of Jerusalem to security measures and the fate of Palestinian refugees.
Levin, a senior member of Netanyahu’s Likud party, said the Palestinian state envisioned by the Trump peace plan is “roughly the same Palestinian Authority that exists today, with authority to manage civil affairs,” but lacking “substantive powers” like border control or a military.
Jordan, which has a peace treaty with Israel, has warned against any Israeli “annexation of Palestinian lands,” reaffirming its commitment to an independent Palestinian state formed on the basis of the pre-1967 lines with east Jerusalem as its capital.
The Palestinians seek the West Bank and annexed east Jerusalem, which Israel captured in the 1967 Mideast war, as part of a future independent state. Most of the international community considers Israel’s West Bank settlements illegal under international law.
Israeli Defense Minister Naftali Bennett tweeted Wednesday that “that which is postponed to after the elections will never happen.”
“If we postpone or reduce the extension of sovereignty (in the West Bank), then the opportunity of the century will turn into the loss of the century,” said Bennett, a hawkish Netanyahu ally with the New Right party.
Nahum Barnea, a veteran Israeli columnist, stridently criticized the Trump plan in Wednesday’s Hebrew daily Yedioth Ahronoth, saying it would create a Palestinian state “more meager than Andorra, more fractured than the Virgin Islands.”
He cautioned that annexation would lead to “a reality of two legal systems for two populations in the same territory — one ruling, the second occupied. In other words, an Apartheid state.”