(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Senate Thursday defeated an amendment that aimed to prevent the Obama administration from transferring F-16 fighter aircraft and Abrams tanks to an Egypt in disarray.
A vote to block the measure proposed by Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) – an amendment to the debt limit bill – passed by a 79–19 vote.
In a strongly worded floor statement, Paul questioned the wisdom of providing the sophisticated weaponry at a time when “many see Egypt descending into chaos.”
He based his argument on the Egyptian government’s conduct, President Mohammed Morsi’s expressed radical views, and the possibility that the weapons could be used in a future conflict against Israel.
“I think this is particularly unwise since Egypt is currently governed by a religious zealot, a religious zealot who said recently that Jews were ‘bloodsuckers’ and ‘descendants of apes and pigs,’” he said. “This doesn’t sound like the kind of stable personality that we would be sending our most sophisticated weapons to.”
It was also foolish, Paul contended, to send weapons to “both sides of an arms race.”
“We send 20 F-16s to Egypt – which already has 240 F-16s,” he said. “What does Israel feel? They’ve got to have two for every one Egypt has. It escalates an arms race, it makes it more difficult for Israel to defend herself.
“Today we have a chance to stop this folly,” he concluded, urging colleagues to support the amendment.
Egypt has received a total of 240 F-16 Fighting Falcons since a first order in 1980, the year after the Egypt-Israel peace agreement was signed.
The 20 F-16s referred to by Paul were pledged in December 2009, when President Hosni Mubarak was still in power. Lockheed Martin was awarded the contract to build 16 F-16Cs and four F-16Ds. The first four planes were delivered last week, according to Fox News. (Lockheed Martin on Thursday referred queries to the U.S. Air Force, whose comment is awaited.)
In November 2011, General Dynamics Land Systems announced it had won a $395 million contract to produce 125 M1A1 Abrams tank kits for Egypt, with deliveries due to begin in July 2013.
Rejecting Paul’s amendment, Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) characterized it as simplistic, short-sighted and potentially harmful to U.S. interests.
“Would that this amendment was as simple as the junior senator from Kentucky described it,” he told senators after Paul had spoken. “His amendment would hinder our military assistance program, licenses for commercial sales of all major military equipment, including aircraft, ships, tanks, armor, parts and so on.
“It would mean a loss of thousands of American jobs. We’d incur more than two billion dollars in contract-termination penalties for U.S. taxpayers,” Leahy said.
“But we’d also put at risk our access to the Suez Canal, the over flight by the U.S. Air Force over Egyptian territory, cooperation in the Sinai, Gaza, Syria, our emphasis and our ability to keep the Israeli-Egyptian peace agreement going.
“Do I have problems with the way the Morsi government is going? Certainly,” he said. “But removing our ability to be involved, with keeping that peace agreement and our ability to influence those – this is not the way to do it.”
In a written statement – provided by the senator’s office – Leahy added that U.S. law “already conditions U.S. military aid on Egypt’s adherence to its peace treaty with Israel, and on protecting fundamental human rights and due process of law. That is current law, and it needs to be faithfully applied.”
The law he referred is an amendment authored by Leahy himself.
But Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last March announced the administration would waive the restrictions. The State Department said “Egypt has made significant progress toward democracy in the last 15 months” while acknowledging that its “transition to democracy is not yet complete, and more work remains to protect universal rights and freedoms.”
At the time Leahy criticized the decision.
“Waiving the new conditions on democracy and human rights is regrettable, and handing over the entire $1.3 billion at once to the Egyptian military compounds the mistake by dissipating our future leverage,” he said in a statement.
“Using this waiver authority, at this time, sends a contradictory message,” Leahy said. “The Egyptian military should be defending fundamental freedoms and the rule of law, not harassing and arresting those who are working for democracy.”
At the time of that waiver decision and Leahy’s response, the Muslim Brotherhood’s presidential flag bearer had yet to take office, and Egypt’s new constitution was still being drafted.
Instability in Egypt has worsened significantly since then, with society deeply polarized since the controversial Islamist constitution was introduced, following a low-turnout referendum.
In recent days scores of Egyptians have been killed in violent protests, mostly in provinces adjoining the Suez Canal, with police accused of employing Mubarak-era tactics in quelling the unrest. Egypt’s army chief warned that the growing political crisis could lead to the state’s collapse.
Morsi’s opponents accuse him and his Muslim Brotherhood of betraying the spirit of a revolution many hoped would usher in democracy, rather than an increasingly Islamist state; the Brotherhood says its rivals are trying to topple an elected president.
Thursday’s vote to table Paul’s amendment passed by a vote of 29-19. Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.), due to be sworn in as secretary of state on Friday, did not vote.
The no votes all came from Republicans: Sens. John Boozeman (Ark.), Dan Coats (Ind.), John Cornyn (Tex.), Mike Crapo (Idaho), Ted Cruz (Tex.), Deb Fischer (Nebr.), Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Dean Heller (Nev.), Mike Lee (Utah), Jerry Moran (Kans.), Rand Paul (Ky.), James Risch (Idaho), Pat Roberts (Kans.), Marco Rubio (Fla.), Tim Scott (S.C.), Jeff Sessions (Ala.), Richard Shelby (Ala.), John Thune, (S.D.) and David Vitter (La.).