The military’s deal of the century: A $10bn arms sale from Italy

Cairo and Rome are preparing to sign a military “deal of the century,” which includes the purchase by the Egyptian army of frigates, missile boats, fighters, training aircraft, and a reconnaissance satellite, at a value of close to $10 billion.

Military analysts link this deal to the Egyptian regime’s desire to secure its gas fields in the Mediterranean and to counter Turkey’s growing influence there. But observers say it is an attempt by the Egyptian regime to shift the Italian position on Libya.

Italy supports the internationally recognised Government of National Accord, while the Egyptian regime supports the forces of General Khalifa Haftar. Since General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi came to power in Egypt, the Egyptian regime has concluded several massive arms deals, most of which were for political purposes.

The expected agreement comes although Italy’s friendly relations with post-2013 Egypt were strained temporarily in 2016 when Italian PhD researcher Guilio Regeni disappeared in Cairo for 10 days before his corpse was found with signs of torture on his body in a rubbish container on the outskirts of the city. Regeni had been researching independent trade unions in Egypt at the time he was killed, and the Italian government accused the Egyptian regime of forcefully disappearing Regeni and torturing him to death and recalled the Italian ambassador to Rome. Egyptian-Italian relations have improved in recent years, but Regeni’s case has not been resolved.

The huge deal includes two Bergamini frigates, which were dedicated to the Italian navy, in addition to four other frigates that will be built specifically for Egypt. The Italian daily La Repubblica pointed out that the deal includes 20 missile boats, 24 Eurofighter Typhoon multi-mission fighters, 24 Armaci M-346 aircraft for light combat and advanced training, and a reconnaissance and radar imaging satellite. The newspaper, quoting statements by a source from the Italian Prime Minister, said that despite many difficulties and obstacles, including the issue of the killing of the Italian student Giulio Regeni, the deal is a “task of the century.”

The deal not only represents Italy’s commercial and industrial value, but also comes as part of Rome’s desire to maintain solid relations with Cairo, as well as to maintain a political dialogue on many issues in the Eastern Mediterranean region. It is noteworthy that the head of the Italian company Fincantieri for marine industries Giuseppe Puno acknowledged the existence of negotiations between Egypt and Italy on two FRAME warships worth €1.2 billion ($1.3 billion). For his part, the Italian Foreign Minister Luigi di Maio announced last February that the Italian government has not taken its final decision on the Egyptian deal yet. It is thought that France will not miss the opportunity if Italy didn’t complete the deal with Egypt.

Egypt recently bought 24 Rafale fighters, two Mistral helicopters, and four FRAME frigates from France, and signed an agreement to purchase four submarines, two MEKO 200 frigates, and air defence systems from Germany, in addition to its huge deals with Russia and the United States, including air defence systems, Meg-28 and F-16 fighters, crocodile and Apache helicopters, among others.