The nature of the next war between Israel and Egypt

In 2012 “major interstate war will arguably be the least likely source of instability in the Middle East in the next few decades.”72 Yet high-intensity wars could happen,73 including between Israel and Egypt.74 Peace partners might once again collide in their old battlefields, as happened between Israel and the Palestinians in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In the case of Egypt and Israel, it would be in Sinai, and it might be costly due to the firepower of both sides.

There could be various war scenarios. The last major conventional war in the Middle East was in 1991 between an international coalition and Iraq. There might be again a giant collision in the desert between two powerful militaries, this time in Sinai. Contrary to past wars neither side currently has military infrastructure or strongholds in the entire peninsula. Egypt has camps mostly in west Sinai. This means that in the early stages of a future war, Israeli and Egyptian forces could quickly penetrate deep into Sinai because there would be no fortified defense line to stop them. Each side would strive to push the frontline as far as possible from its vital areas, thus increasing their strategic depth. Seizing land would occur also because of political reasons and national pride. Egypt in particular might not be able to tolerate any presence of Israeli troops in Sinai, which is an Egyptian territory.

If Egyptian forces reach the border with Israel, the main land battles could take place in quite a small part of Sinai, in the northeast, where many important battles were conducted in past wars. Yet the campaign could spread all over the peninsula. Sharam al Sheikh, in the far south end of Sinai, was known as the place where Israeli and Egyptian senior officials met during the last decades. It is also an important harbor. Capturing that port would help secure the naval routes to both the Suez Bay, the path to the Suez Canal, and the Tiran Straits, the gates to the Israeli harbor of Eilat. It would be much easier for Egypt to reinforce its units in Sharam al Sheikh due to the proximity of this objective to Egypt’s bases. In contrast, the IDF would have to dispatch forces for a voyage of more than 200 kilometers to reach that key point. Airborne troops could get there faster.

Each side would try to gain air superiority, a critical factor in modern warfare, particularly in open terrain such as the Sinai. The side that would have air superiority, let alone air supremacy, would be able to bomb ground units, provide intelligence, deliver supplies and so on while preventing its rival from doing the same. The capacity and accuracy of weapon systems each side possesses, such as F-16s, would allow them to launch devastating strikes. A few of those aircraft could surprise and destroy a column on the ground in a matter of seconds.

Both militaries are founded on American weapons systems: F-16, AH-64, M- 113 and so on. One of the results of this dependence, especially during a huge and confusing battle in the open desert, might be an increasing number of casualties as a result of friendly fire.

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