Egypt Agrees to Buy Mistral Ships from France: Good for France, Good for Russia, But What Does Egypt Gain?

The two Mistral-class amphibious assault ships that France originally built for Russia, but chose not to sell after the invasion of the Ukraine, have been reportedly sold to Egypt. We have covered aspects of this story (here and here) but this major expansion of the Egyptian Navy begs the question of why Egypt – a country not known for a strong naval presence in either the Mediterranean or Arabian Sea – wants to spend billions of dollars for ships that it will have to find a non-historic use for?

The Egyptian government will pay over $1 billion for both ships. Unless you are dealing with ship building programs in the United States, that is a lot of money. Even if it is spread out over years, which it will be, that much money is a huge drain on Egypt’s defense budget ($7.8 billion in 2015). The Egyptian government has also agreed to buy other weapons from France, including 24 Rafale fighter jets.

The current thinking is that Egypt is buying the ships to protect its western border from Libyan-based terrorists and to protect the Suez Canal and other facilities in the Sinai Peninsula. Although the Mistral’s will help in both of those situations, it is disingenuous to believe that is the only reason. Both of those areas are within strike range of other Egyptian facilities. The Mistral’s are a power projection ship. For a country the size of Egypt, power projection like that is not necessary.

The Egyptian military is also involved in the current Yemen civil war – supporting the existing government against the Houthi rebels – and, if the Mistrals are used to support military operations outside of Egypt, it could signal that Egypt wants to expand their current international role and take a more active part in military operations in the Eastern Med and Arabian Sea.

Egypt FlagHowever, by the time the Mistrals are transferred to Egypt, crews are trained, the complement of helicopters used to deploy troops are acquired and the troops themselves recruited and trained, the conflict in Yemen should have been resolved. Future actions in the region can be a factor in this decision, of course, but there seems to be little short-term gain for Egypt.

There are a lot of questions over the Egyptian decision, not the least of which is where Russia fits into the picture.

The likelihood that Egypt is buying the ships from France to turn around and sell them to Russia is low. Egypt relies on French equipment buys to keep their military competitive in the region. If Egypt acts as a middleman for Russia to get a hold of the two ships, France would be forced, by international pressure, to cancel remaining Egyptian defense contracts. This would hurt both French industry and Egyptian purchasing power.

There is a theory that I like, however. If the two ships were purchased – with financial support from Russia – and then used in the Eastern Med to shuttle Russian troops in Syria, Iraq and other areas under attack by ISIS, the Egyptians get the ships at a discount, they get to train with Russian sailors, troops and equipment as part of a coalition that includes Russia, Iraq, Syria and Iran.

The Russians get another ally in the area, the Egyptians get training and equipment to keep these specialized ships afloat and, eventually, the Egyptians become a strong international player in the region with backing from both Russia and France.

All for a little over a billion bucks.

Disclaimer: The content in this article is the opinion of the writer and does not necessarily reflect the policies or opinions of US Patriot Tactical.

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Matt Towns

Matt is a former military journalist who spent 10 years in the US Navy. He served in various posts during his career, including a couple of deployments on the USS Valley Forge (CG-50). After leaving the Navy, he worked in management for a number of years before opening his own businesses. He ran those businesses until 2012 when he chose to leave the retail industry and return to writing. Matt currently works as a freelance writer, contributing to the US Patriot blog and other websites about political affairs, military activities and sailing.
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4 thoughts on “Egypt Agrees to Buy Mistral Ships from France: Good for France, Good for Russia, But What Does Egypt Gain?

  1. Matt … I agree that the theory of reselling the 2 ships to Russia is ridiculous, …. but knowing that those 2 ships will not be “really” ready for operation before mid 2017 at least makes the argument of using the 2 ships for intervention in Yemen, Libya or even Syria & Iraq is very weak … Egypt is already joining Saudi Arabia & other Arab countries in the campaign Houthis rebels & Iran allies in Yemen without the ships …… Egypt wanted to interfere and conduct a crackdown on terrorists and militants in Libya (without the 2 ships) but prevented by western and US hypocrisy and double standards …. Egypt will never intervene in Syria or Iraq or help Russia in its military operation there because this is a red line for Egypt, it will hinder Egypt’s strong and strategic ties with the Arab gulf states and deteriorate the Egyptian-US relations more ….

    1. Although the ships and crews will not be ready until 2017 – at least – I am not so sure about an Egyptian/Russian detente. The political situation in the Middle East is changing. Rapidly. US policy no longer favors the Arab states. The potential rapprochement with Iran has left the state department, and their bosses, blind to the effect that the nuke agreement and releasing the billions in frozen assets will have, specifically in the Gulf States.
      If Russia can make a strong showing against ISIS, Egypt has little to lose by trading US aid for Russian aid. The rest of the Gulf States can either support a distant US that obviously doesn’t care about their external and internal survival or they can make nice with the Russians and Chinese.

      1. for the US – during 2011 & 2012- , when they allowed ISIS to exist (!!!), they thought it would be in the interest of US, especially with the Muslim brotherhood (MB) reaching power in Egypt, the US strategy was to change the rules of conflicts in the middle east by creating a new enemy (which is ISIL) of Arab & Muslim countries instead of Israel … and by supporting the MB, as a moderate Islamic movement, they can create a front or coalition led by the MB to fight ISIS, this “front” will not be an enemy of Israel … and eventually ends up with Israel among the coalition and practically leading it … and that’s what achieves the purpose of the so-called “creative chaos” vision or theory … and that was plan A …. plan B was: what if the MB failed or refused to create such coalition … but unfortunately for them, things escalated very rapidly and unexpectedly in Egypt during the 1st half of 2013 … and reached its peak in Jun 30th through a public uprising against the MB, at least 15 millions were in the street that day against the MB and followed by a military coup in the 3rd of Jul that removed the MB from power in Egypt … this caused a major damage to the US strategy (or new theory) and posed a lot of doubts on the credibility of the US policies in the middle east … even the Israelis,they were not enthusiastic about this vision because they know it’s unrealistic … the main objective behind this “reshuffle” strategy was to allow the US to relocate more of its resources and efforts to east Asia and the Pacific after ensuring the secured position of Israel in the middle east …
        today, the US strategy has proven failure … the Egyptians know it … and everybody are looking forward to hearing a new one from the new president who will be elected after one year from now … and it is not only a matter of if Russia can make a strong showing against ISIS or not … in fact, it is a matter of the Egyptians’ new strategy which aims to have “good” balanced relations with international powers and strong influence in the middle east … those 2 ships (beside other deals) will help this strategy and support the “proactive” role of the new Egyptian leadership

  2. and what about renting the ships to the Russia after lifting the sanctions? Do we know more details about the contract?

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