Report: Egypt planned rocket sale to Russia

This, according to the Washington Post, breaking a story linked to apparently leaked United States intelligence reports – that could also impact relations with Israel.

By Erin Viner

In what appears to be the gravest leak of US secrets in years, photographs of documents labeled “Secret” and “Top Secret” have been posted on Twitter, the encrypted Telegram global messaging app, online 4Chan messaging board and the Discord instant messaging platform popular with gamers.

Although the documents only garnered widespread attention in the last few days, the open source Bellingcat investigation site  said it had found evidence that the documents – or at least some of them – had appeared on social media as far back as March or even January.

A “Top Secret” document dated 17 February posted on Discord, said the Washington Post, detailed discussion Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi with senior military officials in his country over production of about 40,000 rockets, artillery rounds and gunpowder for Russia.

The Egyptian leader reportedly ordered the plan remain covert as “to avoid problems with the West,” to which State Minister for Military Production Mohamed Salah el-Din responded that he would “order his people to work shift work if necessary because it was the least Egypt could do to repay Russia for unspecified help earlier.”

If the documents concerning Egypt are found to be accurate, the revelation could severely impact US ties with one of its closest allies in the Middle East and North Africa. “Egypt is one of our oldest allies in the Middle East… If it’s true that Sisi is covertly building rockets for Russia that could be used in Ukraine, we need to have a serious reckoning about the state of our relationship,” stated Senator Chris Murphy, a member of the Senate Foreign Relations and Appropriations committee.

Cairo, which is highly dependent on Washington’s military and economic aid, recently bolstered ties to Moscow due to a major shortage of Ukrainian wheat supplies due to the Russian invasion. Prior to the war, Ukraine provided 80% of wheat imports to Egypt.

The Arab Republic has also been increasingly unhappy with the US, particularly after Washington announced last September that part of its annual $1.3 billion aid package would be withheld due to the country’s repression of human rights.

The following November, however, US President Joe Biden met with his Egyptian counterpart in in Sharm el-Sheikh, where he applauded Cairo’s position on the conflict. “In the face of Russia’s war in Ukraine, Egypt has spoken up strongly at the United Nations, and that is appreciated very much as well,” said the US leader at the time.

In January of this year, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken also traveled to Cairo for talks with Sisi, where he affirmed “the United States’ solidarity with Egypt as it contends with the economic impact of Russia’s brutal war in Ukraine.”

Notably, Egyptian Foreign Ministry Spokesman Ahmed Abu Zeid was cited in the Washington Post article as stating during conversation on the leaked document that his country’s stance on the Russia-Ukraine war from the start “based on noninvolvement in this crisis and committing to maintain equal distance with both sides, while affirming Egypt’s support to the UN charter and international law in the UN General Assembly resolutions.” He added, “We continue to urge both parties to cease hostilities and reach a political solution through negotiations.”

After depletion of its own armory during its 13-month invasion of Ukraine, Russia has turned to Iran, North Korea and other US adversaries for weapons supplies.

While declining to confirm the validity of the documents, National Security Council Spokesperson John Kirby warned they were nevertheless not meant to be made public.

US national security agencies and the Justice Department have launched a criminal investigation into release of the classified material to assess the source of the leak, as well as potential damage to national security and relations with allies and other countries, including Ukraine.

“We will continue to investigate and turn over every rock until we find the source of this and the extent of it,” said US Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin at a State Department press conference yesterday.

Secretary Austin, the first senior US official to comment on the leak, said the Pentagon is aware that documents had been posted dated 28 February and 1 March, but remains uncertain if additional material appeared online prior to then. “These are things that we will find out as we continue to investigate,” he said.

US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Director William Burns called the leaks “deeply unfortunate,” but stopped short of disclosing details on what he described as “quite intense” probes by the Pentagon and the Justice Department. “We need to learn lessons from that, as well, about how we can tighten procedures,” he said.

Investigation will focus on determining motivation of those responsible for the leaked intelligence, which is the most major breach since the 2013 publication by WikiLeaks of thousands of classified US government documents.

Deputy Undersecretary of Defense for Intelligence and Security Milancy Harris is leading the Pentagon investigatory team, a US official told Reuters.

On Monday, the Pentagon said that the documents appear to be similar to the daily updates provided to its senior leaders as well as to other intelligence updates, though there appear to be some inaccuracies.

Classification markings on the materials include NOFORN – meaning they cannot be shared with foreign intelligence agencies. Other leaked information, marked FVEY or Five Eyes, refers to espionage services in the English-speaking nations of Canada, Britain, Australia and New Zealand – meaning they would have been viewed by thousands of people with security clearances.

But because not all of the documents are marked FVEY, US officials are concerned that the source who leaked them could be American. Images of creased documents indicate they may have been clandestinely folded and hidden prior to removal from the top-secret locations.

Additionally, some of the material was marked as FISA – showing they were compiled under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the law that governs US monitoring of electronic communications.

The documents purportedly reveal vulnerabilities and information concerning Israel, including details from US-Israeli consultations. Publication of the sensitive data could affect Jerusalem’s willingness to continue its policy of vast intelligence sharing with Washington depending on the level of security breaches.

Israel has already strongly refuted reports by the Washington Post that alleged senior Mossad agents expressed support for anti-judicial reform protests last February, “including several explicit calls to action that decried the Israeli government.” The statement appears to have originated via US spying on one of its closest allies.

The office of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a statement, slamming the report published by the “American press” as “mendacious and without any foundation whatsoever,” underscoring that, “the Mossad and its senior officials did not — and do not — encourage agency personnel to join the demonstrations against the government, political demonstrations or any political activity.”

The New York Times, meanwhile, reported that among the leaked material was a US intelligence assessment – based on confidential consultations with Israel – that detailed IDF airstrikes against Iranian targets in Syria, as well as Jerusalem’s concerns over Tehran’s military cooperation with Moscow. The analysis also indicated that Israel could deliver greater military assistance to Ukraine if pressured by the US.

Biden administration officials have reached out via several channels to assure their Israeli counterparts that it’s investigating the leak, the two Israeli officials told the American Axios news website, reporting that, “One of the Israeli officials said that Pentagon officials urged their counterparts in the Israeli Defense Ministry to not overreact.”