France and the Sale of Rafale to Egypt: Sans Meteor


By Pierre Tran

Paris – France withheld the sale of the Meteor long-range, air-to-air missile to Egypt in response to a request from Israel, an arms specialist said.

That French decision to forego an order for the Meteor missile differed from an initial withholding of the Scalp cruise missile to Egypt, with the latter due to the US declining to authorize American components under the international traffic in arms regulations (ITAR).

France appears to have since delivered the cruise missile to Egypt.

A French arms sale in the foreign market requires approval from an interministerial committee, the commission interministérielle pour l’étude des exportations de matériels de guerre (CIEEMG). Any deal calls for a green light from the foreign ministry on the Quai d’Orsay.

Some arms exports can be seen as going too far, such as sales to Saudi Arabia and  the war in Yemen, a foreign policy analyst said. The Quai d’Orsay may take a different track from the defense ministry on the interministerial committee.

Israel has a strong arms market, with the US as privileged partner and a commitment for Israel to maintain a qualitative military edge over Middle East nations.

An Egyptian Rafale fighter, armed with a Meteor missile, designed to hit targets beyond visual range, would “destabilize completely the forces,” a second arms specialist said. Israel would say no to that.

Israel, which is flying the F-35 fighter jet, developed its Derby air-to-air missile in response to an initial US rejection of a sale of the advanced medium-range air-to-air missile (AMRAAM), the second specialist said. There was eventually a policy switch, with Washington agreeing to allow sales of the AMRAAM for the Israeli F-35.

An Israeli opposition to Egyptian Rafales armed with the Meteor showed concern over the European long-range weapon, the second specialist said. There were moments when a stealth fighter lost its stealthy qualities, but a long-range  missile remained long range.

On the sale of the French cruise missile to Egypt, an official Egyptian video  appeared to show Cairo had received the Scalp, dubbed Black Shaheen.

The official video shows Egyptian and French Rafale fighters flying in the French Skyros exercise, with the Egyptian air force chief of staff, general Mohammed Abbas Helmy, standing in front of a Scalp missile in a hanger.

The French armed forces minister, Florence Parly, has previously said the US components on the Scalp would be replaced.

Egypt had requested the Meteor and Scalp missiles as part of a 2015 order worth €5.2 billion ($6.3 billion) for 24 Rafale fighter jets, with an option for 12 more units.

France has sold relatively little in the way of weapons to Israel, with the 2020 government report to parliament on arms export showing €208.3 million of sales from 2010 to 2019.

The political ties in the Middle East have shifted, with the US, Israel and the United Arab Emirates signing up for cooperation under the Abraham Accords, an agreement that reflects a common concern over a perceived threat from Iran.

Among the commercial deals are Dubai Ports World and Israel Shipyards signing up as partners, reportedly to jointly buy Haifa port from Israel, and sailing ships from Dubai through the Red Sea to Eilat. That would bypass the Suez Canal, viewed as costly, and gain for Dubai alternative maritime access to the Mediterranean.

Egypt controls the Suez Canal and would see a loss of income.

The French air force flew from Jan. 20 to Feb. 5 Rafale fighters and A400M transport aircraft on the Skyros mission, deploying to India, the UAE, Egypt and Greece. Force projection, interoperability and cooperation were the aims of the exercise.