Cairo’s new satellites will improve country’s intelligence-gathering capabilities, says Shaul Shay.

Israel must be attentive to Egypt’s efforts to close a deal with a Franco-Italian aerospace company to purchase two satellites, an expert told The Jerusalem Post on Wednesday.

The satellites will improve Egypt’s intelligence- gathering capabilities, said Dr. Shaul Shay, director of research at the Institute for Policy and Strategy at IDC Herzliya.

Brig.-Gen. Mohamed Saeed el-Assar arrived in Paris last week to work on the deal for an observation and military satellite at a cost of around €1 billion, the French La Tribune newspaper reported last week.

It is possible the deal could be signed as early as the end of this month or early 2016.

Shay pointed out two main reasons why Egypt seeks a space program.
First, there is the prestige factor, and with President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi “wanting to make his country a regional power.”

Besides Iran and Israel, there is no other serious space player in the region, and Egypt would like to join the club, added Shay.

Asked why Israel’s neighbor is purchasing its satellites from the Europeans instead of Russia, he responded that Egypt learned not to trust one state but to diversify the countries it depends on.

In addition, its previous satellite was Russian and did not perform well, he said.

Second, Shay continued, is that the Egyptians are worried about the effects of Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam project, which could diminish its water supply, and want to monitor its progress.

Negotiations over the dam are stuck, but the Ethiopians continue working on it, he said.

In an article published in IsraelDefense on Wednesday, Shay wrote that Egypt has two communication satellites, EgyptSat 1 and EgyptSat 2.

Egypt tries to emphasize the civilian aspects of its existing satellites, but its EgyptSat 2 satellite was “designed to provide high-resolution imagery for the Egyptian military and other government agencies in the country,” he wrote.

“The Egyptians hope to eventually construct another satellite, EgyptSat 3, on their own, and launch it by 2017 with financial assistance from China. The satellite is supposed to be comprised of 60% Egyptian-made components.”

Egypt and Russia have increased cooperation since Sisi ousted former president Mohamed Morsi in a coup back in 2013.

Earlier this month, An Egyptian delegation traveled to Moscow to discuss the building of the country’s first nuclear power plant with the help of Russian backing, Egyptian media reported.

The high-level delegation was to discuss the plant, which is projected to be operational in 12 years, The Cairo Post reported.

However, further reports on the nuclear project are being kept under wraps, as the government decided to censor any future news reports about its Dabaa nuclear power plant project, Egyptian media reported this week.

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