Cablegate: Navcent Discusses Suez Canal Transit Procedures


DE RUEHEG #2072/01 3051511
O 011511Z NOV 09

C O N F I D E N T I A L CAIRO 002072


E.O. 12958: DECL: 10/08/2019

Classified By: Ambassador Margaret Scobey per 1.4 (b) and (d).
1. (C) Key Points -- During a September 29 meeting, NAVCENT Deputy Commander Rear Admiral Cropper and Assistant Minister of Defense Major General al-Assar discussed Suez Canal transit procedures for U.S. naval vessels as part of an ongoing dialogue following the March 2008 Global Patriot incident. -- Rear Admiral Cropper stressed that U.S. commanders were obligated to act in self-defense, so the U.S. could not agree to Egypt's requirement that ships refrain from firing their weapons under any circumstance during a canal transit. -- He noted that changes implemented since March 2008 - including the introduction of an Egyptian military liaison and an U.S. Embassy official on the bridge of all transiting ships - had greatly improved coordination between the ship, the Egyptian military, and the Suez Canal Authority. --------------------------------------------- ------ Revised Transit Procedures Following Global Patriot --------------------------------------------- ------

2. (C) During a September 29 meeting with Rear Admiral Cropper, al-Assar commended U.S.-Egypt cooperation following the Global Patriot incident in March 2008, in which U.S. security personnel aboard a cargo ship under contract with the U.S. Navy shot and killed an Egyptian civilian whose boat ignored repeated warnings not to approach the M/V Global Patriot. Al-Assar noted that close cooperation ensured that the incident did not damage bilateral relations. He stressed that the ship's early arrival at the opening of the Suez Canal ultimately caused the incident, as the Egyptian military escort had not yet arrived.

3. (C) Al-Assar asserted that U.S. Naval vessels do not have the right to fire weapons while being escorted by the Egyptian Navy, so the standard Rules of Engagement must be suspended. He emphasized that providing additional security for U.S. Naval ships transiting the Suez was a "top priority" for the Egyptian military. Even though the Global Patriot incident did not stem from errors on Egypt's part, al-Assar said that MOD carried out a full review of its canal transit procedures.

4. (C) Rear Admiral Cropper expressed "deep regret" for the loss of life during the Global Patriot incident. He thanked Egypt for its efforts to secure U.S. ships and noted that the U.S. also reviewed its transit procedures to prevent another incident. Improved communication between Egyptian and American forces and new transit procedures had already yielded good results, Rear Admiral Cropper said.

5. (C) Rear Admiral Cropper said that together, Egypt and the U.S. implemented robust force protection measures for all U.S. naval ships, including using embarked security teams on merchant ships under contract with the U.S. Navy. He stressed that U.S. ships must arrive on time for their scheduled transit. Rear Admiral Cropper credited the introduction of an Egyptian military liaison on the bridge of transiting vessels for greatly improving communication between the U.S. ship, the Egyptian military, and the Suez Canal Authority. Working together, he continued, U.S. and Egyptian forces are now better prepared to provide a cooperative layered defense.

6. (C) While cooperation was key, Rear Admiral Cropper clearly stated that ship commanders were obligated to exercise self-defense if necessary. As a way forward, he suggested that Egyptian and NAVCENT officials continue to periodically review transit procedures. He noted that this was not a discussion of Rules of Engagement, as transiting vessels were not conducting operations in the canal. He reiterated that unit commanders are obligated to act in self-defense, which is an order that no one at NAVCENT or CENTCOM can rescind. We fully trust Egyptian security, he stressed, and do not want to exercise the obligation for self-defense, but the U.S. cannot give up the right.

7. (C) Following a U.S. presentation on existing Suez Canal transit procedures, al-Assar said the meeting had been "useful and beneficial" and commended Rear Admiral Cropper for his candor. He noted that it remained unlikely that U.S. ships would ever be forced to use its weapons in self-defense. Given the remote chance of another situation arising that demanded armed action, he recommended that NAVCENT remove a line in their briefing provided to MOD saying that a unit commander's obligation to exercise self-defense, but he did not object to a point on using "cooperative active defense" measures. (Comment: Removing a specific mention of "self-defense" while not requiring the U.S. to explicitly rescind authorization to use weapons, appears to be Al-Assar's suggested compromise to resolve our current impasse on transit procedures. End Comment.)

8. (U) NAVCENT cleared this message. Scobey

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