photo By Official U.S. Navy Imagery
Egypt: Will U.S. And NATO Launch Second Suez Intervention?
On February 1 General James Mattis, commander of United States Central Command whose area of responsibility includes Egypt on its western end, stated that Washington currently has no plans to reinforce naval presence off the coast of that country, but added that in the event of the closure of the Suez Canal:
"Were it to happen obviously we would have to deal with it diplomatically, economically, militarily...."
After the canal was nationalized in 1956 by the government of Gamal Abdel Nasser, Egypt was attacked by Israel, Britain and France.
The day before Mattis' statement the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Enterprise and its carrier strike group - consisting of a guided missile cruiser, three guided missile destroyers, a fast combat support ship and Carrier Air Wing One (which had been deployed for the Suez Crisis in 1956-1957) with fighter and surveillance aircraft and Seahawk helicopters - crossed through the Strait of Gibraltar from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean Sea on its way to the Suez Canal. The warships are scheduled for operations in the Gulf of Aden off the coasts of Somalia and Yemen and in the Arabian Sea to support the war in Afghanistan.
In the words of the commander of the carrier strike group, the deployment "sends a strong signal that the Enterprise Strike Group has arrived to operate and integrate with our partners in the region." 
U.S. and NATO warships regularly transit the canal for operations off the Horn of Africa and for the escalating war in South Asia.
With the expansion of protests in Egypt calling for the resignation of President Hosni Mubarek, the prospect of the Suez Canal being closed would severely hamper Western military operations across the Arabian Sea from Somalia to Pakistan, the central locus of global naval deployments and warfighting in the 21st century. 
In addition to being a gateway for the passage of warships including carriers and their warplanes, the Suez Canal is a major transit point for oil emanating from the Persian Gulf to the Red Sea en route to the Mediterranean Sea for European consumption. "The waterway is the fastest crossing from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian Ocean. Should it close, tankers would have to sail around southern Africa. About 7.5% of world sea trade is carried via the canal today."
"Energy industry analysts...view the intimidation factor posed by the U.S. military's presence in the region as beneficial to Western corporate interests in case a new government in Cairo does indeed seek to block shipments of oil and other goods through the canal." 
This week it was announced that several European oil companies, among them Norway's Statoil, Royal Dutch Shell and British Petroleum, halted drilling in Egypt, closed down local offices and began evacuating the families of foreign workers as well as non-essential staff.
On January 31 U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates held phone conversations with his Egyptian and Israeli counterparts, defense ministers Mohamed Hussein Tantawi and Ehud Barak. Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell would not disclose the contents of the talks to the press.
President Barack Obama praised the U.S.-armed and -trained Egyptian armed forces for their "professionalism," stating:
"I urge the military to help ensure this time of change is peaceful."