CAIRO (AP) — Egypt's president said Sunday that the need for a joint Arab military force is growing every day as the region faces the threat of Islamic militancy.
President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi said in an address to the nation aired by local TV that Egypt's military has no interest in invading or attacking other nations, but will defend Egypt as well as the region "if required and in coordination with our Arab brothers."
A soldier-turned-politician, the Egyptian leader said both Jordan and the United Arab Emirates have offered to dispatch military forces to aid Egypt following last week's beheading in Libya of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians by Islamic State militants.
Egyptian warplanes struck Islamic State positions in the eastern Libyan city of Darna early last Monday, just hours after the release of a video showing the beheadings. El-Sissi said in his address that the warplanes struck 13 targets which had been "carefully surveyed and studied." He gave no further details.
El-Sissi delivered his recorded comments in a video that showed him seated on an armchair with his desk in the background in front of a giant Egyptian white, red and black flag. His comments were made in short clips interrupted by archival footage of him meeting world leaders or speaking on previous occasions as well as Egyptian military servicemen going through their drills.
"The need for a unified Arab force is growing and becoming more pressing every day," said el-Sissi, who took office in June. As military chief, el-Sissi led the July 2013 ouster of the Islamist Mohammed Morsi, Egypt's first freely elected president, after millions took to the streets to demand that he step down.
El-Sissi's assertion that a joint Arab military force was needed was the first public confirmation by an Arab leader that the creation of such a force was a possibility. He gave no details and did not say whether any concrete steps have been taken.
However, The Associated Press last November reported that Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait were discussing the creation of a military pact to take on Islamic militants, with the possibility of a joint force to intervene around the Middle East.
Last week, security and military officials said discussions of the plan were back on track after a hiatus, with Jordan, France, Italy and Algeria now viewed as possible additional partners.
However, el-Sissi's call in a radio interview aired last week for a U.N.-backed force to deal with the Islamic State in Libya was stymied by the United States and its European allies, who said a political settlement in Libya, reconciling the North African nation's two rival governments, was a priority.
On Sunday, el-Sissi lavishly praised Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates for their multibillion dollar aid to Egypt following Morsi's ouster. He said the aid was "the main reason that Egypt continued to stand fast against all the challenges and difficulties it faced."
He also sought to assure his oil-rich Gulf Arab allies over audio leaks purporting to show that he and members of his inner circle wanted to milk them for every dollar.
"Our brothers in the Gulf must know very well that we view them with appreciation, respect and love," he said.
"We must all be fully alert to the attempts being made to drive a wedge between us and our brothers," he said. "Know well that we can never insult you. We are with you in the face of all the challenges that you confront."
The leaks, for which Egyptian authorities blamed Morsi's outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, prompted el-Sissi to make a series of telephone calls last week with the leaders of Saudi Arabia, the Emirates and Kuwait.
El-Sissi did not directly mention the leaks in his Sunday broadcast.
Turning to domestic issues, el-Sissi said a "first batch" of detained youths will be released from prison within days, without elaborating. The government has waged a sweeping crackdown on Morsi's Islamist supporters as well as young members of the groups that fuelled the uprising that toppled autocrat Hosni Mubarak in 2011.