Egyptian strategists are concerned that Sudan may well be the next prey of Soviet encirclement of the West's allies in northern Africa. The recent bold advance of Libyan leader Col. Maummar Qaddafi's troops southward into Chad is viewed here as a direct threat to Sudan, which shares borders with Egypt as well as Libya and Chad.
Egypt, for one, is prepared to use force to oppose Colonel Qaddafi if his grandiose plans include attacking Sudan.
"It is not unlikely," says an Egyptian analysts, "that the Soviet's puppet, Colonel Qaddafi, ruling over the biggest warehouse of Soviet arms in the region, would volunteer to realize the [Soviet] dream through attacking Sudan."
President Anwar Sadat and other top officials believe that "whatever threatens Sudan's security actually threatens Egypt's security." They recognize Sudan as not only the country from which the Nile River flows into Egypt, but also as strategically located in the Horn of Africa, commanding the wesetern flank of the Red Sea, as well as Egypt's contact with African nations to the south.
At present, "The situation on Egypt's western borders with Libya is calm," Minister of Foreign Affairs Kamal Hassan Ali told the Monitor.
"It has never been as calm as during the last three months," a Defense Ministry official said, adding "Libya has withdrawn a large number of troops usually stationed close to our border, probably to deploy them to the south."
By constrast, "The situation on Sudan's border is alarming," Mr. ali said. "Egypt is fully coordinating with Sudan, and we are maintaining regular contacts ," he added, noting that Egypt is aware that fully equipped Sudanese troops were rushed to the increasingly tense border with Chad.
"We would be totally mistaken if we thought of Colonel Qaddafi's gamble, when his tanks stormed into N'Djamena [Chad's capital city], as just a crazy adventure made by an Arab ruler," commented a political analyst here.
Egypt's leaders quickly realized the potential threat to neighboring Sudan, and that is why they have indicated they would not hesitate to put into practice the mutual defense agreements signed with Sudan in 1976.
But Egypt seems reluctant to strike, as it did in the summer of 1977, while Colonel Qaddafi is busy consolidating his position in Chad. The rules governing a resort to such action by Egypt are:
* Restraint in committing the Egyptian Army to defend Egypt's friends is a hallmark of President Sadat's foreign policy. Having learned a lesson from the bitter experience of armed intervention in Yemen, Egypt under Mr. Sadat has confined its assistance to providing Arab and African states with arms and military advisers, but not troops.
* Egypt is aware that direct military intervention against Libya could lead to an escalation of the fighting, perhaps spreading the conflict to endanger the security of the entire Horn of Africa. Egypt already has advised Sudan, Somalia , and Ethiopia to remain neutral in order to contain the conflict.
* The possible involvement of the Sudanese Army in a long border war with Libya's Soviet-proxy troops can weaken Sudanese President Jaafar Nimeiry's regime. Although the extent to which Mr. Nimeiry has coordinated with Egypt in the past has varied, Egypt would prefer his moderate regime to a Soviet-sponsored leftist one.
If Egypt has an outright confrontation with Libya, that is likely to produce a polarization among Arab states, some siding with Egypt, some against it. Egypt has started tiptoeing its way back into the Arab moderate camp, and it would prefer not to jeopardize its chances, particularly since it has received signals encouraging it to pursue those efforts.
To avoid such a confrontation and also prevent a possible spillover of the Chad conflict into Sudan, Egypt has moved to strengthen the Chadian opposition faction led by former defense minister Hissein Habre. The first batch of arms reached his forces, which curerntly are concentrated in the southeast, a few days ago, according to Defense Ministry sources.
Egypt is willing to go as far as offering Mr. Habre political asylum if none of the states bordering on Chad do. "This is an Egyptian principle," the foreign minister said. Egypt already has mediated between Mr. Habre and a number of those states to help him base himself in a safe place.
While it watches Libyan troop movements closely, Egypt is satisfied that Sudan is successfully resisting Libyan pressures. President Numeiri reportedly turned down a proposed visit to Khartoum by Colonel Qaddafi's emissary, Prime Minister Abdul Salam Jalloud