The Ethiopian Dam That’s Strengthening Israel

Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam, expected to be completed in 2017, will divert water from the Blue Nile and ultimately reduce the flow of water to Egypt. As a result, tensions between the two countries have risen. Egypt has moved closer to Russia, which is helping it to develop nuclear energy, and distanced itself from France since French companies are involved in the Ethiopian dam project. For Israel, the consequences are all salutary, writes Evgeni Klauber:

The Ethiopians are angry with Egypt, while the Israeli prime minister, who has developed good relations with Ethiopia, can serve as a mediator between the two countries. . . .

The Egyptian proposal for a regional peace conference [addressing the Palestinian question] is also related: it is . . . meant to neutralize the French initiative and reduce France’s influence in the region. . . . Egypt has a great deal to gain from good relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. In 2015, Mohammad Dahlan, a former Fatah man, mediated among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan [regarding the allocation of the Nile’s water]. Now that job has been taken from Dahlan and handed over to Israel. Many believe, [furthermore], that Egypt is paying lip service to the Ramallah government and that it will not stand steadfastly behind the principle of two states for two peoples.

Even if Sisi’s regional peace initiative “doesn’t hold water,” Israel can expect it to continue to be its ally regarding Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the war against Islamic State in the Sinai, which is the clear enemy as far as Sisi is concerned. [This is another reason] Egypt has much to gain from a partnership with Israel, and not with bruised France.

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The Ethiopian Dam Giving Israel and Advantage over the Palestinians

This piece was first published on the Hebrew-language website Mida on July 19, 2016, rendered into English by Avi Woolf, and republished here with permission.

A new dam being built by Ethiopia on the Blue Nile is becoming the dramatic focus of regional developments, and strengthening relations between Egypt and Israel. Egyptian fears concerning the dam led Egypt’s President Sisi to distance himself from France, move closer to Russia, and strengthen ties with Israel. The big losers are the Palestinians: the French peace initiative is collapsing, and Israel is taking on the role of mediator in Nile-basin disputes.

The “Renaissance Dam,” on which the Ethiopians are renewing construction at an estimated cost of $4.8 billion, greatly worries the Egyptians. The Egyptian concerns are understandable: already next year, with the completion of the dam’s first section, Egypt could lose between 11 and 19 billion cubic meters of water per year, which will lead to a reduction of their electrical output by 25-40 percent. The Ethiopian paper The Ethiopian Herald describes in flowery language how monstrous machines “revived the wilderness in the high desert” a few months ago to build the dam which may provide the state with many jobs.

The Nile crisis between Ethiopian and Egypt is not new. For Ethiopia, exploiting the Nile waters is a strategic matter of supreme importance. After the new dam starts to operate, apparently in 2017, it will allow Ethiopia to accumulate more water from the Nile at the expense of Egypt and Sudan. Predictably, this has led to much anxiety on the part of these countries.

Moreover, the Ethiopian parliament approved a charter in 2013 which limits Egypt’s rights to use the water source in question. Four additional countries signed the petition and turned the issue into an essential geopolitical matter of the first importance on the African continent. Egyptian resistance to the project was defined by the authorities in Ethiopia as “daydreaming.”

 

The Russians are Coming

For Egypt, a country that suffers from lack of rain, the Nile is a most important matter which shapes domestic and foreign policy. Egypt has been hit with a historic drought in the past few months, leading to a drastic receding of the Nile. The Egyptians have always tried to attract huge amounts of water to their territory. The building of the Aswan Dam in the 1960s is a prominent example of this policy. The question of water shortage becomes more acute in Egypt each passing year. The Nile, whose waters evaporate more rapidly every year, no longer provides the amount of water needed for the Aswan Dam. Even though the country’ population has grown, the amount of land under cultivation has shrunk. President Anwar Sadat declared in the 1970s that “it is better that Egyptian soldiers die on the Ethiopian battlefields than that they die of thirst in their own country.”

During the presidency of Mohammad Morsi, the conflict reached its peak: in the summer of 2013 Morsi said that he may not be interested in war with Ethiopia, but “Cairo will not allow the implementation of the agreement, also signed by Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, Kenya, and Burundi, to change the allocation of water.” Morsi added threateningly: “We leave all the options open. We don’t oppose projects in the Nile basin, but only on the condition that they do not affect Egypt’s historic and legal rights.”

After extended negotiations, the leaders of Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan convened in the Sudanese capital of Khartoum in March 2015 to sign an agreement to allow Ethiopia to build the disputed dam. Cairo opposed the agreement, arguing that the project would harm its water supply from the river. The Sudanese president Omar al-Bashir declared in signing the agreement that it is a “historic agreement” and that it is not about “to harm the interest of other countries by using water.”

The agreement dictated the details of completing the dam, and transferred the authority to examine the future effects of water allocation to two French companies—BRL and ARTELIA. But despite the festive signing ceremony, the Egyptians don’t trust the reports issued by these companies, and they wish to distance themselves from regional initiatives originating in Paris. In an article published in the Jerusalem Post titled “Egyptian Diplomacy Pushes France Aside,” it was argued that the Egypt wants to lead the region, and is therefore aiming to move away from French influence and lead to warmer relations with the Russians.

And indeed, the Russians are about to profit from this move, big time. Cairo recently signed an agreement with Russia to establish a nuclear plant in the region of Dabaa on the Mediterranean coast. This is a national project of enormous proportions, which was delayed for many years because of Egyptian commitment to the United States. The new plant may provide a significant portion of the energy Egypt consumes. The Russians understand that the energy produced from the Aswan Dam will decrease in the wake of the building of the Ethiopian one, and it is no coincidence that they offered the Russians support for a gradual move to atomic energy, investing a fortune in the soon to be built nuclear plant.

According to Zvi Barel from Haaretz, “The project will employ twenty thousand workers during its construction and some four thousand maintenance and operation workers upon its completion.” This is a significant number for a poor country which is required to provide a million jobs a year and which deals with an average unemployment rate of 13 percent among the general population and 23 percent among young people. In sum, Russia is about to become the guarantor of Egypt’s financial and military security.

President Putin has already received a royal welcome in the beginning of 2015, and not too long ago was also a guest of honor at the opening of the new Suez Canal, where he signed a contract to build a new nuclear facility in Egypt. The deal, worth $3 billion, which was signed between the Russians and the Egyptians after being underwritten by the United Arab Emirates, injected a great deal of money into the Russian economy suffering from Western economic sanctions. The Russians and the Egyptians also signed agreements regarding natural gas, and it was also agreed that the Russians will build a Russian industrial zone along the Suez Canal. The volume of trade between the two countries has reached $5.5 billion, an increase of 86 percent from 2013.

 

Dahlan Is Replaced by Netanyahu

These developments have had dramatic influence on regional diplomacy. What is the reason that Egyptian President Sisi saw fit to send his foreign minister, Sameh Shoukry, to Jerusalem just after Netanyahu came back from Ethiopia? Is this a coincidence? The answer is clear: Sisi wants to pressure the Ethiopian government through Israel, to achieve better conditions in the “Renaissance Dam” deal. As Zvi Barel wrote in Haaretz: “Egypt estimates that Israel has influence levers in Ethiopia, and if [Israel] cannot prevent the establishment of the dam, it can at least influence Ethiopia to coordinate water allocation with Egypt in a way not damaging to its economy.”

The Ethiopians are angry with Egypt, while the Israeli prime minister, who has developed good relations with Ethiopia, can serve as a mediator between the two countries. The timing is important: the Nile Council of Ministers is set to convene in Uganda on Thursday. Netanyahu left fertile ground in Uganda for negotiations, and saw to it that Egyptian interests would not be harmed as a result of the building of the dam.

The Egyptian proposal for the regional peace conference is also related: it is a proposal which is meant to neutralize the French peace initiative and reduce its influence in the region. In the new regional alignment, Egypt has a great deal to gain from good relations with Israel at the expense of the Palestinians. In 2015, Mohammad Dahlan, a former Fatah man, mediated among Egypt, Ethiopia, and Sudan [regarding the allocation of the Nile’s water]. Now that job has been taken from Dahlan and handed over to Israel. Many believe, [furthermore], that Egypt is paying lip service to the Ramallah government and that it will not stand steadfastly behind the principle of two states for two peoples.

Even if Sisi’s regional peace initiative “doesn’t hold water,” Israel can expect it to continue to be its ally regarding Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the war against Islamic State in the Sinai, which is the clear enemy as far as Sisi is concerned. [This is another reason] Egypt has much to gain from a partnership with Israel, and not with bruised France.

Even if Sisi’s regional peace initiative “doesn’t hold water,” Israel can expect it to continue to be its ally regarding Hamas in the Gaza Strip and the war against Islamic which is taking over Sinai, the clear enemy as far as Sisi is concerned. And so, Egypt has much to gain from a partnership with Israel, and not with bruised France.

Dr. Evgeni Klauber is a scholar of Eastern Europe and Ethnic Violence at the political science department in Tel Aviv University

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More about: Africa, Egypt, Ethiopia, Israel & Zionism, Israel diplomacy, Peace Process, River Nile

 

Israeli Indecision on the Palestinian Issue Is a Sign of Strength, Not Weakness

Oct. 11 2019

In their recent book Be Strong and of Good Courage: How Israel’s Most Important Leaders Shaped Its Destiny, Dennis Ross and David Makovsky—who both have had long careers as Middle East experts inside and outside the U.S. government—analyze the “courageous decisions” made by David Ben-Gurion, Menachem Begin, Yitzḥak Rabin, and Ariel Sharon. Not coincidentally, three of these four decisions involved territorial concessions. Ross and Makovsky use the book’s final chapter to compare their profiles in courage with Benjamin Netanyahu’s cautious approach on the Palestinian front. Calling this an “almost cartoonish juxtaposition,” Haviv Rettig Gur writes:

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Israeli history, Israeli-Palestinian Conflict