Oct 21, 2021

Share this article

Anti-Semites have always blamed Israel for many woes, real or imagined, and one of the more bizarre libels has been the claim that Israel is conspiring to steal the Nile River, Egypt’s major water source.

Nile Libel

Elder of Ziyon, a pro-Israel blogger, posted about an article published in the Arabic Egyptian news site El Nabaa under the headline, “Netanyahu’s plan to control the sources of the Nile with a ‘religion game’ … and a Zionist scenario to plunder the water.”

The article reported on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s address on Christmas, beginning by describing  Netanyahu’s normalizing relations with several Arab countries as his efforts to “fulfill Biblical Prophecy.”

The article then described Netanyahu’s negotiations with the Ethiopian government which were focused on allowing the Jews of that country to make aliyah to Israel. El Nabaa claimed that Netanyahu had two motives for the negotiations. The first motive was to increase the Jewish population of Israel in order to “confront the ‘demographic threat’ that the Palestinians represent to the State of Israel, which is the biggest concern that worries the Israelis.”

The second motive described by El Nabaa as “an excuse to achieve the dream of Israel”: “the delivery of the Nile water to Israel through the Ismailia Canal or through a pipeline that passes through the Red Sea.”

The Ismaila Canal was dug in 1832 by thousands of Egyptian laborers to facilitate the construction of the Suez Canal. 

“Israel’s dream to grab the Nile water is not a spur of the moment, as Dr. Zubaida Muhammad Atta, Dean of the Faculty of Arts of Heloun and a professor of history and expert on the Jewish issue, says,” the article in El Nabaa read. “Her study ‘Israel in the Nile’ provides documents and conclusive evidence of Tel Aviv Satanic scenarios to block Egypt water inside the Nile Basin countries, pointing out that the basin countries are not witnessing a breakthrough as much as they are witnessing an organized Israeli invasion.

“Zubaida indicated that the Egyptian people have the right to know the fate of its eternal river and the evil Zionist conspiracy being hatched for it, explaining that Israeli engineers flocked to Addis Ababa to study the implementation of dams there for more than 30 years, and that President Sadat announced at the time that he would fight a fierce war against Israel and Ethiopia for the waters of the Nile.

“Zubaida indicated that Israel’s ambitions in the waters of the Nile date back to 1903,” the article continued. “That is, before the Balfour Declaration and the establishment of the State of Israel itself, and that the waters that it stole from Sinai, Palestine, and Jordan after the 1967 setback did not stop them, stressing that Israel dreams of delivering the Nile water to Israel through water channels in Egypt, and that the ‘New Middle East’ project is the one that world Zionism has been seeking since the days of Herzl.”

The Truth About Sadat

It is true that Sadat voiced strong anti-Israel rhetoric before signing the Camp David Peace Accords in 1978 peace agreement with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin. Contrary to what the article claims, in 1979, Sadat offered to pipe fresh water from the Nile River across the Sinai Peninsula to the Negev Desert.

“Well, why not send you some of this sweet water to the Negev Desert as good neighbors . . . ?” Sadat said of the project. “Well, Sinai is on the border with the Negev. Why not? Lots of possibilities, lots of hope.”

Sadat was tragically assassinated in 1981 before his vision could be manifested.

Recurring Libel

Oddly enough, this “Nile libel” has resurfaced several times. In 2003, Ethiopia announced its intention to construct the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam,  Africa’s largest dam, which would dramatically alter the course of the Blue Nile waters, sparked Egyptian alarmism that nearly resulted in conflict. Arab media claimed the project was a subterfuge intended to conceal an Ethiopian-Israeli plot to cripple Egypt. The Ethiopian ambassador to Egypt was summoned by the Egyptian Foreign Ministry to clarify his country’s plans. Construction was eventually begun in 2011 and is expected to be completed in July.

Though Israel is clearly not looking toward the Nile as a water source, water has frequently been the source of conflict between Israel and its neighbors. From the inception of Israel in 1948, the issue of water sharing from the Jordan–Yarmuk system turned out to be a major problem between Israel, Syria, and Jordan resulting in frequent border skirmishes. In 1964, the Arab states decided to deprive Israel of 35% of the National Water Carrier capacity, by a diversion of the Jordan River headwaters (both the Hasbani and the Banias) to the Yarmouk River. Control of water resources and Israeli military attacks against the diversion effort are considered among the factors which led to the Six-Day War in 1967.

Fortunately, Israel currently has a surplus of water due largely to home-grown innovations in the field of desalination resulting in five major desalination plants producing around 600 million cubic meters a year. Hopefully, this will prevent future conflict, though it clearly has not silenced the water libels.