Jun 29, 2022
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Failed trilateral negotiations being carried out in the Congo over an Ethiopian dam in the Nile river led to Egyptian threats of war. The negotiations broke down last week after Ethiopia rejected a Sudanese proposal to include international mediators in talks leading to threats of war.

The Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River

Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi implied in a speech on Wednesday that Egypt could respond with war to Ethiopia filling the dam on the Nile River.

“We have witnessed the costs of any confrontation,” Sisi said at the opening of a new government complex. “I am telling our brothers in Ethiopia, let’s not reach the point where you touch a drop of Egypt’s water because all options are open.”

Sisi noted that Egypt and Sudan were cooperating and” “cooperation and agreement are much better than anything else”.

Ethiopia responded that his country would continue filling the dam but that war was not an option. 

“As construction progresses, filling takes place,” Bekele said. “We don’t deviate from that at all.”

Egyptian president Abdel Fattah al-Sisi. (Credit: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images/Bloomberg screen capture)

Filling the reservoir began in July 2020. It will take between 4 and 7 years to fill with water. Egypt fears a temporary reduction of water availability due to the filling of the dam and a permanent reduction because of evaporation from the reservoir which could reduce Nile flows by as much as 25%. 

“There is no need to enter an unnecessary war,” Ethiopia’s water minister Seleshi Bekele told reporters on Wednesday. “A war can’t start because of water. Water flows if you fight today, it’ll continue to flow tomorrow.”

The dispute is three-pronged as Sudan also has an interest. Though not as extreme as Sisi, Sudan’s Minister of Irrigation and Water Resources Yasser Abbas also suggested that a harsh response to Ethiopia as on the table.

“For Sudan, all options are possible, including returning [the matter] to the United Nations Security Council and hardening policy … (if) Ethiopia embarks on a second filling (of the dam) without agreement,” Abbas told reporters last week.

“We are not utilizing water generated from Egypt or Sudan as water doesn’t flow upstream to Ethiopia,” Bekele explained. “We are utilizing water from Ethiopia for our dire need following equitable and reasonable utilization without causing significant harm to our neighbors.”

The situation has been volatile for some time and last year, President Trump intervened, brokering a deal that Ethiopia eventually reneged on. Trump warned Sudanese Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok that Egypt could resort to “blowing up the dam.”

The conflict over the Nile has been brewing for almost a century but came to a head when construction began in 2011 on the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam on the Blue Nile River(GERD) formerly known as the Millennium Dam and sometimes referred to as Hidase Dam. The primary purpose of the dam is electricity production to relieve Ethiopia’s acute energy shortage. It is expected to go online next year and eventually, the dam will be the largest hydroelectric power plant in Africa as well as the seventh-largest in the world. 

Israel the key to receiving the Nile’s blessing

Rabbi Yosef Berger, the rabbi of King David’s Tomb on Mount Zion, noted that the Nile River can be the source of blessings as well as the source of curses from God. 

“When Jacob went to Egypt, he settled in Goshen because of the blessings the Nile bestowed upon the Hebrews,” Rabbi Berger told Israel365 News. “But when it came time for the exile to end, the Nile became the source of several of the plagues. As long as the Egyptians were kind to the Jews, the river remained a source of blessing.”

This became clear last September when the Nile flooded, displacing at least half a million Sudanese and killing at least one hundred. This blessing, according to Rabbi Berger, is, like any blessing, dependent on the relationship between the countries and Israel.

I will bless those who bless you And curse him that curses you; And all the families of the earth Shall bless themselves by you.” Genesis 12:3

“This was especially true of Egypt and the Nile,” Rabbi Berger said. “The Egyptians saw the Nile as the source of their power, which is why they used it to kill the Jewish babies. So God used the Nile to punish them to show that even the Nile serves Him.”

Israel currently has relations with all three countries. Israel signed a peace agreement with Egypt in 1979. Israel has long had relations with Ethiopia culminating in the government allowing the emigration of Ethiopia permitted the emigration of the Beta Israel Jews. Israel recently presented Sudan with a draft agreement for establishing diplomatic relations but the Sudanese want an endorsement from the Biden administration.

Rabbi Berger noted that the prophets predicted that the Nile River would play a role in the final redemption.

And the Nile papyrus by the Nile-side And everything sown by the Nile Shall wither, blow away, and vanish. Isaiah 19:7

“These three countries are correct to fight over the Nile,” Rabbi Berger said. “It will be the method their role in the end of days will be expressed. But what they don’t understand is that if they want the blessings of the Nile, they must bless Israel.”

Nile libel blaming Israel

Egypt jealously protects its prime water source and has even seen Israel as a partner in the Ethiopian threat.  In 2003, when Ethiopian announced that it intended to construct the GERD, Arab media claimed the project was a subterfuge intended to conceal an Ethiopian-Israeli plot to cripple Egypt. 

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.