Ethiopia ‘deploys missiles’ as Nile dispute with Egypt escalates

Ethiopia ‘deploys missiles’ as Nile dispute with Egypt escalates
Ethiopia says it plans to fill a dam on the Nile without consulting Egypt, amid reports that Addis Ababa deployed missiles to defend the dam.
3 min read
19 May, 2020
Egypt sees Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam as an existential threat [Getty]
Tensions dramatically escalated between Ethiopia and Egypt on Monday and Tuesday as Addis Ababa announced it would not postpone the filling of the Great Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD), and President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi ordered the Egyptian armed forces to be on the “highest state of alert”.

Ethiopia also reportedly deployed anti-aircraft missiles in the vicinity of the Renaissance Dam.

Negotiations between Egypt and Ethiopia over the dam, which is being built on the Blue Nile river, broke down in March after Addis Ababa refused to sign a US-drafted agreement regulating the filling of the dam, saying that it was entitled to fill it at its own pace.

Both Egypt and Sudan have expressed strong opposition to Ethiopia unilaterally filling the dam without an agreement, with Cairo concerned it will greatly reduce its supply of life-giving Nile water, causing drought and famine, especially if it is filled too quickly.

Ethiopia plans to begin filling the dam in July, when the Blue Nile river begins flooding. On Monday, Ethiopian Foreign Minister Gedu Andargachew said his country “sees no reason to postpone the filling of the reservoir of its dam”.

In an interview with the Ethiopian News Agency, acting Foreign Ministry spokesman Amsalu Tizazu said Ethiopia was under no obligation to notify either Egypt or Sudan about when the dam would be filled.

Read more: Ethiopia's Great Renaissance Dam - A catastrophe for Egypt?

Ethiopia envisions filling the dam with 4.9 billion cubic metres of water between July and early next year, and wants to begin a trial operation of the dam in March 2021. It says that the dam is essential to its future development.

The new Ethiopian unilateralism concerning the dam stands in sharp contrast to previous agreements between Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia, such as the 2015 Declaration of Principles on Nile Water.

In previous years, Egypt indicated that it was prepared to take military action to secure its supply of Nile water and in 2013 Egyptian officials were recorded discussing ways to stop the building of Ethiopia’s dam, including an aerial bomb attack.

On Tuesday, President Sisi met with Defence Minister Mohammed Zaki and other military chiefs and called on the Egyptian armed forces to be “at the highest level of preparedness, ready to defend Egypt’s national security”. This was in response to militant activity in Sinai and setbacks suffered by Egypt’s ally, rogue General Khalifa Haftar, in Libya, as well as the impasse with Ethiopia over the dam.

The New Arab’s Arabic-language service quoted sources from Ethiopia’s opposition Tigray People’s Liberation Front party as saying that earlier this month, Ethiopia began deploying an anti-aircraft missile system around the Renaissance Dam in order to defend it against a possible strike.

The deployment of the missiles is expected to be completed in June. Ethiopia reportedly obtained the missiles from Russia among other countries.

However, observers believe that while Egypt considers the Ethiopian dam as an existential threat, a military conflict between the two countries is unlikely to take place in the immediate future.

Two weeks ago, Egypt sent a letter to member states of the UN Security Council complaining of Ethiopia’s actions and calling for a resumption of internationally-mediated negotiations.

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