Israel was up in arms this week over whether the Egyptian Minister called the Jewish country an "enemy state" during his visit to Lebanon. The Egyptians denied the rumors, however reports in the Egyptian media in past weeks leave little room for doubt.
According to the Cairo press, Israel declared war on Egypt through its neighbors in the Nile basin. The Egyptians claim Israel has been pressuring these countries to aggravate their demands toward Egypt over water distribution from the river.
The issue of the Nile has not only been economically important to Egypt – but has also been regarded as a top national security concern. Economically, Egypt is almost completely dependent on the river – 95% of its water resources originate at the Nile. Without it, Egypt remains a desert-like country. Other countries in the region are not as dependent on it – Sudan, for example, only relies on the Nile for 15% of its water.
Without agreement – huge economic crisis
The Egyptian Minister of Water and Irrigation DR. Mohamed Nasr Eddin warned the Nile basin countries that if a new agreement over water distribution is not reached, they will suffer financial damages of $20 billion (about NIS 74 billion).
The minister explained this figure was based on commitments by several countries and international institutions to fund projects for the welfare of residents living in the Nile basin area.
According to Eddin, as many as 24 projects are in danger of being cancelled if disagreements between the countries are not resolved soon. Among the planned projects are the irrigation of the western Delta area, irrigation in Ethiopia and a project to connect the electricity grids of Egypt, Sudan and Ethiopia.
The issue of water distribution in the African river has been the cause of many tensions between Egypt and Sudan on the one hand, and the rest of the countries headed by Ethiopia on the other.
Strains between the countries have increased after their ministers failed to reach an agreement during a convention in Sharm el-Sheikh two weeks ago. At the convention, Egypt and Sudan demanded to take into consideration their historic right over the waters of the Nile, while other countries (Kenya, Burundi, Tanzania, Uganda and Congo) objected and demanded to redraft the original agreements signed in the previous century.
Egyptian circles are convinced that Israel had a hand in the stiff opposition it faced from the other countries, and these speculations were broadly covered in the local media.
The independent Shuruq publication reported this week that the Egyptian Foreign Ministry received information according to which Israeli companies agreed to fund five Nile dams in Tanzania and Ruanda. These dams are being constructed without the consent of Egypt, and are expected to reduce the water flow in the Nile, on Egypt's expense.
Meanwhile, Al-Wafd publication, which is affiliated with the Egyptian opposition, reported that during the deliberations in Sharm el-Sheikh, Ethiopia presented an important document that was written by Israel's former ambassador to Cairo Zvi Mazel, in which he claimed that Egypt was ignoring the rights of the other countries over the river's water. These reports have led (almost as usual) to renewed Egyptian calls to stop exporting natural gas to Israel, but have not been taken seriously (yet) by the country's rule.
Doron Peskin is head of research at Info-Prod Research (Middle-East) Ltd.
THIS ARTICLE ORIGINALLY APPEARED IN YNET ON 05.04.10