Prime Minister Netanyahu’s recent historic visit to Africa didn’t receive proper coverage in the media. Behind the ceremonies and mutual compliments lies a fundamental recognition that Israel is a power to be reckoned with, and not just in terms of raw military strength.
African nations are fascinated with Israeli ingenuity. Being less influenced by the African-Arab countries, Kenya and Uganda, Ethiopia and Tanzania are now looking forward to African-Israeli cooperation. According to Netanyahu, the African leaders spoke with him about the need for “regional and international cooperation in all areas, including cyber-defense, data-gathering, promotion of new technologies and development.”
Following Netanyahu’s foray, Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry arrived in Israel. Those familiar with Israeli-Egyptian diplomatic relationships know how exceptionally rare this visit was. The arrival of such a high-ranking Egyptian official right after Netanyahu’s successful visit to Africa could be seen as acknowledgement that Egypt needs Israel as a trusted arbiter in Egypt-Ethiopia negotiations regarding the allocation of Nile waters. And, indeed, that would be a most interesting reversal of roles.
Zvi Bar’el (Haaretz) and Evgeni Klauber (Mida) have both proposed that Shoukry’s visit has to do with the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) that is supposed to be finished next year. This dam will dramatically affect the flow of the Nile upon which Egypt’s entire livelihood depends.
Since 2011, Ethiopia has to date spent $4.8 billion on the project, which aims to dam the Blue Nile near the Sudanese border. Ethiopians take great pride in the project and believe that “the Blue Nile river – in the Bible it is called Gyion [Gihon], being one of the three rivers that water the Garden of Eden.”
But the dam will impact nearly all of the Nile waters, making it a direct challenge to the 1959 Nile Waters Agreement between Sudan and Egypt, which The Ethiopian Herald has termed “the Faustian agreement by Egypt and Sudan under the British colonizers.”
In 1970, then-Egyptian President Anwar Sadat said that it was better for Egyptian soldiers to die on the battlefields of Ethiopia than to die of thirst in their own country. Three years ago, former-Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi made it clear that “Egypt’s water security cannot be violated at all” and that “as president of the state, I confirm to you that all options are open.”
Amidst such high tension these two countries need a third party that both can trust. Last year it was Palestinian official Mohammed Dahlan who mediated the dam agreement. The drastic pushing aside of the Palestinians in favor of Netanyahu is a clear indication of the deep, often unseen, African change of attitude toward Israel.
PHOTO: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu meets with Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry in Jerusalem, on July 10, 2016 (Flash90)