Egypt’s limitations to stop Ethiopia’s dam militarily [Stratfor]


Ethiopia’s initiation of a dam project on the Blue Nile has quickly drawn the ire of Egypt, which is critically dependent on it as a source of much of the country’s freshwater needs. As Egyptian Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr said June 9 following Ethiopia’s refusal to halt construction of the dam and ahead of his trip to Addis Ababa to discuss the project, Egypt will not give up a “single drop of water from the Nile.” “No Nile, no Egypt,” he said.

A little girl on Blue Nile bridge

A little girl on Blue Nile bridge [Eyoba Photography]

While Egypt has struggled to attract diplomatic intervention on its behalf to thwart Ethiopia’s dam construction, tensions have reached the point where Egypt has suggested the use of force to keep the dam from potentially lowering the Nile’s water levels downstream to unacceptable levels. There will be serious international pressure to keep the dispute over the dam in the realm of diplomacy, but there are also fairly significant constraints on the physical possibility of an Egyptian military solution.


It varies depending on the dimensions of the dam, but dams can be and usually are very tough targets to destroy. In World War II the British proved that it could be done despite considerable difficulties and were the first to seriously develop the art of dam busting. The British used delayed-action bouncing bombs from Lancaster bombers, but fortunately for the Egyptians, advancements in weapons technology would enable them to target the Ethiopian dam in a less risky way. The best way for Egypt to knock out a standing dam is to use retarded and delayed-action bombs deployed from very low altitudes, or even better, delayed-action joint direct attack munitions deployed at medium altitude. The difficulty is that the bomb needs to be deployed at the very base of the dam, underwater, where the concussive effect and pressure wave is greatly amplified. Preferably more than one bomb would be deployed in this manner, and the force would be sufficient to breach the dam.

To avoid the hassle of hitting a standing dam and creating major flooding downstream in Sudan and even potentially Egypt, Cairo would probably prefer to hit it while it is under construction. But it also has to be careful not to hit the dam too early, because then Ethiopia may not be fully deterred from restarting the project.

Distance is a major obstacle for the Egyptian military option. Ethiopia is simply too far from Egypt, and since Egypt has not invested in any sort of aerial refueling capability, it is beyond the combat radius of all Egyptian aircraft staging from Egyptian airfields. The only consolation for Egypt is that the dam is very close to the Sudanese border. Access to Sudanese airfields would place some of Egypt’s air force within range. However, operating from Sudanese territory could be politically complicated and would have international repercussions for Sudan along with Egypt. Sudan’s proximity to Ethiopia would also leave it vulnerable to direct military retaliation.

Another option is the insertion of special operations forces into Sudan. From there, the forces could move across the border and either harass the construction of the dam or attempt to sabotage the structure under the guise of militants. This would allow Khartoum to realistically pledge that it had no idea there were “militants” there. The harassment tactic by special operations forces or militants would likely only delay the project, not arrest construction.

Special operations forces teams would face their own series of obstacles in trying to destroy the dam. Dams are critical infrastructure and routinely protected relatively well in most countries by dedicated military units. Ethiopia would be no exception, especially with all the contention already surrounding the project. So Egyptian special operations forces would need luck and skill to gain access to the dam successfully. There is also the problem that a small team of ground forces, no matter how elite, would likely be physically unable to carry enough ordnance to critically damage or destroy the dam.

Egypt does have military options, but distance will heavily constrain its ability to project the full force of its military. Any option Cairo chooses to exercise will be risky at best and will also come with severe international consequences.


* Source: Stratfor – June 13, 2013, titled “Egypt’s Limited Military Options to Stop an Ethiopian Dam Project”.

Stratfor is a US-based geopolitical intelligence firm that “provides strategic analysis and forecasting to individuals and organizations around the world”.

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  1. I don’t advocate war but from military point of view there are options. First, Egypt posses 16 fully functional mirage 2000 with combat radius more than 1000 km. much longer range than F-16 (600km combat range) . Having said that I believe for the sake of long term relations between the 2 countries diplomatic solution is the ONLY option.

    1. Berbeda says:

      Whether war is advocated or not, no force will stop the east African country from completing the construction of the dam. It is up to the Egyptian to choose between the right and the evil way. If it is the matter of leaving all options open, there are many options to consider for Ethiopians too based on the Egyptians choice.

    2. Amin Jemal says:

      Do you think Ethiopia will keep silent if Egypt chose the millitary way? Do you think Ethiopia will refrain to respond if Egypt try to attack the dam?
      I certainly tell you that Ethiopia will ruin and turn the their land into an utter desolate. It’s enough to use some tones of radioactive chemicals and toxicating the water. It’s that much simple!

      1. Tsegaye Y says:

        that way the Sudan have said with Ethiopia to keep everybody happy with fair water shearing.

    3. kelemu says:

      War is not an option. Whether Egypt reigns superior is not a point at this time.
      Why war? The water will always be there for Egypt to use. Egypt has to invest in technology, conservation and other economic activities. It has also to FEEL African.
      Time to thinknot to talk foolishly andin a bullish manner

      1. Totally agree. We have to agree YES the dam will affect Egypt in a negative way but Ethiopia has the right to build a dam. So negotiations should be how to compensate Egypt for the damage. That is only fair.

      2. Ben says:

        bro, what was your compensation for using the Nile river for free for ages?
        do you know that Ethiopia pays more than 2 billion dollar for Djibouti for using their port b/c of Egypt’s sabotage to make Ethiopia landlocked?

        so, dude don’t act like you are better then anyone.
        if you want compensation first pay your due.

      3. Ben says:

        Sunday, June 2, 2013 @ 1:00 am at Sun, 02 Jun 2013 01:00:00 +0000

        the other day In your blog you wrote: “The second and most dangerous national security matter is Ethiopia steps taken to control the Nile river without Egypt approval.”

        Are you kidding?
        Do you expect Ethiopia to get any ones approval to build something in its own resource? Have you (Egypt) got an approval to built Aswan dam or to cross the Nile river over Suez canal to Sinai desert?
        Wow man its hilarious how you people think. anyways, Ethiopia doesn’t need any ones approval to built a dam. second, as you afraid it, Ethiopia will control it! because its our resource.

    4. Tazabi says:

      oh we are so scared – stop the dam. Please please Egypt do not bomb us and we thank you very much for taking our water. Almighty Egypt – please let us go poor and you be rich with our resource. please Egypt we are so afraid of you we will not even let the fish in the nile drink from it. Oh please

      1. No need to be scared. Just understand it is not your resources. It is our resources that we need to share.

    5. Abiy says:

      We all know about the Egyptian military, but Egyptian don’t know about Ethiopia’s military capability. Even most Egyptians learned and Think the source of Nile is Egypt. Don’t Try it, b/c no one of you will survive to tell history.

  2. Amin Jemal says:

    It’s possible to perform it with collaboration of Sudan at the river’s exit. Plus don’t expect us to care about the rest of the world in this situation.

    1. the nubian says:

      Remember north sudan is more or less on ethiopian side on this one. Ppl to ppl relation between ethiopia and sudan are perfect. other factor is ethiopia has a big presence in south sudan.There is little egypt can do militarily almost to nill. Politically egypt just messed up huge, it lost eny chance of getting sympati from the international community, even the arab countries dont want to touch this issue. In the other hand the egyptian political elite seem to be oblivious the fact ethiopia are knowen for its famine and hunger, and lack of rains still they are telling the ethiopians not to touch one drop of water or ellers face the consequence. The way i see it its over ethiopia won. egypt does not have eny moral or legal argument, nor does it have eny capacity or willingness to start a war.

  3. haile yehagersewe says:

    ‘Ethiopia boasts one of the most advanced and deadliest armies on the continent.’ think sbdy said it.

  4. ako says:

    What ever it is no one will stop the dam!!! It is ethiopians dam, it is africans dam. We know that egyptian leaders are like abull which looks on grass doesn’t see the hill !!!!
    We can consider that those people are always thinking the wrong way because of their narrow minds. We will give them the opportunity to think it over otherwise we will welcome them based on their “options” it is simple for us to repeat the history because as a people we are created for history! !!!

  5. Barnabas says:

    the quest for war is baseless. now a days, Ethiopians are not as the people Egyptians talking about. if the option is war, i am sure that they will not only face defensive military challenge but also the water by it self may be endangered. any morally humiliated citizen can do it. the water is highly vulnerable for merciless chemicals. i am sure the government in Ethiopia has many options and will not use that option but citizens in ethiopia are getting disappointed and no one can guarantee the egyptian people from the drawbacks of the war thirsty politicians there in Egypt. therefore, the best way now is Egyptian should better collaborate with Ethiopians in the construction of the dam and should also manage the possible wastage of water

  6. tazabi says:

    Forbes, one of the most formidable publications in the US just about published an article giving Egyptians a ‘ blue print’ of how to wreck the Dam. Lucky for the Ethiopians, they can read the article, as well, and reciprocate in kind. It is a ‘ shame’ that one of my favorite publications where i read the ranking of the billionaires, including our own, have published an anonymous article. probably written by the same individual ranting anti- american slogan in the meeting chaired by President Mursi. The US was instrumental in supporting Egypt to get back the Canal and have supported them to the tune of billions of dollars. So did Ethiopia by letting the Blue Nile waters nourish these folks for millenia. Funny, how they bite the hands which feed them. i wonder if the US backed France and Britain in their wars against Egypt in 1956 to secure their ownership of the Canal. Trust me the Canal would have been in the hands of France and Britain. Thus Egypt owes the Yankees for having let them own a major thoroughfare and Ethiopia for the water with which they quench their thirst. In either scenario, they have shown that they hate the US, which allowed them to have a ‘ cash cow’ which the Canal has been since then and Ethiopia whose water and soil have nourished them. just tally it all. Forbes and the State Department should weigh in whether these ‘ merci-less’ brats are worth their support.

  7. Belay says:

    In this modern world,everybody can easily make a research and can estimate the overall military capability of any country. So,one can know the military strength of Egypt and its potential threat to ethiopia.As to me, egypt doesn’t have the strength to attack ethiopia in any military departments.The ethiopian national defense is in its highest level. But i believe that the time is for development and cooperation rather than confrontation specially for africa. i also believe that the egyptian leaders are smart enough to know what ethiopia is really now and ethiopia now is not what she was used to be and she is not like any other arab country which egypt controls and runs.

  8. Euel says:

    Remember, the water flows from Ethiopia to Egypt… in the face of war, whatever option Egypt follows, Ethiopia has much more option than Egypt……+ Remember, in international rivers, once the Israeli PM said, no country won (except the source),….

  9. Tsegaye Y says:

    We will squeeze more and more without letting any room to breathe if you don’t stop opening ur big mouth.

  10. Marefia Mamo says:

    Egypt Arrogant politicians, can you please shut up your Atlantic mouth , should you need military option you are most well come. it is our inborn character (the Habesha ) to defit the enemy at any war field , it is up to you ,we know how to operate war in Africa . we don’t see Egypt technical capacity in terms of diplomatic effort yet they are dull minded peoples in 21st century so who care about you it needs Egypt wise decision to swim together or to sink alone in Nile river the natural gift of Ethiopia once and for all

  11. BELETE says:

    And finally you all are invited for the inauguration of the Dam at the end.
    We Trust in God not in USA or any other….

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