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.
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
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.