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A Military Option over the GERD Standoff would be a Disaster for Ethiopia

Ethiopia under the leadership of Prime Minister Ahmed Abiy Ali seems to be dangerously leaning towards committing two grave sins. While these could be sins of omission rather than commission, the country would pay a huge price. The trouble with sins of omission is that they can be hardly noticeable hence easy to commit. The first grave sin is Ethiopia’s reluctance or apparent refusal to move with speed to quell the dangerously rising Tigray-Amhara animosity. This sin will not only result in far-reaching internal political problems but may actually be fodder for Egypt should a military conflict over the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD) ensue. The second is Ethiopia’s apparent reluctance and/or refusal to quickly secure a negotiated deal on filling the GERD reservoir. For this sin, Ethiopia may end up paying with her soul.

Should Egypt grow fatigued, which is starting to be more apparent recently, and pull out of the negotiations instead opting for a military solution to the GERD standoff, it will most probably engage in targeted airstrikes on the Ethiopia’s key installations, starting with GERD. Ethiopia has no known military capability that can measure up and/or challenge Egyptian air power. Without external support, Ethiopia will watch helplessly as its multi-billion project build by sweat and blood of her people go up in smokes. There is no immediate indication as to what external actor may be willing to support Ethiopia militarily (particularly air-power) should such a need arises. Especially because Ethiopia has messed the West and arguably antagonized China in places like Somaliland. Ethiopia has equally antagonized Gulf powers in Somalia. It is unclear yet very unlikely that any of the rich Gulf nations would want to ally with Ethiopia to fight Egypt. Maybe Qatar? To avenge recent isolation by its neighbors? But that would be too costly for Qatar. Would Emiratis and Saudis want to export their proxy wars to Ethiopia? What about pan-Arabinism and Islamic fraternity? They may override expedient regional power politics.

Perhaps Ethiopia will want to look around in the region for support, Kenya with relatively good air-power could be an option especially because of historical military pact with Ethiopia? But I doubt Kenya would be willing to start a conflict with Egypt which will end up complicating its (Kenya’s) relations with Arabs and by large the Muslim world. Having suffered in the hands of Al Shabaab, with Islamic grievance undertones for a decade, it would be in Kenya’s strategic security interest not to further antagonize Arabs/Muslims both at home and in the region. Turkey is too friendly to Somalia and Somalia is too Islamic and inclined to Arabia to want to mess its long-term interests by aligning with Ethiopia. Hence, Turkey may not want to step in. Ethiopia may just end up standing all alone on this. Well, maybe someone will come to its rescue. I don’t know who that could be at the moment.

On the other hand, Ethiopia’s failure to quickly fix internal ethno-political issues terribly exposes the country’s soft and naked underbelly. The trouble with this (first sin) is that Egyptians will easily arm and stir intra-Ethiopia proxy wars, especially between Tigray and Amhara, hence weakening Ethiopia from within as it overwhelms it from without. It would be that bad. Opting for a military solution could just end up as Ethiopia’s worst mistake in recent known history. This is the reason PM Abiy needs to talk to Egyptians and seek a negotiated settlement on the GERD dispute. It is in the best interest of Ethiopia to do so. And the hope is that it will so happen.

A Military Option over the GERD Standoff would be a Disaster for Ethiopia A Military Option over the GERD Standoff would be a Disaster for Ethiopia Reviewed by Ibrahim Magara on June 16, 2020 Rating: 5

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