Israel tests US-backed missile shield as Iran nuclear deadline looms

Updated 01 April 2015

Israel tests US-backed missile shield as Iran nuclear deadline looms

JERUSALEM: A new Israeli air defense system being developed in partnership with the United States has passed advanced tests, the Israeli Defense Ministry said on Wednesday, putting it on course for possible deployment by next year.
Defense sources said tests for David’s Sling took place last week and on Tuesday, the last day before a deadline for international negotiations on Iran’s disputed nuclear program.
The terms of those talks have been vehemently opposed by Israel as insufficient and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said on Wednesday it was not too late for world powers to demand a “better deal.”
Apart from a potential nuclear showdown with Tehran, Israel sees threats from Syria and Lebanon’s Iranian-backed Hezbollah militia.
“In the Middle East there is no time to waste,” a senior Israeli defense official involved in the program told Reuters.
Known in Hebrew as Magic Wand, David’s Sling is being manufactured jointly by Israel’s state-owned Rafael Advanced Defense Systems Ltd. and US firm Raytheon Co..
Designed to shoot down rockets with ranges of between 100 km and 200 km (63 miles and 125 miles), aircraft or low-flying cruise missiles, it will fill the operational gap between Israel’s Iron Dome short-range rocket interceptor and the Arrow ballistic missile interceptor, both already active.
The latest successful tests will likely strengthen support among US lawmakers for Israel’s request for additional funds.
Israeli officials last month asked US lawmakers for $317 million in additional funding for David’s Sling and other Israeli missile defense programs, on top of $158 million in funding already requested by the Obama administration in its fiscal 2016 budget.
Last year, David’s Sling lost out on a Polish tender after Washington made clear to the Israelis that it preferred that a rival US system win.
The latest tests were conducted under unusually strict secrecy, and had been rescheduled at least once.
Planners had considered holding one of the tests on March 3, hours ahead of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s controversial speech at the US Congress where he praised the Obama administration’s defense aid for Israel while rebuking its Iran negotiations.


Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

Updated 10 July 2020

Nile dam dispute spills onto social media

CAIRO: As Egypt, Ethiopia and Sudan struggle to resolve a long-running dispute over Addis Ababa’s dam megaproject on the Nile, some of their citizens are sparring online over their rights to the mighty waterway.
For nearly a decade, multiple rounds of talks between Cairo, Addis Ababa and Khartoum have failed to produce a deal over the filling and operation of the Grand Ethiopian Renaissance Dam (GERD).
Anxiety has mounted in downstream Sudan and Egypt, which fear for their vital water supplies after upstream Ethiopia declared plans to start filling Africa’s largest dam reservoir in July.
As tensions have run high in the political arena, they have also amped up online.
In one widely viewed video originally shared on TikTok, an Ethiopian woman pours water from a pitcher into two cups representing Egypt and Sudan.
She fills Sudan’s cup to the brim but only pours a trickle of water into Egypt’s, before emptying the water back into the pitcher.
“This is my water. When I give you water, it’s my call, not yours,” she says.
In response, an Egyptian woman created a compilation of the video and one of her own in which she knocks down a dam-shaped block structure with the Ethiopian flag superimposed on it before triumphantly downing a cup of water.
The video had been viewed more than 55,000 times on Instagram by Wednesday.
Social media “platforms are powerful,” said Wubalem Fekade, communications head at the intergovernmental ENTRO-Nile Basin Initiative.
“People on the social media platforms aren’t accountable, so it’s easy to disseminate unverified, incorrect, false, even conspiracy theories,” he said.
But, he added hopefully, “when used creatively and judiciously, they can help defuse tensions.”
The online row over the dam has been particularly heated between Egyptian and Ethiopian social media users.
Egypt has long enjoyed the lion’s share of the Nile water under decades-old agreements that were largely viewed by other Nile basin countries as unfair.
On Twitter, Egyptians echoed authorities’ fears that Ethiopia’s dam would severely cut their country’s supply of water from the Nile, which provides 97 percent of the arid nation’s water needs.
“We will never allow any country to starve us” of water, Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris wrote on Twitter.
“If Ethiopia doesn’t come to reason, we, the Egyptian people will be the first to call for war,” he threatened.
Egyptian cartoonist Ahmed Diab has weighed in with a drawing of an outsized Egyptian soldier, rifle slung over his shoulder, facing a diminutive Ethiopian man with the dam in the background.
“You idiot, try to understand that I care for you ... ever heard about the Bar Lev Line?” the soldier tells the Ethiopian, alluding to Egypt’s military strength in referring to the Egyptian destruction of an Israeli defense line along the Suez canal in 1973.
Diab called the cartoon part of a “psychological war.”
“Besides a show of military might and strong media discourse, arts can boost people’s morale,” he said.
For their part, Ethiopians have rallied behind their country’s mega project, set to become Africa’s largest hydroelectric installation.
On social media, they have rejected any conditions of reaching a deal before filling the dam.
Filling the dam should not be held “hostage” to an agreement with Cairo, Ethiopian activist Jawar Mohamed wrote on Twitter.
“If agreement is reached before the filling begins in the coming days, it’s great. If not, the filling should begin and the negotiation shall continue,” he said.
Ethiopia, one of Africa’s fastest growing economies, insists the dam will not affect the onward flow of water and sees the project as indispensible for its national development and electrification.
Khartoum hopes the dam will help regulate flooding, but in June it warned that millions of lives will be at “great risk” if Ethiopia unilaterally fills the dam.
In a letter to the UN Security Council, Sudan raised concerns that water discharged from the GERD could “compromise the safety” of its own Roseires Dam by overwhelming it and causing flooding.
Omar Dafallah, a Sudanese artist, depicted Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed overseeing the water flowing from the dam through a faucet to fill a jug held by Sudan’s Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok.
The drawing also shows Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi with a large water container, waiting in line.
Last month, Egypt also appealed to the UNSC to intervene in the crisis — a move El-Sisi said underlined his country’s committment to a political solution.
Egyptian lawmaker Mohamed Fouad views the online debate as a way to “break the stalemate” in the diplomatic talks, “so long as they remain within the boundaries of healthy discussions.”