Jewish World Review Nov. 12, 2002 / 7 Kislev, 5763
Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.
Could Israel die of thirst?
Sunday night, the Washington area was drenched by a steady,
hours-long downpour. As the rain fell, a natural first reaction was
gratitude that the drought that had been afflicting our region would be
eased somewhat as reservoirs, rivers and wells inched back towards normal
No such relief is in prospect for Israel, an arid nation that even
in good times contends with water shortfalls that make those confronting
Washington and other parts of the United States pale by comparison. At the
moment, however, the Jewish State confronts a combination of forces -- a
meteorological drought, regional efforts to deny it access to water and
misbegotten U.S. diplomacy -- that could threaten Israel's very existence.
An Israeli online publication called Globes reported on November 6
that Israel's Meteorological Service is forecasting a winter drought over
the period from December 2002 to February 2003, historically the country's
wettest months. If the predictions prove accurate, Israel will see little
precipitation, prompting its Water Commissioner, Shimon Tal, to warn that
"Israel's reservoirs will be empty by the end of the 2003 winter, posing a
real threat to the supply of drinking water." According to Mr. Tal, "this
situation will last until the desalination facilities [being built in
Israel] are fully operational and other water sources, including imports in
2004, are created, which will provide 400 million cubic meters of water a
Unfortunately, Israel's access to drinking water could be even more
dramatically afflicted, and for a far longer time, if one or more of the
- Lebanon has unilaterally initiated a program to provide water for
communities in its south by tapping the Wazzani Spring, a tributary to the
Hatzbani River that flows, in turn, into Israel's Sea of Galilee. By some
estimates, Lebanon controls as much as 20% of the Jewish State's fresh water
resources and its plan for the Wazzani would divert as much as 50 million
cubic meters a year from downstream Israel. According to the Jerusalem Post,
"This is the same amount of water Israel supplies to Jordan each year under
the peace accord between the two countries and more than the allotted amount
given to the Palestinians. It is equivalent to the quantity of fresh water
proposed to be imported from Turkey and the total annual production capacity
of a major seawater desalination plant."
In the face of Israel's already acute drought, the prospect of the
loss of the Wazzani water prompted Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to
warn that Israel would take militarily action to destroy Lebanon's new
pumping station. This threat brought promises of retaliation from
Lebanon-based Hezbollah terrorists and called to mind a similar moment in
the mid-1960s when Israeli artillery fired on Syrian positions in order to
prevent Damascus' diversion of the Banias River. Newsday recently noted
that this, in turn "trigger[ed] a series of skirmishes that eventually led
to the 1967 Arab-Israeli war."
- Matters would be made considerably worse if the aforementioned fresh
water Turkey had promised to sell Israel is not forthcoming. On October 20,
the Middle East News Line reported that Turkish Foreign Ministry spokesman
Yusuf Buluc announced that "Israel and Turkey had agreed that Israel will
purchase 50 million cubic meters per year for a period of 20 years, and the
Turkish side again approved its commitment."
Unfortunately, shortly thereafter, a victory in parliamentary
elections by an Islamist party raised questions about whether this
strategically important transaction will ever be consummated. The
Associated Press reported on November 6 that "Recep Tayyip Erdogan, the
leader of the Islamic-rooted Justice and Development Party, said Turks
consider Israel's policies toward Palestinians to be 'terrorism.'" While he
went on to aver that "Turkey would not link its close economic relations
with Israel to popular anger," Erdogan nonetheless signaled that such anger
could prove inimical to ties between the two countries -- presumably
including water sales: "The whole Turkish population is very critical of
what is going on in Palestine. Our public does not view this as anything
anti-Israeli or anti-Semitic. They see it as the terrorism of Sharon."
- Then there is the "Road-map" being touted by the Bush Administration
and its partners in the so-called "Quartet" (the European Union, Russia and
the United Nations). This plan would call for Israel to relinquish to a new
Palestinian state control over territory that would encompass many
watersheds of the West Bank. Since roughly 40% of Israel's fresh water
comes from such sources, the prospect that a future Palestinian government
would act as Syria has done in the past and as Lebanon (Syria's colony) is
doing now, by unilaterally diverting vital water from Israeli cities and
farms, is clearly an intolerable one for the Jewish State.
A "comprehensive settlement" of the sort fancied by the Quartet
would also require Israel to give back to Syria the Golan Heights, whose
watersheds provide Israel with another 30% of its fresh water. Even if such
a territorial concession were prudent militarily -- and it is not under
present and foreseeable circumstances -- it could be tantamount to
state-icide. No amount of conservation would enable Israel's economy and
society to subsist, let alone to thrive, in the face of the cumulative
effects of all these reductions in water supply.
The recent sniper attacks in the Washington area gave Americans an
appreciation of the traumatizing uncertainty that has for years been the lot
in life of many Israelis: Will I be capriciously murdered today? The
droughts being experienced by many parts of the United States should
similarly sensitize us to an existential question that Israelis have to
confront on a national level: Will their country be forced to choose
between dying of thirst or having again to wage war in order to secure
necessary water resources?
Enjoy this writer's work? Why not sign-up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.
JWR contributor Frank J. Gaffney, Jr. heads the Center for Security Policy. Send your comments to him by clicking here.
11/04/02: Against us
10/22/02: Too clever by half?
10/17/02: 'Drain the swamps'
10/08/02: The temptations of George Bush
10/01/02: Return of the San Francisco Dems
09/24/02: The next crusader?
09/17/02: It is no accident that advocates of coercive inspections have opposed prez's goal of regime change
09/10/02: A model for Iraq
08/27/02: Beware 'consensus leadership'
08/20/02: To Iraq or not to Iraq?
08/13/02: Trading with the 'enemy'
07/30/02: Who's trashing Ashcroft?
07/23/02: Wall Street's 'poisoned apples'
07/16/02: Back on the China front
07/09/02: See no evil?
07/02/02: Rethinking peacekeeping
06/25/02: Political moment of truth on defense
06/19/02: Inviting losses on two fronts
06/12/02: Make missile defense happen
06/04/02: The next 'Day of Infamy'?
05/29/02: Bush's Russian gamble
05/21/02: The 'next war'
05/15/02: Ex-presidential misconduct
05/07/02: When 'what if' is no game
05/02/02: Careful what we wish for
04/24/02: The real 'root cause' of terror
04/02/02: First principles in the Mideast
03/26/02: 'Renounce this map'
03/20/02: The inconvenient ally
03/12/02: Adults address the 'unthinkable'
03/05/02: The Saudi scam
02/26/02: Rumsfeld's 'now hear this'
02/19/02: Where's the outrage?
02/12/02: Post-mortem on 'Pearl Harbor II'
02/05/02: Spinning on the 'Evil Axis'
01/29/02: A challenge for the history books
01/22/02: Who pulled the plug on the Chinese 'bugs'?
01/15/02: No 'need to know'
01/08/02: Sentenced to de-nuclearize?
12/18/01: Missile defense mismanagement?
12/11/01: Is the Cold War 'over'?
12/04/01: A moment for truth
11/29/01: Send in the marines -- with the planes they need
11/27/01: 'Now Hear This': Does the President Mean What He Says?
11/20/01: Mideast 'vision thing'
11/13/01: The leitmotif of the next three days
11/06/01: Bush's Reykjavik Moment
10/30/01: Say it ain't true, 'W.
10/23/01: Getting history, and the future, right
10/16/01: Farewell to arms control
10/05/01: A time to choose
09/25/01: Don't drink the 'lemonade'
09/11/01: Sudan envoy an exercise in futility?
09/05/01: Strategy of a thousand cuts
08/28/01: Rummy's back
08/21/01: Prepare for 'two wars'
08/14/01: Why does the Bush Administration make a moral equivalence between terrorist attacks and Israel's restrained defensive responses?
08/07/01: A New bipartisanship in security policy?
07/31/01: Don't go there
07/17/01: The 'end of the beginning'
07/10/01: Testing President Bush
07/03/01: Market transparency works
06/27/01: Which Bush will it be on missile defense?
06/19/01: Don't politicize military matters
06/05/01: It's called leadership
06/05/01: With friends like these ...
05/31/01: Which way on missile defense?
05/23/01: Pearl Harbor, all over again
05/15/01: A tale of two Horatios
05/08/01: The real debate about missile defense
04/24/01: Sell aegis ships to Taiwan
04/17/01: The 'hi-tech for China' bill
04/10/01: Deal on China's hostages -- then what?
04/03/01: Defense fire sale redux
03/28/01: The defense we need
03/21/01: Critical mass
03/13/01: The Bush doctrine
03/08/01: Self-Deterred from Defending America
02/27/01: Truth and consequences for Saddam
02/21/01: Defense fire sale
02/13/01: Dubya's Marshall Plan
02/05/01: Doing the right thing on an 'Arab-Arab dispute'
01/30/01: The missile defense decision
01/23/01: The Osprey as Phoenix
01/17/01: Clinton's Parting Shot at Religious Freedom
01/09/01: Wake-up call on space
01/02/01: Secretary Rumsfeld
12/27/00: Redefining our Ukraine policy
12/19/00: Deploy missile defense now
12/12/00: Sabotaging space power
12/05/00: Preempting Bush
11/28/00: What Clinton hath wrought
11/21/00: HE'S BAAAACK
11/14/00: The world won't wait
© 2001, Frank J. Gaffney, Jr.