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News and views on Israel, Zionism and the war on terrorism.

November 12, 2002

Could Israel die of thirst?

A growing shortage of drinkable water, as noted by the great scientist E.O. Wilson a few years ago, will cause warfare, deaths, and chaos in many areas of the world. In the ME, this shortage becoming increasingly apparent and represents a threat in addition to the terrorists from the Arab world, as noted hee by Frank J. Gaffney Jr.
Yesterday, the Washington area was drenched by a steady, hours-long downpour that began at night and continued into the day. 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 toward normal levels.

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 Nov. 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 year."

Unfortunately, Israel's access to drinking water could be even more dramatically afflicted, and for far longer, if one or more of the following eventuate:

• 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 percent 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."
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