by Anthony C. LoBaido
Mediterranean conduit could thwart serious crisis in Jewish state
In a maverick deal with Turkey, a nation with whom Israel has established close military ties, Israel would receive fresh water from its cross-sea neighbor. Turkey is rich in water resources and is currently building a series of dams that will give it control over the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers — the cradle of civilization.
The water would be transported through a pipeline laid under the Mediterranean Sea, pass through Turkish-controlled northern Cyprus and then on to Israel.
The agreement brings to play several international issues of contention in the region, not the least of which is Turkey’s control of northern Cyprus. If the European Union gets its way and Turkey withdraws from that area, the fate of Israel’s lifeline likely would be in jeopardy.
In 1998, Turkey and Israel began discussing the possibility of an undersea fresh-water pipeline from Turkey via northern Cyprus to Israel. Turkey is blessed with rivers that already pour huge amounts of fresh water into the sea, so the only thing needed to make Israel a fresh-water superstate in the Middle East is to build the underwater pipeline.
By necessity, the days of water largess for Israel — whose per capita water use is the highest of any nation in the region — are rapidly coming to an end. Israel’s Hydrological Service issued warnings that the country’s water reserves are in danger of becoming salinized aquifers, above-ground reservoirs are at a dangerously low level, and that Lake Kinneret is only 85 centimeters above the “red line.” There are currently 145 million cubic meters of water above the red line in the lake, but about 1 million cubic meters evaporate daily during July and August. The water commission has determined that only 90 million cubic meters will be pumped from the lake this year, compared to some 400 million in other years.
Lake Kinneret, more commonly known as the Sea of Galilee, is a huge fresh-water lake in northeast Israel and is 696 feet below the level of the Mediterranean Sea. The lake covers an area of 64 square miles and is approximately 144 feet deep at its deepest point. If the water level of Lake Kinneret drops even further, however, irreparable harm to the lake’s ecosystem could occur. Consequently, Israel will be hard-pressed to share any more water from the lake with its neighbors, much to Syria’s dismay.
If Israel and Turkey complete an undersea pipeline, Israel will become the major fresh-water source in the Middle East. With such water sovereignty established, her Arab neighbors likely would be forced to make peace with her. There can be no doubt that the water issue will be an integral part of any regional peace plan.
Water bonds between Jews and Turks
Countries like Indonesia, the Emirates, Cyprus and others are already exploring the importation of water. A new company called WaterBank acts as a meeting place and brokerage site for bulk water requests and sales. WaterBank spokesmen claim that the least expensive transport will likely be in older single-hull ships or on backhauls by oil tankers that have been cleaned. Nevertheless, buyers of bulk water must have onshore water treatment facilities to ensure that water meets the quality required for the use. In this emerging industry, bulk water sales will only be feasible where existing desalination facilities or water treatment plants exist. The cost of the bulk water is significantly lower than desalination. Saudi Arabia indicates its cost of desalinated water is 70 cents per cubic meter. The new northern Cyprus desalination plant reportedly produces water at $1.26 per cubic meter. The International Desalination Association is predicting costs of 50 cents per cubic meter by 2005.
Turkey already delivers water by tanker to the breakaway state of northern Cyprus and wants to sell Manavgat River water to Malta, Cyprus, Crete and even its own metropolis, Istanbul. It has held talks on selling water to water-poor Jordan and says water from the Manavgat could make a “peace bridge” for arid Mediterranean countries. Jordan has said that importing Turkish water via Israel is too expensive.
Until the water pipeline is completed, Israel plans to purchase Turkish water that will be transported by more traditional means.
“We have declared that we can sell water to whichever country needs water, regardless of its language or flag,” said Cumhur Ersumer, Turkey’s energy minister. “It looks like Israel will be the first country to buy Turkey’s water.”
Israel has previously purchased water from Turkey. It was the first major commercial transaction involving water between two Middle Eastern countries. Israel is obliged to supply water to Jordan under their peace treaty, and Syria has supplied water to Jordan, but these are not commercial deals.
Turkey has long planned to sell water from its southern rivers to Middle Eastern countries and says the precious commodity can help an Arab-Israel rapprochement. It is offering Israel water from the Manavgat River, where it has built a $147 million water purification and treatment plant.
According to Turkish government sources, a contract will be signed shortly after Turkish officials purportedly agreed to reduce the original price of 23 cents per cubic meter by 5-10 cents, not including transport and purification costs. The agreement would allow Israel to import 50 billion cubic meters of water over a five-year period from the Manavgat plant, and Turkey is said to have submitted price offers for five-, 10- and 15-year contracts.
Israel’s ambassador to Turkey, Uri Bar-ner, said the purchases would be “for several years.” An official from the Israeli delegation has stated that Israel planned to buy 50 million cubic meters a year.
“Israel needs 2 billion cubic meters of water annually. Of that, we need 100 to 200 million cubic meters to be imported,” the official said.
Ram Aviram, a water official from the Israeli foreign ministry, said that an Israeli delegation had visited the purification plant to confirm that it conformed with Israeli environmental standards.
“We are very impressed with the Turkish side of the water operation,” Aviram said after the visit.
Ersumer said Turkey would deliver the water at floating loaders mounted off the coast at Manavgat and that transportation would be handled by Israel.
In 1999, Turkey believed she could remedy Israel’s chronic water shortage by sending enormous water-filled plastic bubbles hauled by tug boats across the Mediterranean Sea. Turkish officials claimed that they could “meet Israel’s water needs several times over” and that their plan was “cheaper than desalination.”
Turkey has spent $150 million on a terminal it built at the estuary of the Manavgat River, located on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast. This water would be transported to Israel in two tankers, each with a capacity of 250,000 tons, from Manavgat to an unloading terminal that would be built south of Ashkelon in Israel. The water would then be transported by a pipeline that would be built to the Neguhot reservoir south of Kiryat Gat and integrated into the national water system.
Although this plan has been favored by the Israeli prime minister’s office, the Ministerial Economics Committee has recently earmarked about $700 million for a desalination and water purification strategy for Israel. The plan includes investing in water purification and desalination facilities, desalinating seawater, purifying wastewater for agricultural use and cleaning wells that have become salinized or polluted.
While the Israelis continue to examine their options, Jordan has just announced that it will begin water rationing. Although Jordanian officials have stated that Jordan’s long-term plans include water purchases from Turkey, current plans for the importation of Turkish water via Israel are too expensive. Previous reports suggested that Israeli government studies for importing Turkish water included Jordan and Palestine in the project. Israeli government officials, however, have stated that this is not the case.
The Infrastructure Ministry of Israel says that importing Turkish water is less feasible than other alternatives and more expensive. It estimated the cost of imported water at 77-99 cents per cubic meter, while the cost for desalinated seawater would only be 60-70 cents per cubic meter.
In support of the argument for self-production, Water Commissioner Meir Ben Meir has said that no quick decision should be made on importing water because such an alternative entails relying on foreign sources. Other groups, including the ultra-orthodox Shas party, have opposed the tanker shipment project and purchase of imported water.
One U.S.-led and two French-led groups are proposing a string of desalination plants, each with a 50 million cubic meter production capability per year. This amount is equal to 10 percent (200 million cubic meters) of current Israeli needs.
Israel’s high-tech farming
In the meantime, Israel’s high-tech scientific farmers are working furiously to lower the amount of water needed to feed and clothe the Jewish nation. Some of their achievements include: A new strain of cotton, requiring only one-third the amount of water used for cotton plants and producing high-quality fibers promising success on world markets, has been developed by the Hazorea Co. of Israel. The plant can survive on less frequent watering with much less water than normally required for cotton. The strain ripens earlier in the season and enjoys the benefit of early rains, saving expensive irrigation. Cotton harvesting has been reduced significantly in Israel in recent years, and a low crop is expected this year. Hazorea has decided to market the new strain commercially in Peru, Spain, Turkey and Greece.
An experiment at Kibbutz Erez has resulted in a method for purifying wastewater in the cowsheds, freeing it for other uses. It was done by a fast-growing water plant that goes into action after the cows are hosed down, saving water in the current drought period. The system is used twice a day in summer. A special plant is floated on the water surface, attacking pollution, raising the quality of the water and serving as nutritious green food for the cows. The method is to be displayed to foreign embassies in Israel, especially their commercial attaches, and the kibbutz industrial centers will export it through the Agritech international farm show held this year in Haifa.
The sabra, the prickly pear fruit of a desert cactus, has been found to be able to produce several sweet products beyond its own sweet soft interior. This was discovered at an oasis in the Negev, Israel’s southern desert. The fruit is also usable in making pickles, according to the farm owner Noam Blum.
“We produce pickles from the sabras and also various snacks and spicy paste, as well as a kind of honey gathered by bees. I think this proves once again that it is possible to grow farm crops in our Negev desert,” said Blum.
Paul Michael Wihbey, a Strategic Fellow at the Washington office of the Institute for Advanced Strategic and Political Studies has spoken out on the Turkish and Israeli water partnership.
“If Israel is going to import water from any source, there is no better source than Turkey, since Turkey is a friend of Israel. I think the argument that Israel would be strategically dependent and therefore vulnerable is not a valid argument,” he said.
“By using a strategic resource like water, countries could bind together to advance common regional goals, economic development, political stability and reform. Water can be a basis for promoting a regional system between countries. But the Turks have to be addressed on their own terms. You cannot simply assume that the Turks will supply water whenever they may be asked to do a favor to stabilize the region. That is not the way to conduct bilateral or regional relations.”
Wihbey added, “If the Syrians get control on the Jordan River and on the lake, it means they control the flow of water that makes up a large portion of the Israeli water supply, and of course the Syrians can do what the Russians do with gas and oil, which is to exercise leverage, make extortions and demands, or take actions that can disrupt the flow. The Syrians wanted to establish the border along the Jordan River by splitting the river into an Israeli and Syrian side and would like to extend Syrian sovereignty to parts of the Sea of Galilee, which in addition would give the Syrians legal claim into the lake. As a result, the Syrians would be able to control the flow of water and the water supply of the Golan, which provides 40 percent of Israel’s total water needs. This matter has tremendous political consequences for any Israeli government. Imagine for Turkey, if Turkey had 40 percent of its water supply being controlled by Syria or Russia.”
Ari Noam Levy, a Mossad intelligence agent based in Paphos, Cyprus, told WorldNetDaily, “Control of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers is one of the keys to strategic dominance of the region. I have read in the book of Revelation of how ‘the Kings of the East’ with a 200 million-man army will enter the Middle East after ‘the Euphrates has been dried up.’ I can’t say I understand Revelation very well. I am a Jew, not a Christian. But even I have to admit, with the advent of Turkey’s new dam system and the Mediterranean fresh-water pipeline, this prophecy is now, for the first time, possible and even probable.”