Former U.N. Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali, while still a deputy minister in Cairo in 1985, said that the next war in the Near East would not be about politics, but over water. Talking to Joyce Shira Starr, a senior associate at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in the American capital, he went on: "Washington does not take this threat very seriously because everything in the U.S. relates to oil." Curiously, elsewhere in the region, it is maintained that he who controls Near East water resources dominates a large chunk of the world's oil supplies.
Israeli Brigadier-General Zivka Kan-Tor takes a similar view. He was posted as Military Attached to the Southern African region because of a reputation for his incisive analysis of complex strategic issues. "Water," he told me during a visit to his extremely well-guarded Pretoria legation, "has had everything to do with the conflicts of the recent past. The SixDay War was triggered by Egypt blockading the Gulf of Eilat (Aqaba) at Tiran. Similarly, it was Israeli forces straddling Suez that caused Yom Kippur; more water," he said.
So, too, was Syria drawn into the conflict because Israel sat astride Golan and the Mount Hermon watershed. "And if you look at what is happening along almost the entire length of the Nile today, most disputes involving Ethiopia, the Sudan and Egypt, gain, center on water." He did make the point that each time somebody talked policy in Israel these days, security issues were invariably equated to the availability of adequate supplies of water.
General Kan-Tor mentioned one of the last statements made by Rabin before he was assassinated. Speaking on the question of Golan and the possibility of Syrian domination of the heights above Lake Kineret (Sea of Galilee), the prime minister declared that he couldn't see that happening if agreements about water usage were not coupled to iron-clad guarantees. Preferably they should be underwritten by a major power, he said. "The uninterrupted supply of water to the nation is more important than peace,” he concluded; the comment, made off the cuff, is profound. It underscores Israel's sine qua non with regard to any future peace settlement with Syria or, for that matter, anyone else in the region.
Of all the issues facing millions living in the Near East, the most immediate and least understood, is that of the availability of potable water. The entire region is facing a critical shortage because there is simply not enough of it. For instance, there are those who say that if Jordan cannot reach a long-term accord with Israel on the supply of water, Amman could be "dry" in a generation. Dr. John Kolars, the preeminent authority on the subject is not so sure.
Elsewhere, claims and counterclaims have inflamed already. emotional sentiments. The problem is pertinent in the most arid of the world's regions. Israel is involved in a succession of water disputes with Syria, Lebanon and Jordan, as well as with the Palestinian Authority within its own borders. Syria and Iraq, together, are locked in bitter acrimony with Turkey over the flow of the Euphrates. As populations increase at a frightening pace, the equation becomes even more intractable, especially since most of those involved are, if not wary of one another, then downright suspicious.
In his book on the Syrian capital, Mirror to Damascus, which was published 30 years ago, Colin Thubron wrote elegantly about what was then still one of the beautiful rivers of the region, the Barada. "Cool river" he called it. He talked about its sweet waters that had quenched thirst since time began.
No more. When I visited Syria a year ago, the Barada was a river in name only. Its flow had slowed measurably. In central Damascus it was so polluted it stank. Yet, there was a time when the Barada supported hundreds of generations of people in the world's oldest continuously inhabited city. Now Damascenes are dependent on the run-off from the nearby mountains. Aleppo, Syria's second city gets by on water piped from the Euphrates, a month-long camel ride away. Strategists have suggested that the Israelis could destroy both links in a single air strike.1
Other water resources in the region are prone to disputes: Lebanon's Litani and the Orontes; the Yarmuk, which flows southwards out of Syria and yields a healthy 570 million cubic/meters (mcm) a year, though it is seasonal; the Jordan, as well as a variety of subterranean water sources or aquifers which are not only over-utilized, but badly contaminated. In some areas, salinity is many times the accepted level.
And since the Israelis and Palestinians are deadlocked over these and other issues, this scenario, mostly bitter and often contentious, can only get worse. There have been dozens of conferences, symposiums and meetings to try to resolve matters. Very few have led to anything conclusive. The single exception appears to be between Jerusalem and Amman. Progress has been slow, but some advance has been made in implementing the provisions of the October 1994 Treaty.
There is also confusion as to exactly what is going on along the Litani. I went on military patrol along a considerable length of the river with Norwegian soldiers attached to UNIFIL, the U.N. Interim Force in Lebanon, and saw nothing that would indicate that anyone except the Lebanese are drawing water off what in summer is barely a stream. In places you can almost walk across without getting wet. Other reports speak of Israel's having built a tunnel to link up southwards, but I found no evidence of this.
The area through which the Litani flows is both mountainous and rugged. Also, it is being contested militarily by Hezbollah, whose cadres are active in the region. Clearly, a tunnel would involve a substantial engineering effort which could hardly be camouflaged in such a sensitive region. Similarly, if anybody were to lay pipes to drain Litani water these would be spotted in an instant, as would the infrastructure needed to pump it. Certainly Israel is not holding on to South Lebanon for its meager water resources, as one source has claimed.
To understand the full implications of some of the problems facing the Near East, it is essential to view matters in a global context. While water is the world's most abundant resource, most of it is in the oceans (70 percent of the earth's surface is covered with water and 97 percent of that is seawater). Of the remaining freshwater (3 percent of the globe's total liquid resources) roughly nine-tenths is locked in ice caps, glaciers, the atmosphere, soil or deep aquifers. Consequently about 13 percent of what is left (or less than one half of one percent) is drinkable. And barely a single percentage point of all that is .in the Middle East and North Africa (including the Nile).
In the entire region, the most severely affected area is Gaza. Increasingly, critics have warned that Gaza's entire water supply in an area of 200 square miles fringing the Mediterranean is at serious risk. Some is unacceptable because of its salinity. Also, it has been polluted by effluent and human waste seepage, largely because of inadequate sanitation. There is also the problem of seawater entering the aquifer because of over-utilization. Affected are almost a million people, many of them refugees. A large proportion are living more than 100,000 to the square mile in single-story housing.
The World Bank, in a report published in March 1996,2 stated that the situation in Gaza "is more acute than anywhere else in the world." Gaza residents, according to John Hayward, its director of agriculture and water-resources management, "have access to 15 gallons of water per person per day, a very different situation from the West Bank where the figure is 40 gallons pppd." The situation had become untenable, he stated.
Earlier, issues had been exacerbated by a Knesset economics committee3 statement that "Gaza must solve its shortages with water from the Nile, not from Israel." In Cairo some observers regarded that comment as war talk (more on that later).
Crucially, population growth and associated water use have reduced the limited per-capita water supply in Gaza to a third of its 1960s level. More significant, with the population in the region growing at more than 4 percent a year, these resources are expected to halve over the next 30 years.
Other parts of the Near East are similarly affected. Jordan and Yemen have been withdrawing 25 to 30 percent more from aquifers than is being replenished. "They are destroying their capital by mining groundwater," the World Bank states.4 In Gaza this resource is being mined even faster.
Elsewhere, almost unnoticed, a rumbling crisis has developed between Syria and Turkey. Daniel Pipes, editor of Middle East Quarterly, has gone on record5 as saying that "the Turkish-Syrian border could unexpectedly and rapidly become a crisis point." A leading Arab expert on Turkey, Mohammad Nureddeen warned in the pan Arab al-Hayat that tensions continue to mount. "There has even been talk of hostilities between the two countries," he declared. The Mideast Mirror said: "The main areas of dispute are familiar - water, Kurdish 'terrorism' and Alexandretta/Hatay - but with tensions and mutual suspicion growing fast, the Turks have begun to talk openly of war."
This situation continues to deteriorate. One report, attributed to the Turkish general staff, judged that Turkey would have the military edge in any conflict that might develop. "The topography would also work to its advantage, largely because the plains on the Syrian side of the border would be harder to defend than the hilly terrain to the north of the frontier," it said.
The report touched on how the network of dams and irrigation canals in Turkey's southeast Anatolia Project –Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi or GAP - could be used to prevent a Syrian armored advance and suggested that water be released from dam reservoirs into the project's hundreds of artificial lakes and canals, flooding the region. This step would hold up any Syrian tank advance and enable Turkey to rely on its air superiority.6
These days, a visitor to the frontier between Turkey and Syria at Jerablus will encounter much frustration and tension. Because of formidable border defenses on the Turkish side –including hundreds of miles of minefields, watchtowers, razor wire fences, radar and ground sensors, as well as electronic eavesdropping devices - no cameras are permitted. The Israeli influence is manifest; in places the precautions were reminiscent of the security fence along the Lebanese border in north Galilee.
Part of the problem stems from the fact that Turkey's Anatolia Province is densely populated by Kurds, and Syria has provided safe haven to Kurdish militants attached to the Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK). PKK leader Abdallah Ocalan enjoys the protection of President Hafiz al-Asad. Many attacks on Turkish targets emanate from Syria. Western diplomats in early 1998 said that Syrian border violations had increased, prompting Turkey to reinforce its garrisons in the southeast.
Syria's official position is that there is good reason to support the PKK. The first concerns Euphrates water issues, which involve Turkey's building dozens of dams across one of the great rivers of the region. This is not only illegal, maintains Asad, but it restricts the flow into Syria. The other is Turkey's purported illegal occupation of Hatay Province (formerly known as Alexandretta), which was detached from Syria when that country was part of the French mandate. In effect (though you won't find anyone in Paris admitting to it today) Hatay was handed over to prevent the Turks from acceding to Nazi advances during World War II.7
The key to Ankara's GAP program is the construction of 22 dams and 19 hydroelectric projects, which, ultimately (at a cost of $32 billion, much of which still needs to be found) will revolutionize life for the inhabitants of a region half the size of Britain. Most of this will be sited on the Euphrates, though the Tigris basin will have its share. At present, says the Turkish government, there are 3.5 million people living in Anatolia; this figure will grow to about 10 million in a decade.
The parameters of the project are awesome. It involves developing 4.2 million acres and will include the provision of 17 billion kilowatt hours of electricity annually with installed capacity of 7,500 million watts. All of it will take place in what is known as "the fertile crescent," which could become another breadbasket. Ultimately, the project will account for almost a quarter of economically irrigable Turkey, though with the country's economy in decline and Turkish currency devalued, there are going to be delays.
Viewed on this scale, perhaps, it understandable that Syria is furious. Iraq, further downstream, is also concerned. More dependent on the Tigris than the Euphrates, Saddam Hussein (with other problems on his mind) does not regard the issue as threatening as Syria does, though once the dams start filling, the depleted flow will affect Baghdad as well.
The Turks maintain that they are justified in going ahead with their scheme. They argue that 70 percent of the water in the Tigris/Euphrates basins originates in Turkey and that they plan to use less than a quarter of it. Ankara reckons that it will increase the level of income in the region fivefold and benefit everyone, Iraq and Syria included. Preliminary plans did include putting several Syrian cities on the Anatolian power grid, but right now Damascus wants none of it. Power can also be switched off and, Asad is on record as having stated that this would allow Ankara powerful leverage on Syrian politics.
Turkish hydrologists point to the fact that the annual run of the Euphrates at the Turkish-Syrian border is about 33 billion cubic meters (bcm). The dams, says Ankara, will cause the year-round flow to even out instead of resulting in floods with each spring thaw; the maximum flow in April can be as high as 5,200 cubic meters per second and drop to as low as 180 ems in September. The Tigris, in contrast, has an annual flow of about 20 bcm. For comparison, the average flow of the Nile is given as 84 bcm, though, like the other two rivers, this can vary according to seasonal rain/snowfall in catchment areas.
Syria has been vociferous about Turkey's riverine development programs. In October, 1997, a joint Syrian-Iraqi water committee called on Ankara to join talks for a "final accord" on the sharing of the disputed waters. This was something new. For decades it had been Ankara that had been trying to tie down the other two in an attempt to thrash out the fine print.
In a letter to the Cairo-based Arab League, the Iraqi foreign ministry said: "Turkey is trying to dominate the two rivers and prevent Syria and Iraq from irrigating land that has relied on the two water resources since the dawn of history." This followed Ankara's disclosure in 1997 of its plan to build the 1,200 M.W. Ilisu dam and hydroelectric scheme on the Tigris. Both Syria and Iraq warned Western participants of Arab retaliation should they get involved, though it was hardly the first time that foreign firms had been threatened.
None of this should have happened. Iraq, Syria and Turkey are members of a tripartite technical committee that is supposed to review Euphrates water issues on a routine basis. It has not met since 1992. Syria blames a Turkish boycott.8
An official at the Syrian Irrigation Ministry, Abdel Aziz al-Masri reiterated Syrian accusations that Turkey had been polluting Euphrates waters since 1995, "thus affecting the environment and causing new diseases that were not there before." He said that because of Ankara's actions, here was "now a high level of salinity, industrial and chemical as well as wastewater, and that irrigating land with such water will destroy it in one season."
For their part, the Turks say that such talk is nonsense. They also reject fears that newly irrigated land in Turkey might need more water than predicted, or a different mix of crops might be chosen that could result in higher water expectations. Part of the problem, says Ankara, is that Syrian irrigation methods date back 4,000 years to Summerian times. In a bad year this can cause as much as 50 percent evaporation. They say it is not acceptable because such practices lead to a high level of salinity in the ground and an increase in the level of soluble gypsum deposits, both of which impede farming.
It is notable that both Iraq and Syria have always been ahead of Turkey in the development of irrigated agriculture: by the mid-sixties, Iraq was irrigating more than five times as much land as Syria and nearly ten times as much as Turkey.9
What has become clear from the dispute (and the hyperbole that has flowed from it) is that the differences between Turkey and the two Arab states are essentially about regional power and not water. It is about who controls the flow and, at the core of it, the economy of an entire region. Turkey, it is feared, might use its reservoirs as a weapon. The argument is valid. In times of tension, the storage capacity behind the GAP dams might be manipulated in order to deprive Syria and Iraq of water.
The reaction from Ankara, though guarded, is one of resignation. As a foreign ministry spokesman declared: "conditions- and alliances - they change all the time."
He pointed to the fact that in the sixties it was Iraq and Syria that opposed Turkey's admission to NATO. Ten years later, Turkey and Syria joined forces to oppose Iraqi military actions. The eighties brought another shift when Turkey and Iraq tended to band against what was termed "Syrian military aggression." The nineties emerged with a Turkish/Syrian alliance in Operation Desert Storm. Now it is former blood enemies Asad and Saddam that are in cahoots against Turkey.
It is noteworthy that the first time the two Arab states talked of the possibility of a "water war" was when the Turks started to build the Ataturk Dam, a massive project only recently completed. It is the fourth largest structure of its kind in the world. The reservoir that it impounds has a storage capacity of about 45 bcm. In contrast, Lake Nasser on the Nile, is twice as large.
Still, a question sits on the table: can it authoritatively be said that Turkey has acted illegally in going ahead unilaterally with its GAP project? While both sides have their protagonists, there are several reasons why Ankara appears to have the edge. First, there are fluctuating political allegiances among the riparians involved. Invariably one is threatening another. Second, the issues have been very carefully examined by a host of professionals. Rarely has Turkey been found wanting.
One of these is American professor emeritus John Kolars, who last November was involved in a State Department think tank simulation of "what if..." on the Euphrates.10 After careful study, Kolars' conclusion was that "the Turkish dams had been found efficient by internationally renowned scholars due to their effective reservoirs, low evaporation loss and geographical and topographical characteristics."
There is another aspect which has a bearing on the subject: the Orantes, a smaller river with Syrian headwaters, which eventually makes its way into Turkey. The Orontes first passes through Lebanon and finally reaches the Mediterranean on the Turkish coast. In many ways, the issues here are linked to the dispute over the GAP dams. While not a big waterway (1.2 bcm a year), it has always been an important source of water for a fairly large region, in this case Turkey's disputed Hatay Province. This is no longer the case.
Syria drains off so much of the Orontes that only 10 percent of the flow is left by the time it crosses into Turkey. Soon, with two new dams being built in Syria, that flow will be 2 percent. Moreover, of the total 210-mile length of the river, only the first 20 miles is Syrian (compared to Lebanon's 70 miles and Turkey's 120). Yet the basis of the argument put forward by both Syria and Iraq is that since the three nations enjoy about an equal share of the length of the Euphrates, each should be entitled to a third of the water. In the Levant, double standards tend to prevail.
As Brigadier-General Kan-Tor has said, one needs to listen very carefully to statements made by Israeli leaders these days, especially those that emanate from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Water in the Holy Land has suddenly become a rather emotional issue.
Israel derives 80 percent of its 600 mcm of water from three aquifers that originate in what it calls Judea and Samaria, the West Bank. The Western aquifer (which flows to the coast) and provides Tel Aviv with much of its needs, produces more than half. The northern aquifer extends from Jenin to the Mt. Gilboa area and gives the Jezreel Valley and Beit Shean what it needs with a yield of 140 mcm a year. The eastern aquifer has the potential to supply 170 mcm, or about 50 percent more than its current output.
With the Palestinian Authority (PA) dominating large areas that were formerly controlled by Israel, there are fears that there will now be a spate of uncontrolled well-drilling, which could eventually disrupt or contaminate the flow.11 Former Labor agriculture minister Yaacov Tzur said in a public statement that "if the Palestinians (continue to do this) they will take away our water. It's as simple as that." Tzur's statement was made for the gallery. Anyone who understands the geological· structure of the region is aware that it is very hard to drill a karasic limestone foundation. The filters clog very readily. The underground water will flow as it always has.
For their part, the Palestinians argue that they should be able to drill as and where they please. After all, it is their land. And in any event, water and land are inseparable, they maintain. Critics of this contention have pointed out that both international law and Arab customary law acknowledge traditional usage as primer inter pares. Palestinian claims to the exclusive use of those aquifers has no basis in law. Tzur's comment was prompted by Palestinian unwillingness to cooperate on the matter. Left long enough, the Israelis reckon, two of the three aquifers will be overextended and the salinity level will be irrevocably increased if drastic steps are not taken immediately.
In contrast, the Palestinians maintain that their people use only a fraction of the water that the Jewish community has at its disposal. They back their argument with figures: the average family in Haifa or Tel Aviv uses 100 cubic meters of household water per family compared to the Palestinian's 40 cm (and California's 200). In his statement, Tzur asserted that Israel would maintain water supervision over areas from which the IDF withdraws, largely to ensure that Palestinians do not tap groundwater without approval. Jerusalem also demands the right to certify the quality of the water and the disposal of sewage in the autonomous region. Both points have been rejected by the PA. What is of consequence is that pollution is at least as serious a problem for the underground water as sharing. The Palestinians could unwittingly pollute Israel's drinking water. In that limestone foundation it would be impossible to clean up.
Even more radical was Tzur's (and his successor's) demand that Israel (and not the PA) supply water directly to Jewish settlements and that major Jewish communities in Palestinian areas have separate lines to Mekorot (the Israeli water authority). Some of Yaser Arafat's followers say that this is absurd- and a waste of money. It is not Palestinian security that is threatened, the Israelis counter. And so the argument goes on. There was much concern, especially in Washington, that the gap between the two positions over such a sensitive matter led to a breakdown on the first day of water negotiations. Since then the situation has eased, but some of the problems are unresolved.
Clearly, desalination of seawater must be the solution of the future for this region, but it is expensive. Hydrologists reckon that a significant program to provide all Israeli and Palestinian needs, implemented over several decades, would cost about $60 billion. A simple project to supply about 250 mcm/year requires a $1 billion investment (never mind energy costs), and, most important of all, clean seawater. This is not as easy as it sounds. You only have to fly over the Lebanese coast - as I have done on several occasions while with UNIFIL - to see how filthy the Eastern Mediterranean has become. Along some parts of the Lebanese coast, raw sewage is being pumped directly into the sea.
Israel is equally culpable. Several large Israeli industrial companies have been accused of creating health hazards by dumping waste into nearby rivers and the Mediterranean. Sewage, heavy metals, pesticides and fertilizers from Haifa Chemicals and Electrochemical Industries, Ltd. (formerly Frumarom) in Acre have been cited by Greenpeace Mediterranean. They also point to firms dumping waste and piping waste water into the Kishon River, which, they say, is more polluted than any other Israeli river. "It is far worse than the Yarkon River," said a spokesman for the organization. Pollution in the Yarkon caused the death and illnesses of Australian Maccabiah athletes last year.
This was followed by a statement from a government spokesman who said that there is a very serious problem in Haifa Bay. "Many months of the year [bay waters] are brown and they smell. Once they were blue and clean," he declared.
Tests done on dolphins that had either been caught in nets or were washed up showed that everyone had high concentrations of carcinogenic heavy metals in its system. Another report indicated the presence of large quantities of mercury in the beach sediment around the waste flow of Electrochemical Industries.
According to a World Bank study, desalination costs between $1.60 and $2.70 per cubic meter, given existing technology and resources. Makers of the equipment claim lower prices but these do not cover hidden costs. At a recent conference at Herzeliya, spokespersons for Mekorot insisted that desalination be delayed. First, they said, they needed to reclaim the country's waste water for agricultural use and transfer all potable water to the domestic arena. This route, they argued, would yield as much as 550 mcm in seven years, though that would entail improving municipal water infrastructures.
A Mekorot study also recommended reducing Israeli household water consumption by about a quarter, though with Gaza on the brink of a catastrophe and the Palestinians demanding proportionality, it is difficult to see how this is possible, even in the long-term.
One answer might be the Mediterranean/Dead Sea canal scheme, known colloquially as the Med-Dead project. This involves pumping 1,600 mcm of seawater over a period of 20 years to restore the historical level of the Dead Sea (it is dropping by more than two feet a year because of the National Water Carrier and the Ghor Canal offtake) and match its rapid evaporation with 1,200 mcm/pa thereafter. The reverse osmosis process could provide both Israel and Jordan with 800 mcm/pa for drinking, with gravity flow supplying some of the power. It is a remarkably expensive venture, but Jerusalem is weighing that option.
At the heart of the water issue in a very volatile comer of the globe are all the water resources of the Golan Heights and Mt. Hermon, which, together, separate Israel and Syria, though not on the boundary lines that were in place 50 years ago. Adam Garfinkle, executive editor of The National Interest says: "When one speaks of about water from Golan/Hennon, that's everything."12 Almost all the water in the Jordan River, he states, originates from Hennon. "It is critical where the survival of the nation is concerned."
On the Yarmuk River (which is the border between Jordan and Syria from its start) and which "weighs in" at about 570 mcm/yr on average, Dr. Garfinkle stresses that it is the only uncontrolled surface water source in the area. "If it could be controlled," he says, "three things would happen: First, Jordan's water balance would improve considerably; second, Israel would no longer be able to draw 'ownerless water' that has been Israel's by right according to the Gardiner formula of 1955; and last, the level of the Dead Sea would drop even faster, making the notion of a bi territorial seas canal (first proposed by Max Bourcart to Herzl in 1899) more pressing."
Before 1994, Israel would not grant Jordan the right to dam the Yarmuk, partly to retain the "ownerless water," partly as pressure on Jordan for a formal peace, and also because Syria, an upstream riparian (with 80 percent of the river's catchment area on its soil) would not acknowledge Israel's downstream rights.
The problems right now, according to Garfinkle, are mainly technical and financial. "But it also has to do with the cost effectiveness of building small dams and weirs, as against canals, tunnels and pumping stations to use Lake Kineret as a reservoir for Jordanian water," he says. And that, in turn, means that Jordan is privately uneasy about the prospect of an Israeli withdrawal from Golan because the de facto border today is the wadi Raqqad, which is the major seasonal feeder to the Yarmuk. "The Syrians could dam it if they had unfettered access to it," Garfinkle told me.13
But even here there have been developments. Syria and Jordan have reached an accommodation to build a hydro-electric dam along their common border on the Yarmuk at a cost of about $420 million. Situated in the upper reaches of the river, Israel's resources are unlikely to be affected by the proposed project which the Netanyahu government accepts as a fiat accompli for the future. While the dam will limit the flow into Kinaret to begin with, a press statement from Meir Ben-Meir, the Israeli water commissioner, stated that long-term water supplies to Israel would be unaffected. Obviously, things might change should the security situation between Israel and Syria suddenly deteriorate. It is clear, though, simply by going ahead in such a sensitive area, that both Arab states are counting heavily on Israel's not wanting to harm its already tenuous relations with Amman.14
There are very complex issues in the balance. Many of them are considered basic to the survival of the Jewish state. Shimon Peres, while still prime minister, made a statement that went unnoticed.15 "We have two lakes," he said. "One is dead (the Dead Sea), and if we relinquish the other (Kineret) it will be suicide." To reinforce the thrust of this statement, the then foreign minister, Ehud Barak, said shortly afterwards in an interview on Army Radio Galei Zahal: "We don't want to see Syrian feet in the Kineret."
And then there is the Nile, which Ronald Bleier examined in great detail in an earlier issue of Middle East Policy.16 He left one issue unaddressed. Why is Egypt so determined to go ahead with its Sinai water projects in the face of good advice to the contrary? Mubarak is also flaunting Egyptian public opinion. This can be dangerous considering Egypt's undercurrent of domestic tensions. It is necessary, too, to question the logic of proceeding with a project that might be of some economic advantage to Israel. The pipeline that Egypt has built stretches all the way to an area adjacent to Gaza's El Arish. Now there is talk of pushing it through still further.
This is an unusual development. Israel for many years was the implacable enemy of all Egyptians. And while there is an uneasy peace between the two countries now, even the Americans have to concede that the measure of mistrust between Jerusalem and Cairo is palpable.
One answer could stem from the same reason that Asad gave when he rejected Turkey's offer of involving Syria in the multi-billion-dollar Anatolian water project.17 Similarly, critics argue, if diverted Nile waters result in a large proportion of Israel's Palestinian community becoming dependent on Egyptian goodwill (Gaza, especially, where the situation is already critical), President Mubarak might end up with powerful political leverage. Perhaps that is exactly what he is aiming for. Even his enemies acknowledge that Mubarak is a shrewd and, when he has to be, a ruthless visionary. He would then, as an Israeli strategist18 at Tel Aviv's Moshe Dayan Institute phrased it, "have pushed us into a comer from which we might not be able to extricate ourselves because the taps would be on the other side of the Suez Canal." Should that happen, my source indicated, there would almost certainly be another war.
1 Jane's International Defense Review, London, May l997.
2 Hillel Kuttler, The Jerusalem Post, March 24, 1996, p. 2.
3 "Knesset Calls for Water Control," Mideast Mirror, January 18, 1994.
4 From Scarcity to Security, The World Bank, Washington, DC, December 1995.
5 "Euphrates Power Generates New Tension," Financial Times, February 15, 1996.
6 "Syrian-Turkish Relations 'deteriorating..."' Mideast Mirror, PIO, February 1, 1996.
7 Greg Shapland, Rivers of Discord, Hurst & Co., London, 1997.
8 Global Water Report, Issue 34, November 6, 1997, FT Newsletters.
9 Kienle, E. Baath v. Baath: The Conflict between Syria and Iraq, 1 968-1989, London, 1990.
10 Author's personal communication; Dr. Kolar's letter, November 20, 1997.
11 "No Immediate Solution on Tap," Mideast Mirror, p. 5, July 21, 1997.
12 Author's personal communication; Dr. Garfinkle's letters, November 24 and December 1, 1997.
14 The Jerusalem Post (International Edition), May 30, 1998.
15 "Chances of Golan Deal Fail to Dampen Talk," Mideast Mirror, January 15, 1996.
16 Ronald Bleier, "Will Nile Water Go to Israel? North Sinai Pipelines and the Policy of Scarcity," Middle East Policy, Vol. V, No. 3, September 1997.
17 Jane's Intelligence Review, London, January 1988.
18 Personal source who requests anonymity because he/she is involved in ongoing discussions with Egyptian colleagues.