Israel Is Digging Its Own Watery Grave

Why has Israel not learned from history and is instead risking its national security on desalinated water?

Israel's megalomaniac rate of construction of desalination plants, besides increasing poverty and deteriorating public health, has created what may be the greatest threat to its national security.

The havoc created in the aftermath of Israel's recent early winter storm is miniscule in comparison to the potential disaster which this trend could lead to. But there is still time to take the proper steps to avoid widespread damage.

History is replete with examples of water sources being targeted and destroyed during times of war. In 1187, Saladin’s Muslim army vanquished the Crusaders by thirst: They destroyed their sources of water. 804 years later, in the First Gulf War, desalination plants and water supply systems were destroyed by both belligerents; in 1999, the Belgrade water supply system was taken out of commission by NATO bombings, depriving more than 1 million people of water.

The lessons learned from the Gulf Wars have shown the Arab Gulf states that their almost complete dependence on desalinated water is the gravest threat to their national security. With respect to the water security of the Gulf States, Asa Fitch, in an article in the Wall Street Journal last year, wrote:

"The U.A.E. has even considered a plan to bring in fresh glacial runoff from Patagonia in Chile in gigantic bags that would be dragged across the ocean…. The audacity of its scale – illustrates the lengths to which the Gulf countries are willing to go to slake their thirst for resource security."

Until the introduction of desalinated water in 2000, Israel’s drinking water was supplied by Lake Kinneret (30%) and by about 2800 wells. Water security factors were given extraordinary weight in planning the national water supply system in the 1950s and 1960s. Except for some 40 km of open canals, all water is transported in underground pressure pipes, while the three pumps that feed Kinneret water into the National Carrier are protected by their being placed deep in the rock formation abutting the lake. Prior to desalination, Israel's water supply system based on diversified natural water sources was highly resilient to both water terrorism and attack by hostile states.

In August 2012, Israel's Water Authority published the final version of its Master Plan for the country's water economy. According to this Master Plan, by 2020, an astonishingly high proportion - 80% - of the drinking water of the urban sector will be supplied by desalination plants.

If these plans are not changed, Israel will join Middle Eastern countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates in supplying desalinated water to its urban population. In discussing the catastrophic consequences of the UAE's reliance on desalinated water as a main source of drinking water, Chris Lawrence, CNN’s Pentagon correspondent, depicted a grim reality where low level warfare in the Middle East could be more destructive than Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear bomb; that at least, according to Lawrence, would subject Iran to forceful deterrence by other nuclear powers.

Today, Israel has enough natural water for another 15 years, due to the fact that water consumption has dropped to a level registered several decades ago. This by itself in effect makes two large desalination plants redundant.

If Israel does not revert to its secured natural water resources as its major source for its urban population - instead of desalination plants given to destruction by aircraft and missiles - its own government will be held responsible for creating a security nightmare that could have more severe consequences than Iran crossing the nuclear threshold. But unlike the political echelon's volubility regarding the Iranian case, Israel's leaders seem to be sleepwalking silently towards a drinking water disaster.

Dr.Peretz Darr worked for 19 years in the Long Range Planning Unit of TAHAL-Water Planning for Israel and served as head of the Urban Water section. He worked as a consultant to the Water Commissioner with special emphasis on managing the Israeli Water Economy under conditions of Drought. He co-authored the book "The Demand for Urban Water" with S. Feldman and C. Kamen

Israel's desalination plant in Hadera.
Eyal Toueg