Boutros-Ghali's warning may have been prophetic, for water is reshaping the political landscape of the contemporary Middle East
Water, Energy and the coming Wars .....
In 1991, while still Egyptian Foreign Minister, former United Nations Secretary General Boutros Boutros-Ghali cautioned that the next war in the Middle East could be over water. Boutros-Ghali’s warning may have been prophetic, for water is reshaping the political landscape of the contemporary Middle East.
This is no overstatement. According to a survey conducted by the World Bank in 1996, water availability in the Middle East was deemed to be the worst in the world, a mere fraction of Asian and African levels. These conditions have only worsened, as lingering drought conditions, population growth and resource mis-management have eroded regional resources.
The impact on Middle Eastern nations is ruinous. Syria’s deepening water woes, for example, already substantially affect that country’s main source of revenue, its agricultural sector, and have forced Damascus to enact restrictive water rationing measures. In spite of this, Syria’s water situation is expected to worsen, since at its current rate of growth the Syrian population is expected to double the country’s demand for water in less than two decades. Jordan faces a similar situation. Fed only by underground sources and the Jordan River, Amman is experiencing an escalating water deficit – one expected to reach 250 million cubic meters, nearly 1/3rd of current annual consumption, by the end of the decade. Even Israel, which has long viewed water as a cardinal element of its national security, faces hydrological crisis. Expanding demand, domestic mismanagement and mounting international commitments have stretched the country’s National Water System to its limit, leading officials to warn of an imminent catastrophe.
Not surprisingly, however, the region’s turbulent power politics have impeded any sort of consensus over these dwindling resources. The vast majority of regional agreements, constructed as bilateral diplomatic ententes, fail to address the rights of neighboring countries or the growing needs brought about by social and environmental changes. Those that do, only do so abstractly or implicitly. As a result, hydro-politics now looms large in the strategic calculations of countries in the region, and has emerged as a distinct element of Mideast national security and foreign policy planning.
For Turkey, water represents one of the most important, though least explored, items on the country’s contemporary security agenda. Geographically situated on the headwaters of the Tigris and Euphrates Rivers and enjoying substantial annual rainfall, Turkey is far and away the region’s dominant hydrological power. This position has inextricably linked water to several important elements of Ankara’s Mideast policy – its troubled relationship with Damascus, the problem of Kurdish terrorism, and the evolving strategic relationship with Israel.
The Iraq-Syria equation
Water has been the primary source of tension between Ankara and Damascus since the late 1970s, when commencement of the ambitious Southeast Anatolia development project (the Guneydogu Anadolu Projesi, or GAP) shifted the balance of the power equation among Turkey and her neighbors. Through its extensive manipulation of the Euphrates, GAP has provided Turkey with broad control over regional resources, making it capable of influencing Syrian, as well as Iraqi, water supplies. Despite repeated efforts to allay Syrian concerns (most notably a 1987 Protocol in which Ankara committed to ensuring an average flow of 500cm/sec from the Euphrates), progress on GAP has increasingly underscored Syria’s susceptibility to Turkish water control. The clearest example of this occurred in January of 1990, when Turkey’s temporary diversion of the Euphrates for agricultural purposes left Syria almost wholly without water.
This vulnerability prompted a number of notable developments in Syrian foreign policy. Militarily, Damascus assumed the role of chief broker for the radical Kurdistan Worker’s Party (PKK), using it as a proxy through which to disrupt and destabilize Turkey’s Anatolia region. The overt linkage between the group’s guerrilla activities and the water issue was underscored in the 1987 Protocol, under which Damascus pledged to curb its support for the PKK in return for Turkish water guarantees. But despite this commitment – and the PKK’s subsequent relocation to Lebanon’s Bek’aa valley – Syria remained an active sponsor of the terrorist group throughout the 1990s, using its activities as a tool to impede Turkey’s hydrological development. Syria’s sponsorship of the organization finally fomented a major crisis in October 1998, when the Turkish parliament issued an ultimatum to Damascus, calling for it to curb its support for terrorism or “face the consequences.” Under this intense pressure, the Assad regime capitulated, signing the so-called Adana memorandum and forswearing support for the PKK.
Continued perceptions of vulnerability also prompted Damascus to initiate a series of diplomatic measures aimed at diminishing Turkish hydrological power. In 1996, Syria made an unsuccessful diplomatic bid to acquire Turkish water as a precondition for negotiations with Israel. Damascus repeated this move in the year 2000 round of Israeli-Syrian negotiations; in a bold but failed overture, the Assad regime proposed to compensate Israel with Turkish water for any loss of resources from the Golan Heights – a move that would have simultaneously lessened Turkish power and bound Ankara to Israeli-Syrian agreements.
Finally, water has served as a central factor behind Syria’s deepening strategic coordination with its historic rival, Iraq. In a dramatic break from their longstanding regional competition, in 1990 the two Ba’athist regimes signed the Agreement on the Sharing of the Euphrates, which was primarily intended to counter their common vulnerability to Turkish water control. Since then, despite a temporary rift during the early 1990s (the result of Syria’s participation in the U.S.-led Gulf War coalition), Damascus and Baghdad have grown consistently closer in joint opposition to Turkish water power. In February 2000, common concern over Ankara led the two countries to reestablish formal diplomatic ties for the first time in over a decade. And since the ascension of Bashar Assad to the Syrian presidency in July of 2000, movements toward reconciliation have accelerated, evidenced by a spate of high-level diplomatic contacts and Iraqi visits to Damascus.
For Damascus, this tilt is the logical end result of a series of unsuccessful measures designed to dislodge Turkish control over the Euphrates. Baghdad, for its part, has embraced the idea of a strategic alignment directed against Turkey’s superior hydrological position in the region. With water from the Tigris and Euphrates representing some 95-98 percent of Iraqi industrial/agricultural needs (and close to 85 percent of domestic consumption), the Iraqi government is both acutely aware of Ankara’s hold on its domestic water situation and eager to eliminate Turkey’s leverage.
Both countries are now in the process of making this goal a reality. Since late 2001, Syria and Iraq have commenced joint diplomatic efforts to reopen long-dormant discussions with Turkey regarding the water equation between the three countries. And they appear to be succeeding. Over the past year, in response to mounting diplomatic pressure, the Turkish government has qualified its longstanding policy of sovereign hydrological control and indicated a willingness to reopen long-dormant discussions with Syria and Iraq over the water equation among the three countries.
The Turkish-Israeli entente
Water has also emerged as central element in the evolving strategic dialogue between Ankara and Jerusalem. For Israel, control over water has long been a cardinal security concern, contributing to the outbreak of the 1967 Six Day War and playing a major role in the country’s decision to establish a security zone in Southern Lebanon in the early 1980s. Its importance to the country’s national security doctrine was clearly articulated by the Israeli Ministry of Agriculture’s 1990 declaration that “it is difficult to conceive of any political solution consistent with Israel’s survival that does not involve complete continued Israeli control of… water and sewage systems.”
Not surprisingly, therefore, hydrological cooperation quickly emerged as an important element of the Jewish State’s dialogue with Turkey following the initiation of political contacts in the mid-1990s. In July of 1999, as part of the growing political warmth between Ankara and Jerusalem, then-Turkish President Süleyman Demirel made a landmark offer to supply Israel with water from the Manavgat River. The subsequent memorandum signed between the two countries codified Turkey’s commitment to provide Israel with 50 million cubic meters of water – equivalent to 2.5% of Israel’s annual water requirements – per year.
Nevertheless, a final accord on water cooperation remained elusive. Israeli fears of dependence on extraneous water sources, and Jerusalem’s serious misreading of the significance attached by Ankara to the water issue, served to stall hydrological negotiations between the two countries, with dramatic results. Over a six-month time period in 2000, Israel lost upwards of $5 billion in defense contracts with Turkey – including tenders for advanced attack helicopters and a lucrative $1 billion tank modernization and upgrade program – in a clear manifestation of Turkish displeasure over the stalled hydrological talks between the two countries. As late as the fall of 2001, Israeli delays were prompting Turkish officials to threaten the suspension of additional weapons projects between the two countries.
Since then, Ankara and Jerusalem appear to have reached a tentative accord on the water issue. In October 2002, the two countries formally concluded a 20-year agreement under which Israel committed to purchasing from Turkey 50 million cubic meters of water annually. Nevertheless, implementation of the agreement is still pending, as the two countries remain divided on both the price of the water and its means of delivery.
The Challenge for Turkish Policy
For Turkey, the water issue is thus one of both crisis and opportunity. The tactical alliance becoming visible between Damascus and Baghdad is, quite clearly, a challenge to Turkey’s hydrological position in the region, as is Syria’s continued involvement with the PKK, now known as KADEK. The level of real commitment in Damascus to the 1998 Adana memorandum is a matter of open debate in Turkish national security circles, and officials in Ankara cannot, therefore, rule out the possibility that some future array of circumstances (such as additional GAP development or a further deterioration of Syria’s internal hydrological situation) might again make the extremist group an instrument that Syria would attempt to use to blunt Turkish water power.
Turkey’s future relations with Israel are also likely to be profoundly defined by the water issue. As Turkish officials make clear, hydrological cooperation is seen in Ankara as a test of Israel’s reciprocity in the larger strategic relationship between the two countries. As such, Turkey will continue to look upon the water issue as a barometer of Jerusalem’s commitment to strategic ties. Recent movements toward a durable hydrological relationship are undoubtedly a positive development. However, should this relationship flounder or be handled improperly by the Israeli government, the resulting discord could have a chilling effect on the overall tenor of the Turkish-Israeli strategic dialogue. Conversely, lasting accord on the water issue, and Jerusalem’s recognition of the strategic value placed by Ankara on hydrological cooperation, is likely to spur a revitalization of ties.
In fact, such an agreement could open new vistas for strategic cooperation between Israel and Turkey. Since extensive regional water planning requires commerce and technology stretching across borders, it also requires a political-military structure capable of ensuring its safety and security – a traditional alliance able to deter hostile regimes. Clearly, the Turkish-Israeli strategic entente fits this bill, and an expansion of the strategic dialogue between the two countries could create a defensive shield for regional resources.
This type of alignment, in turn, could lay the groundwork for further regional water development. Lebanon, for example, has the capacity to become a significant regional water producer. With some nine billion cubic meters of rainfall annually, large surface water supplies and additional resources from the Hasbani, Litani and Orontes rivers, Lebanon could potentially be harnessed to meet regional needs. What’s more, Lebanese officials have intimated that they are both willing and able to have their country serve as a regional water source. A pro-Western pivot, one capable of loosening Damascus’ grip over Beirut, could eventually allow Lebanon to regain its independence and develop into such a role.
Above all, in a region where water is rapidly becoming a strategic imperative, an alliance capable of guarding against hostile diplomacy or “water grabs” remains a prerequisite for meaningful cooperation. Such a grouping could serve as a framework for regional water security – one that, over time, might be expanded to include Jordan and other emerging pro-Western states as well.
Furthermore, with the proper political will, and the backing of the United States, such a grouping could bring real hydrological and political change to the region.
The usual historical reference to what is happening in Gaza is the
Holocaust. Most Jews resent Israel being compared to Nazis, but there
are other historical parallels that are more difficult to dismiss.
Twelve hundred years before Christ, The Israelites were warring with the
Philistines. At one point during a deadlock, a giant Philistine named
Goliath called for one Israelite to face him. No soldier volunteered but
David, a shepherd boy, felled Goliath with a stone from his slingshot
and cut off his head.
It turns out that the land occupied by the Philistines was the modern
Gaza strip, north to beyond Ashdod in Israel. And in an ironic reversal,
the Philistines' descendants now play the role of David.
Since the end of the second world war the United States has consistently
backed the wrong party in the Middle East: Iraq against Iran, the
Taliban against the Russians, and Israel against the Palestinians.
American (as opposed to European) politicians have insisted for decades
that the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is irrelevant to other Middle East
issues. Our mistake may stem from an unconscious racism inspired by
irrational Israeli attitudes toward their fellow Semites.
Recently I learned why Israeli anti-Zionists consider the state of
Israel as illegitimate: it's because the very notion of a Jewish state
conflicts with scripture. Genesis implies that the earth from which
Adam was formed was not taken from one place, but from various parts of
the globe. Thus human dignity is not limited to one region, and human
worth has nothing to do with appearance. Since Adam is the common
ancestor of all mankind, the idea of a purely Jewish state is a
rebellion against God. The definition of a Jew as anyone who has a
Jewish mother or converted to Judaism in conformity with Jewish
religious law excludes racism. Moses married a Midianite woman who
became Jewish. And Ruth from whom David, the greatest Jewish King, is
descended, came from the Moabites, traditional enemies of the Jews.
Anti-Zionists consider that the Jewish nation was not created by
Zionists, but was born on Mount Sinai when the Jews adopted the Torah by
saying "let us do and let us hear," and God answered: "This day you
become a people."
Political Zionism was a reaction to the anti-Semitism embodied in the
Dreyfus affair at the turn of the twentieth century. Its founder first
proposed to resettle the Jews in Uganda; then he thought they should
convert to Catholicism. Finally he hit on the idea of a Judenstaat, an
exclusive Jewish state. Both Zionists and Anti-Semites believe all Jews
should be confined in one place.
The Israeli state symbol, the menorah or candelabrum declares "not with
armed force and not with power, but in My spirit." Anti-Zionists affirm
that the Zionist state is the modern "golden calf", where sovereignty
replaced Judaism's lofty ideals, rendering the divine covenant with the
Jewish people null and void. Religious obligations became a private
matter rather than a duty, with divine law subject to the standards of
conduct and ethics set by party and parliament.
Like the founder of political Zionism, Israel's early prime ministers
were non-believers, their claim to the Holy Land based on a Bible which
they considered to be mere folklore. Anti-Zionists accuse Israel's
leaders of ignoring the fact that the Jewish people were exiled by God,
destined to return only at the coming of the Messiah.
In fact, the birth of Israel came about as an invasion authorized by the
international community, represented by the United Nations. But the
Israelis have refused to abide by subsequent United Nations resolutions
that it must renounce land conquered in the 1967 war.
Anti-Zionists stress that violence is not a Jewish tradition or value.
The Jewish people were chosen, not to set an example of military
superiority, but to seek perfection in moral behavior and spiritual
purity. How different is that from Mohammed's determination that his
people submit to the will of Allah that they adopt high moral standards?
For that matter, how different is Hamas "terrorism" from that of early
Hamas, the twenty-first century David, embodies the same socialist
principles of service to the people that inspired the Holocaust
survivors to colonize Palestine. From the beginning Zionism had a
military arm called Irgun, which fought to wrest Palestine from British
occupation so that every Jew could enter the Holy Land. Some of Irgun's
better-known attacks were the bombing of the King David Hotel in
Jerusalem on 22 July 1946, and the Deir Yassin massacre of Palestinians
(together with the Stern Gang) on April 9, 1948.
To finance its activities, Irgun extorted money from Zionist businessmen
and ran bogus robbery scams in the local diamond industry that enabled
victims to recoup their losses from insurance companies. Irgun was
described as a terrorist organization by The New York Times, The Times
of London, the BBC, and prominent world and Jewish figures. In 1946, the
World Zionist Congress strongly condemned "the shedding of innocent
blood as a means of political warfare".
From 1942 to 1948, Irgun was led by Menachem Begin, and notwithstanding
this general opprobrium, it was a predecessor to the Likud party. As
Likud Prime Minister, Begin made peace with Egypt in 1979.
In the late 1980s, during the First Intifada, Israeli governments
encouraged the emergence of the Palestinian religious movement, Hamas,
hoping to weaken the entrenched secular movement, Fatah, led by Yasser
Arafat. Like the United States in its dealings with communist movements
across the world, the Israelis discounted the socialist tradition of
building schools and hospitals and insisting on clean administration
(implemented by the Cuban revolution and eventually emulated in Latin
America). Yet these policies made Hamas the strongest Palestinian
political party, just as it was with the Lebanese Hezbollah.
The modern Goliath is threatened by two Davids, one on its northern and
one on its southern border. Though there were no journalists to report
it, the story of the original David lived down through the ages.
Today's Goliath does all it can to prevent witnesses from reporting its
war with the two Davids, but it too will become history.