Archive for ‘Water’

May 7, 2012

The Importance of Water: The Ancient Key to Power in the Middle East

by Gedalyah Reback

Historically, the Middle East hosted the most well-known empires known to us today. The Assyrians, the Babylonians, the Egyptians and rulers from modern Turkey dominated the region. Rarely if ever was there a power centered in the Land of Israel or Syria that dominated the region. Only with Islam’s Caliphate, centered in 7th century Damascus, did that change. The reason is simply because this area doesn’t have the natural resources to support a large population that Egypt’s Nile or Anatolia’s forests or Iraq’s rivers do. All that is changing today and Israelis should be well aware of it. There are key elements to Israeli technological innovations and its military policies that make it an unprecedented phenomenon in Middle Eastern power.

Water

The main reason Egypt, Anatolia (Turkey) or Iraq have been the homes to the major Middle Eastern powers is because of the access to natural resources. Egypt & Iraq don’t have much in terms of wood or stone – as a matter of fact many of the bricks common citizens used in construction were mud bricks. What they lacked in such things they maintained in water. In the desert Middle East particularly, that has been the fundamental element to power. The Assyrian and Babylonian empires both centered themselves on the Tigris & Euphrates rivers of Iraq. Egypt, of course, has had the Nile. Israel has only the Jordan and it hardly supports a massive population.

But two things have changed the game that give Israel a power advantage. For one, Israel has developed the desalinization industry, converting sea water to fresh drinking water to support a rapidly growing population. Secondly, Egypt and Iraq might be overpopulated. Without this Israeli technology, its use of the aforementioned rivers is excessive. Even though Israel, Jordan & the Palestinians have decimated the health of the Jordan River, desalinization replaces the supply, in fact increasing it and even making Israel a possible exporter of water.

The more Israel increases this resource, the greater its power might become. The fact that producing more water is tied to continuing to develop and refine new technologies also speaks well to the economic power of Israel. This is one of many reasons that Israel’s diplomatic issues and impasse with the Palestinians does not undermine Israel’s strength as much as it would a small state centuries ago.

Navy

Indisputably, that power would be nowhere if it weren’t for the stimulus of Western weapons that have enabled Israel’s modern army. But it’s not just the most capable air force in the Middle East that is giving Israel its might. Israel might control the most powerful navy in Israel’s history. While it has nowhere near the manpower that Turkey has, it does own 4 Dolphin submarines bought from Germany with 2 more on the way. Further, because of Israel’s newly found natural gas wealth resting miles off the coast, its navy is considering an unprecedented build-up of armor to defend against Lebanese and Turkish attacks.

Historically, the empires of the Middle East relied on land power – infantry & cavalry – to conquer and defend. In fact, between 1100 & 1500, the Ayyubid and Mamluk Empires of Egypt had virtually no naval power. The Crusaders had such an advantage that those empires decided to desert the coast of modern Israel and move cities inward, merely to avoid giving their enemies usable ports and a strong foothold on land. Every time a ruler would have the initiative to build a fleet, budget cuts or pressure from conservatives ended the project early. The Ottoman Empire did not repeat this mistake, but they did not possess the power to defeat European naval powers like the Portuguese & Spanish in the early 1500s to stop the rapid expansion of European colonies and thus European power.

With increasing threats from smuggling, terrorists and even Turkey, Israel is on the verge of creating the certifiably strongest navy in Middle Eastern history. Merely maintaining one that can tango with the other powers in the region reads well for Israel’s future in the region, certain to solidify military abilities that historic powers have lacked.

If Israel continues its water projects and rehabilitates the Jordan River & Dead Sea, it would consequently be extending its technological abilities and the ecological health of the country. In so doing, it would enhance the natural strength of the country and the availability of natural resources. If that is an indicator of where countries can go, the Jewish State would theoretically be on the path to becoming, at least on a regional level, a superpower.

February 11, 2011

Israel’s Best Policy Option: Democracy in Egypt

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh the week of the uprising, and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. The united States, after a stumbling start, has positioned itself as the biggest supporter of the demonstrators in the world. The administration does want to be associated with Mubarak as Jimmy Carter was associated with the Shah. Israel has diverted sharply from this position, and been much more extreme its flip-flopping. Israel’s anxiety about the Islamic Brotherhood is guiding its policy, a position that hinged its practicality on the realistic possibility Mubarak would hold on to power.

The Israeli approach, at this point, is far more precarious than that of the Obama Administration. Buffered initially by calls from other Middle Eastern powers like Saudi Arabic to urge a cautious transition in Egypt, the direction of Saudi Arabia’s response to the American stance reduces Israel’s options. Saudi Arabia is now opting for a diplomatic opening with Iran, showing a glaring divide between the US and Saudi Arabia. Any flaring hope Saudi Arabia and Israel would be on the same page has, again, been dowsed.

At this point, the Netanyahu government has to do damage control for its reckless statements early in the process. Initially smart enough to order ministers to keep quiet, it was Bibi himself that dropped the verbiage that angered Egyptians and made Israel out to be a supporter of authoritarianism. Without a sharp and unequivocal turn in Israeli foreign policy, it could find itself isolated from Turkey, Saudi Arabia and Egypt (even if all three countries turn out to be rivals).

As the US aims to move in the opposite direction of its 1979 reaction to Iran’s revolution, so too should Israel consider a counter-intuitive approach. As Ayatollah Khomeini disembarked in Iran after a long exile in Iraq and France, the former president of Syria, Hafez al-Assad, was sending congratulatory messages to the revolutionary leader. He followed up his diplomacy consistently, and offered his congratulations again when a referendum passed the new constitution of the Islamic Republic.

This approach seemed to have been beyond awkward. Syria was then ruled, as it is today, by the Baath party. The Baath is a secular, Arab nationalist party influenced by the socialist doctrines propagated by the Soviet Union. It had the same ideological position as the Iraqi Baath party of Saddam Hussein. In 1980, Hussein invaded Iran, fearing a stabilized religious regime would encourage Iraq’s own Shiite population to revolt (in response to Iraq’s invasion, it made that a cornerstone of Iranian strategy when Iran invaded Iraq in 1982).

However, the Syrian approach was motivated more by its regional isolation and strategic pessimism than by its ideological positions. As of 1979, Syria was for various reasons isolated in the Arab world. Egypt under Anwar Sadat was concluding a peace treaty with Israel. Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Iran were consolidating a strategic alliance supported by the United States. Iraq had cut off its oil pipeline to Syria.

Israel circumstantially faces a similar sort of isolation. For whatever reasons this may be happening, its isolation from Turkey, the still dormant relationship with Iran and the weak relationship with the Egyptian people as of now signal an even heavier dependence on the United States than ever before. Even more acute, the frozen relationship with the Palestinians and lack of exit strategy from its occupying position in the West Bank leave the country needing a new outlook on its surroundings, policies and outreach to its neighbors.

It will take more than a cosmetic change to lift the country’s position in the region permanently. Israel can secure its treaty with Egypt and more by supporting the revolution to the utmost. Concerning Israel’s relationship with the United States, it makes the need more acute. Supporting civil rights will go much further for Israeli security than aligning with the tyrannical forces of Hosni Mubarak or his Vice President Omar Suleiman.

Egypt has no reason to rebuff reinforcing its ties to Israel, and that’s a line that ought to accompany a vocal support from Jerusalem for a democratic Egypt. Israel has the ability to protect a new Egyptian government from Saudi and Iranian intelligence. It can address the country’s burgeoning water crisis by offering desalinization technology in abundance. Israel also has rising ties with African states along the Nile, positioning itself as a mediator between those countries and Egypt.

There are other opportunities as well. From the side of how Egypt’s policies might change, Israel should see this as a chance to foster an array of parties, including long precluded minorities, that would diversify Egypt’s political outlook. The Muslim Brotherhood hardly has a monopoly on Egyptian political philosophy. In fact, Coptic Egyptians may provide an avenue to rekindle relationships between Israel and the Middle East’s embattled Christian populations in Lebanon, Syria and Iraq.

Most importantly, near and long term, a successful Egyptian revolution will increase pressure on Iran. The demonstrations in 2009 are still fresh in the minds of young Iranians, who are watching with envy the fall of autocratic regimes in Tunisia and Egypt. As I write this, Iranian opposition figures are very publicly trying to start a new round of demonstrations in Iran. A democratic flowering there would alleviate the strategic adversity Israelis face in the Middle East, no matter what government would seem to take power in Tehran.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution.

Israel can enable the ideological option in a way Syria could not with 1979 Iran. Considering that ideologically-guided policy would be defined by supporting democracy, it avoids the arbitrariness of dictators. The fears of democracy in Israel are more attributable to near-term developments, not long-term. For whatever difficulties Israel might see with the Palestinians, denying Arab aspirations for civil rights is neither pragmatic nor moral. A different approach, even just to stir up debate in the Middle East about relations with Israel, is beneficial to the Jewish state.

January 31, 2011

Israel Should Pull A Surprise Out of Its Strategic Playbook

by Gedalyah Reback

Prime Minister Netanyahu is categorically wrong in his approach to the Egyptian protests, should never have agreed to military reinforcements’ deployment in Sharm el-Sheikh and risks manufacturing the very scenario the Israeli security establishment fears would result from an Egyptian revolution.


Path of Israeli-built Fence along Egyptian Border to Prevent Breaches by Illegal Immigrants and Smugglers

The 1979 Iranian Revolution is, and no doubt should, shape Israeli and American policy as it is quickly drawn up and implemented vis a vis 2011 Egypt. Unfortunately, a neutral reaction on the part of the United States and a resistance on the part of the Israelis demonstrates that 1) the US would rather remove itself from the situation entirely and 2) the Israeli government sees a stronger hand of support for the allied regime is the best option for Israeli security. The Prime Minister’s comments alongside the German Chancellor demonstrate an inflexibility and paranoia lacking strategic forethought.


The Attitude Israelis Worry would Prevail in a New Egyptian Government

While the American approach is more timid, the Israeli approach being applied by Bibi is far more dangerous and far more likely to backfire. The approach Israel might take ought to come out of the playbook of Hafez al-Assad in 1979. Assad congratulated and embraced the revolutionaries, becoming the most important asset for Iran in its efforts to fend off Saddam Hussein during the Iran-Iraq War.

This seems to be, at the least, a counter-intuitive suggestion. Perhaps it even sounds alarming. However, a democratic Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security Israel’s government, nor change the order of the modern Middle East. Ironically, the peace treaty between Israel and Egypt partially motivated Syria’s outreach to the new Iranian regime (the two events happened in the same year). It was Syria’s isolation in the Arab world in 1979 that convinced it seeking a new ally in an unlikely place would be to its benefit.

Here too, there are some similarities. Israel faces regional isolation, thanks to pressure regarding the peace process and the fallout with Turkey, while Egypt’s next government would have to worry about its longstanding relationship with the Western World. Unlike Syria, Israel can offer more than just itself with a refreshed relationship, it can also offer the relationships of the United States and European Union. The unlikely union between Syria’s Baath Party and Iran’s Shiite Islamist Revolution demonstrates alliances of mutual benefit can be created in the most unlikely situations.

Immediately after the collapse of the Pahlavi monarchy, Assad sent a telegram to Ayatollah Khomeini congratulating him on his success. As quoted in the book “Syria and Iran: Diplomatic Alliance and Power Politics in the Middle East:”

“We proclaim our support for the new regime created by the revolution in Iran. This revolution is inspired by the great principles of Islam. The creation of this regime is in the Iranian people’s greatest interest, as well as that of the Arabs and Muslims.”

Months later after the ratification of the new Iranian constitution, Assad repeated the gesture. Iraq’s, Saudi Arabia’s, Jordan’s and Egypt’s reactions were only cautious, perhaps foreshadowing the devastating Iran-Iraq War.

Be it rhetorically, but all the more preferable in reality, Israel should embrace the path of democratization and publicly congratulate a new Egyptian government and the Egyptian body politic in its successful efforts to advocate nonviolent change. In turn, this could exert pressure on Hamas and Hizbullah while building further momentum for renewed democratic protests inside Iran.

An Egyptian revolution in no way has to constitute the threat Iran’s 1979 revolution did. Indeed, it would be the paradigm for a 2011 revolution. In that, trading Mubarak for a revolution in Iran is far worth it. For anyone saying an Iranian revolution today would not matter as much if Egypt were to develop a hostile approach to Israel, they put way too much faith in the Muslim Brotherhood or xenophobia to take over Egypt. An array of other political forces, be they Christians or be they pragmatists, are just as likely to provide standing for a new government.

A new Egypt does not have to jeopardize Israeli security in regards to Hamas or exert undue pressure on the Israelis to negotiate an unfavorable deal with Fatah. To the contrary, Egypt could utilize Israeli offers to help defend a new government against Syrian, Saudi or especially Iranian intelligence efforts to destabilize it. Israel’s lobbying efforts could make a new government’s establishment of relations with the Western world much smoother. The Jewish state can compensate Egypt for any losses it accrues as Nile Basin African states begin to utilize more of the river’s water via its desalinization technology. It may also invite Egypt to resume its mediating role with Palestinians and perhaps entice a moderated Muslim Brotherhood to persuade Hamas to finally abandon its policies of terrorism.

Let a revolutionary new approach to Egypt characterize a broader strategic mindset on the part of Israel’s foreign ministry. A revitalized relationship with sub-Saharan African and Nile Basin countries would also balance out Israel’s ties with Egypt, or turning the Tunisian and Egyptian uprisings into lightning rods for Iranians. Most importantly, it could serve as the foundation for a new bloc of democratic countries in the region, especially if Iran teeters the way of representative and popular rule. Let the demonstrations in Egypt create an opportunity for Egyptians to openly debate the options of regarding its cold peace with Israel in a way that Mubarak never did. However unlikely these policies would produce positive results immediately, the next few years would likely bear fruit with their implementation.

November 20, 2009

On West Bank Infrastructure, Time to Circumvent the Palestinian Authority

by Gedalyah Reback

The Israeli government is faced with a slew of responsibilities that it seems to either be neglecting, or rejects having an obligation to fulfill. But taking these obligations as opportunities would give the country an opportunity to force the renewal of peace talks without preconditions, or simply steer the peace process in a totally new direction.

Water
Take for instance the problem of water in the West Bank. As reported by the Christian Science Monitor recently, there is a continuing dispute between Israel and residents of the West Bank about water allocation from the area’s main aquifier. (What’s an aquifer?, check here). West Bankers tend to accuse Israeli settlements of cutting into major water resources, drying out springs and wells. But this does not consider the role the Palestinian Authority also plays in some of this diversion, nor does it mean that the Israeli government actually is obligated to create the infrastructure for local water supplies.

But the lack of an obligation is not reason enough to avoid taking the initiative on the issue. Given the precarious strength of the Palestinian Authority, and the strong possibility the West Bank will become a part of Israel (in part or whole), Israel would solidify authority by apportioning more water to more places.

Implementing New Tech on Massive Public Level
Israel’s water treatment infrastructure, mostly via desalinization technology, is allowing Israel to alter Mediterranean salt water into viable drinking supplies, allowing the region’s stressed ecology (such as the low-level Sea of Galilee and Jordan River) to replenish. According to some, the country will be depending on this type of water much more than underground and river sources by 2012.

A Simple Cost Benefit for the Economy and Security
Old ideas, like the creation of a water pipeline from Turkey, are quickly becoming cliche. But the preventative measure in all this is the willingness to commit anywhere from 200 – 400 million shekels per year from now on ($50-100 million) to solve the water shortage problem. Considering the rapid growth of the water industry, and the help clean technologies are getting from economic booster packages worldwide, there will be plenty more cause to make this a cornerstone for Israel in providing the infrastructure in the West Bank and forcing the Palestinian Authority back to the table, or to make good on its threat to collapse.

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