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Arab experts predict Mideast water wars

Nov. 13, 2009 at 1:50 PM   |   Comments

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AMMAN, Jordan, Nov. 13 (UPI) -- A Jordanian academic has predicted that Israel will go to war with neighboring Lebanon and Egypt to get their water.

An Arab water expert warns that Yemen's worsening water shortage, which is already causing civil unrest, will bolster extremist organizations that could ignite conflicts with nearby states.

These two views reflect a widely held fear in the Middle East that global warming, dwindling water resources and burgeoning populations will trigger wars over water in the not-too-distant future.

The Jordanian, political science professor Ghazi al-Rababah, was quoted by the Amman newspaper Al-Arab Al-Yawm as saying Israel would first go to war with Lebanon over the Litani River just north of the border with the Jewish state.

David Ben-Gurion, Israel's first prime minister, advocated years before the state of Israel was proclaimed in 1948, that the Jewish state should incorporate the Litani.

Israel diverted water from the Litani during its 1978-2000 occupation of south Lebanon. Al-Rababah said Israel stole "hundreds of millions of cubic meters of water" from the river.

Although Israel is currently seeking to alleviate its worsening water shortage by constructing desalination plants, reportedly scheduled to be fully operational by 2013, al-Rababah declared that Israel would go to war with Egypt, its southern neighbor, within seven years in a bid to control the Nile River.

Amnesty International recently reported that Israel was restricting water supplies to the Gaza Strip, a tiny coastal enclave between the Jewish state and Egypt packed with an estimated 1.5 million Palestinians.

Gaza is ruled by the fundamentalist Hamas movement, which for years has fired rockets and mortars into Israel, and refuses to recognize the Jewish state. Israel has enforced an economic blockade of Gaza for nearly two years.

In response, the Israel Water Authority claims that Israelis have been allocated less water per capita than Arabs since 1967, when they captured the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, the Sinai peninsula and Gaza from Egypt and the Golan Heights, a plateau that is an important water source, from Syria.

Sinai was handed back to the Egyptians under a 1979 peace treaty, the first between an Arab state and Israel.

The other territories remain under Israeli control. Israel signed another peace treaty with Jordan, its eastern neighbor, in 1994, but its monarch, King Hussein, had earlier relinquished any claim to the West Bank, which Palestinians want for an independent state.

The other Arab figure to predict regional conflict over water was Hosny Khordagui, director of the water governance program in Arab states with the U.N. Development Program.

In an interview with The Times of London he warned that the water shortages in Yemen, one of the poorest Arab countries, would cause more crime and violence, with growing support for "fanatical organizations" that could spill over into conflict with other states in the Red Sea and Horn of Africa region.

Earlier this month Saudi Arabia, Yemen's giant northern neighbor, launched a cross-border military offensive against Shiite tribesmen at war with the Yemen government after they allegedly killed a Saudi officer in a frontier raid.

Yemen, the ancestral homeland of Osama bin Laden, also has a growing problem with a resurgent al-Qaida on its territory, which has relaunched attacks on Saudi Arabia and its royal family.

"If they do not find a solution," Khordagui said, "we'll see people encroaching on big cities, the formation of slums, a rise in crime, violence, even fanaticism.

"Fanatics will find very fertile ground to recruit and develop their infrastructure. We have a water shortage which reflects itself in fighting between the people."

However, Professor Aaron Wolf, a water conflict resolution expert at Oregon State University, said water wars between Middle Eastern states are not necessarily inevitable, and even in some cases have provided reasons for collaboration and peaceful resolution of differences.

"Water has certainly been an underlying subtext in the Arab-Israeli conflict," he said. "It has helped define the shape of the political boundaries -- but it's also been an excuse for conversation."

Topics: King Hussein
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