Tag: water

ISRAEL’S MILITARY POST-“ARAB FALL”: BEYOND ARROW AND IRON DOME, OFFENSIVE CAPACITY STRENGTHENED — IRAN A CONTINUING CONCERN, AND NAVY NOW FOCUSES ON GAS-FIELD DEFENCE

We welcome your comments to this and any other CIJR publication. Please address your response to:  Ber Lazarus, Publications Chairman, Canadian Institute for Jewish Research, PO Box 175, Station  H, Montreal QC H3G 2K7 – Tel: (514) 486-5544 – Fax:(514) 486-8284; E-mail:  ber@isranet.org

 

 

 Download an abbreviated version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Israel Plans Military 'Revolution' to Face New Regional Threat: Jonathan Marcus, BBC, 12 July 2013—Israel's armed forces – the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East – are changing. Older tanks and aircraft will be retired. Some 4,000 – maybe even more – professional career officers will be dismissed. A range of other changes over the next five years are intended to make the Israeli military leaner but more effective.

 

Threats to Israeli Aircraft over Iran: James Dunnigan, Strategy Page, July 27, 2013—Iranian military leaders were relieved at the recent election of the “moderate” Hassan Rowhani to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Rowhani is known to be a superb negotiator and someone you can reason with. Ahmadinejad was neither of those things and his constant and hysterical threats to Israel made war with Israel an ever increasing possibility.

 

IDF’s Druze Battalion Tests New Techniques for Fighting Hezbollah: IDF Blog, July 4, 2013—The battalion developed techniques for fighting Hezbollah, based on years of experience operating in Israel’s northern border region; the new methods were tested in a battalion-wide exercise last week.

 

Israeli Technology Turns Air Into Drinking Water for Troops: NoCamels, Feb. 28, 2012—Military troops around the world, no matter where they are instated, know that even with the best training, personnel and arms, they cannot survive battle if they are lacking one vital thing: water. Among the concerns of military heads is  to ensure water sources are always available, even in the most arid of places.

 

On Topic Links

 

The Evolution of Israeli Military Strategy: Asymmetry, Vulnerability, Pre-emption and Deterrence: Gerald M. Steinberg, Jewish Virtual Library, October 2011

IAF's Flying Camel Squadron: Drones not Always Best: Linda Gradstein, Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2013

IDF Ground Forces Launch Groundbreaking Battle Lab: Yael Zahavi, IDF, Jan 17, 2013

Israel’s Military-Entrepreneurial Complex Owns Big Data: Matthew Kalman, MIT Technology Review, July 11, 2013

Gaza Crossing Weekly Report: COGAT/Israel Ministry of Defence, July 20, 2013

Israel’s Skylark Spy Plane: Ultimate Weapons-Robotics. Discovery Channel. Video

Inside an Israeli Defense Lab: Popular Mechanics.

 

 

ISRAEL PLANS MILITARY 'REVOLUTION'
TO FACE NEW REGIONAL THREAT

Jonathan Marcus

BBC, 12 July 2013

 

Israel's armed forces – the most powerful and best equipped in the Middle East – are changing. Older tanks and aircraft will be retired. Some 4,000 – maybe even more – professional career officers will be dismissed. A range of other changes over the next five years are intended to make the Israeli military leaner but more effective. Elements of the plans were set out by the Israel Defense Forces' Chief of Staff, Benny Gantz, earlier this week. Once implemented, they promise what some analysts have described as "a revolution" in Israel's military affairs.

 

In part, of course, this is all about money. The defence budget in Israel is under growing pressure – social protest has erupted on Israel's streets too. Significant cuts have to be made. This is one reason why units equipped with older tanks like derivatives of the US M60 will be disbanded, as well as some Air Force units with older aircraft that are much more expensive to maintain. Streamlining the career military may also save funds in the long run.

 

But what is really going on here owes less to budgetary pressures and more to the dramatic changes that are under way in the strategic geography of the region around Israel.

 

The Arab world is living through an upheaval that shows no sign of ending. The big military players like Egypt, Syria and Iraq are either facing political uncertainty, full-scale civil war, or have been exhausted by invasion and more than a decade of bitter internal violence.

 

The Israeli military's five-year plan has been postponed over recent years – partly due to the budgetary uncertainty and partly due to the dramatic changes sweeping across the region. As retired Brig Gen Michael Herzog, a former head of IDF Strategic Planning, told me: "The prospect of a conventional war breaking out between the IDF and a traditionally organised Arab army is now much less than in the past. However, the risk from non-state actors, of asymmetric warfare, and greater unrest along Israel's borders (with the exception perhaps of Jordan) is increasing and it is these threats that the Israeli military has to plan for."

 

So what will change ? Gen Herzog says there will probably be fewer tanks, but this goes much further than simply changing the IDF's order of battle. There will be a much greater emphasis upon intelligence and cyber-warfare. Given the instability in Syria, there will be a new territorial division covering the Golan front. There will be significant investment in the capacity to strike deep into enemy territory and to improve the co-ordination between air and ground forces.

 

There will be an even greater emphasis upon speed and the deployment of weapons that can strike targets rapidly and with great accuracy. The use of the Tamuz system, a highly accurate guided missile, during recent months against sporadic fire coming from Syrian positions is a pointer to the types of weaponry that will be more important in the future. Tamuz is actually a relatively old system, recently declassified, but its successors will play an important part in Israel's new order of battle.

 

"The Israeli military concept has always been to shorten the duration of any conflict, but this has become more important than ever before because of the growing missile arsenals of groups like the Lebanese Shia movement Hezbollah, which means the Israeli home-front is under threat like never before," Gen Herzog told me.

 

Israel already deploys a variety of defensive measures like the Arrow and Iron Dome anti-missile systems, but improving its offensive capability is seen as the key to managing the tempo and duration of any future conflict. By and large, Gen Herzog welcomes the new military plan. However, he says that "there are of course risks during any period of transition".

 

Budget constraints mean that in the short-term training is being cut back. This, he notes, "is the easiest way to save money in the short term". He points to the IDF's problems in Lebanon in 2006 as an example of an army that had spent too little time training for large-scale manoeuvre warfare. "Training is definitely down this year, but is set to rise in future years," he says, adding: "This is a risk albeit a calculated one."  Nonetheless, the assessment among the Israeli High Command is that this risk is bearable, given the disarray afflicting its Arab neighbours.

 

In Egypt, the peace treaty with Israel may not be popular but the Egyptian army is wedded to it, not least as the ticket that opens the way to large-scale US military aid.

Israeli soldier during military drill Budgetary constraints mean that military training will be cut back in the short-term Iraq is no longer a serious military player. Syria is in crisis and the regime's future remains in doubt. Instability and uncertainty characterise Israel's strategic environment with the risk of rapid escalation that could see conflicts on a number of fronts.

 

Many military analysts accept that reform is justified. Perhaps the greatest risk is that the government will not make good on future defence spending pledges and this ambitious programme could just look like retrenchment. Of course the Iranian nuclear challenge remains a potential threat, against which Israeli Air Force planners in particular are building up their capabilities.

 

New missions, too, are fast emerging, not least for the Israeli Navy which must now protect gas field installations off-shore which promise to make the country self-reliant in energy terms for a considerable period.

Contents

 

 

THREATS TO ISRAELI AIRCRAFT OVER IRAN

James Dunnigan

Strategy Page, July 27, 2013

 

Iranian military leaders were relieved at the recent election of the “moderate” Hassan Rowhani to replace Mahmoud Ahmadinejad as president. Rowhani is known to be a superb negotiator and someone you can reason with. Ahmadinejad was neither of those things and his constant and hysterical threats to Israel made war with Israel an ever increasing possibility. This was made worse by the growing threat of Iran developing nuclear weapons. Ahmadinejad also liked to boast of how well prepared Iran was to kick Israeli ass if it ever came to a fight. Iranian military leaders cringed at this because they knew that the military power Ahmadinejad was boasting of was largely an illusion.

 

The constant stream of boastful press releases put out by the Iranian military were for building domestic morale, not to describe any real improvements in Iranian military capabilities. The Israeli’s knew this, as did Ahmadinejad (well, he was told) but the numerous threats against Israel caused the Israelis to threaten right back. The problem was that Israel was much more capable to attacking Iran than Iran was in defending itself.

While Israel has a huge stockpile of fuel, ammo, and other supplies for wartime (about 30 days’ worth), Iran has very little. While Iran pumps a lot of oil, it doesn’t have the refineries to produce much aircraft grade fuel. Iran has few smart bombs, missiles, and, well, not much of anything compared to Israel.

 

Israel can put over 500 aircraft (mostly F-15s and F-16s) a day (as in sorties) over Iran. That’s in addition to more than twice as many for any short range threat. Israel has over 25,000 smart bombs and missiles (not counting smaller missiles like Hellfire). Within a few days this Israeli air power could destroy what little Iran has in the way of major weapons systems (armoured vehicles, aircraft, warships, and weapons research and manufacturing facilities). Worse, the earlier claims of Iranian military strength would not only be exposed as false but greatly diminished from what they actually were before the Israelis came by. Iranian military leaders did not want this to happen, although the senior clerics of the religious dictatorship that rules Iran saw a positive angle to an Israeli attack; it would rally all Iranians behind the generally disliked government.

 

The Iranian problem is that three decades of sanctions has made it impossible to replace obsolete and worn out gear or even maintain the elderly systems they have to rely on. Thus, the best defences (anti-aircraft missiles and jet fighters) against an Israeli attack are largely absent. What is available is ancient and probably ineffective against Israeli SEAD (Suppression of Enemy Air Defences) capabilities.

 

For example, Iran has been having increasing problems keeping its 1970s era F-5s flying. The ones that are still flying tend to crash a lot, or not be available for use because of maintenance problems (including spare parts shortages). Spare parts for all U.S. aircraft Iran still uses have been hard to come by. Iran has managed, sort of. Nevertheless, the Iranian Air Force is largely a fraud. It has lots of aircraft that, for the most part, sit there but can't fly because of age and lack of replacement parts. Those that can fly would likely provide target practice for Israeli fighters.

 

The Iranian Air Force is still recovering from the effects of the 1979 revolution (which led to an embargo on spare parts and new aircraft). Despite that, many Iranian warplanes remain flyable but only for short periods. The main reason for even that is an extensive smuggling operation that obtains spare parts. Two of their aircraft, the U.S. F-4D and F-5E Tiger, were widely used around the world. Somewhere, someone had parts for these planes that Iran could buy. There are still about 40 of each in service, with less than half of them flyable at any time.

 

This was less the case with Iran's most expensive warplane, the U.S. F-14 Tomcat. Iran was the only export customer of this aircraft. Some F-14s have been kept flyable, despite the rumored sabotage of Iran's AIM-54 Phoenix missiles by U.S. technicians, as they were leaving. To demonstrate this, they sent 25 F-14s on a fly-over of Tehran in 1985. Today, Iran has about 20 F-14s, with less than half of them flyable.

 

Iran has sought to buy new foreign aircraft. In the 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and the collapse of the Soviet Union, they sought to buy from Russia. Despite the low prices, a combination of Western pressure (to not sell) and the lack of Iranian money for high-ticket items, not that many aircraft were obtained. One unforeseen opportunity was the 1991 Gulf War. Many Iraqi aircraft (most of them Russian-built) fled to Iran to avoid American attack. The Iranians never returned them. Iran ended up with up to 60 MiG-29s. There were also 18 Su-24s, a force that was expanded by more purchases from Russia. Black market spare parts have been available, but the MiG-29 is a notoriously difficult aircraft to maintain, even when you have all the parts you need.

 

Iran currently has about two hundred fighters and fighter bombers, but only about half can be put into action and then usually for only one sortie a day. The chronic shortage of spare parts limits the number of hours the aircraft can be flown. This means pilots lack good flying skills. The poor maintenance and untrained pilots leads to more accidents.

 

Iran is similarly ill-prepared when it comes to ground based anti-aircraft defence. Iran has managed to keep operational some of the American Hawk anti-aircraft missile systems it bought in the 1970s. But these are not very capable these days and the Israelis know all about the Hawk system. Iran has had limited success in buying new systems from Russia and China and, in general, is as ill-prepared as it is in the air to oppose an Israeli attack.

 

Contents

 

IDF’S DRUZE BATTALION TESTS
NEW TECHNIQUES FOR FIGHTING HEZBOLLAH

IDF Blog, July 4, 2013

 

The IDF’s Herev Battalion, made up of members of Israel’s Druze community, has gained many years of experience performing unique missions near the Israel-Lebanon border. In the 2006 Second Lebanon War, for instance, Herev was the first force to cross the border and the last to return – exhausted from completing a range of complex missions that earned the unit a citation.

 

The Herev Battalion, referred to as the IDF’s “spearhead on the Lebanon border”, used its wealth of operational experience in the region to develop new combat techniques for fighting against Hezbollah. These new techniques were tested last week for the first time in an intensive battalion-wide exercise. “Combat in Lebanon demands the use of heavy armor and the slow advancement of troops,” explained Lt. Col. Shadi Abu Fares, commander of the Herev Battalion. He went on to explain that fighting Hezbollah requires a specific method of combat, which includes the intensive use of firepower.

 

 “In order to fight against the enemy in Lebanon in the most correct manner, we took the techniques that exist today in the IDF for fighting in open areas, and we made the necessary adjustments. With the help of the battalion’s experience, and combined with an understanding of what to expect next time, we managed to develop a better and more efficient method,” he said.

 

As part of the conclusions drawn from the exercise, a special document was drafted to present the techniques, which will be sent to officers throughout the IDF in order to assist in building a new combat doctrine for fighting against terror organizations. “The Herev Battalion must teach the entire IDF how to fight effectively against Hezbollah,” said Col. Zion Ratzon, commander of the regional brigade to which the Herev Battalion is subordinate.

 

“There are additional adjustments to be made, but the technique proved itself during the exercise. We can already see how the fighters are now speaking a new language and that there is confidence in the methods that we tested,” Lt. Col. Abu Fares said.

 

The new combat techniques were put to the test in the Herev Battalion’s most recent exercise, which took place last week and consisted of three days of non-stop fighting in the Upper Galilee and Golan Heights. The exercise simulated the battalion’s role during combat while functioning as part of a full brigade, in order to train the commanders to cooperate with other forces.

 

The troops were accompanied by a tank platoon on their journey through the hilly terrain, while combat engineering teams cleared paths through the thick scrub and artillery forces provided suppressive fire that shook the northern Golan Heights. The goal of the method: provide so much fire that “the enemy cannot lift its head.”

 

The exercise simulated as closely as possible full-fledged combat in Lebanon, requiring the troops to deal with enemy rocket fire falling on their staging areas, sudden changes in mission plans and evacuating casualties in armored personnel carriers (APCs). “It was a drill against Hezbollah in every respect,” Lt. Col. Abu Faris said. “Following [the exercise], I can say with certainty that the Herev Battalion is ready for anything.”

 

A senior officer in the sector explained last week that Hezbollah’s actions in southern Lebanon are becoming more and more aggressive. Israeli forces stationed on the border observe well how Hezbollah agents work around the clock in the villages of southern Lebanon to gather intelligence on the IDF. The Herev Battalion, whose soldiers’ families live in northern Israel and are likely to be the first to suffer from a Hezbollah attack, continues to prepare for the “day after” on the sensitive Lebanese border.

 

“Changes in the region obligate us to be ready for war,” the regional brigade commander said at the end of the exercise. “For every eventuality that will be needed, with the Herev Battalion I feel more confident than any other battalion.”

 

Contents

 

 

ISRAELI TECHNOLOGY TURNS
AIR INTO DRINKING WATER FOR TROOPS

NoCamels, Feb. 28, 2012

 

Military troops around the world, no matter where they are instated, know that even with the best training, personnel and arms, they cannot survive battle if they are lacking one vital thing: water.

Among the concerns of military heads is  to ensure water sources are always available, even in the most arid of places.

 

One Israeli company took up the challenge to ensure water can be readily available, anywhere and at any time, by extracting it from the most common of things: air. Water-Gen, based in Rishon LeZion, Israel, specializes in water generation and water treatment technologies integrated with tactical military vehicles and ground units. Their technology extracts water from the ambient air humidity, and turns it into drinking water.

 

Initially, the system filters the air so that water can be extracted and accommodated in containers. Then, it is cooled and purified into drinking water. This water can be served from a tap within the system or inside the cabin. Chairmen and co-CEO, Arye Kohavi, says that “water transportation is one of the most common reasons for the departure of convoys across Afghanistan. These convoys are attacked and have casualties.” He adds that “if we can produce the water at the exact point where it is consumed, we spare the need to transport water and reduce the risk and expenses.”

 

According to the Water-Gen, the device, which can be fitted onto vehicles, produces 10-20 gallons (40-80 liters) of pure drinking water a day, even in harsh weather and field conditions. The system, which is operated by solar or electric energy, is designed to meet military needs and standards, the company adds.

 

The company has wide-scale pending patents for the systems and technology. In 2011, it completed a three-week experiment with US Army ground units (Army Expeditionary Warrior Experiment), in which its systems provided the soldiers drinking water throughout the drills.

 

Eventually, Water-Gen hopes the technology can be implemented not just in the military, but in water-scarce regions around the world too. The United States, India, The UK, Spain and the UN Refugee Agency (UNHCR) have already shown interest in the company’s products.

 

Contents
 

The Evolution of Israeli Military Strategy: Asymmetry, Vulnerability, Pre-emption and Deterrence: Gerald M. Steinberg, Jewish Virtual Library, October 2011—When the nascent Israeli leadership met on May 14, 1948, in Tel Aviv to declare independence, the country was already being attacked by neighboring Arab armies. Israel overcame these hurdles in 1948 and in subsequent military confrontations, yet despite the development of formidable military capabilities, the inherent asymmetries and existential threats to the Jewish nation-state remain.

 

IAF's Flying Camel Squadron: Drones not Always Best: Linda Gradstein, Jerusalem Post, July 19, 2013—While more and more armies around the world are using unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs), or drones, for intelligence gathering, Israel, itself a leader in drone technology and a leading source of UAVs to other countries, continues to use manned aircraft for many of its missions.

 

IDF Ground Forces Launch Groundbreaking Battle Lab: Yael Zahavi, IDF, Jan 17, 2013—The IDF Ground Forces Command has unveiled a state-of-the-art battle laboratory integrating the latest simulation technology to create life-like operational scenarios. By accurately representing enemy figures, weapons and territory, the new system – which was unveiled last month – allows for the simulation of company-sized operations without the danger of a live-fire exercise.

 

Israel’s Military-Entrepreneurial Complex Owns Big Data: Matthew Kalman, MIT Technology Review, July 11, 2013—Two years ago, a half-dozen programmers and entrepreneurs started working together in a Tel Aviv basement to create one of Israel’s 5,000 high-tech companies. It was a stealth company, but these 20-somethings were used to secrecy. Most had served together in the same military intelligence unit of the Israel Defense Forces.

 

Gaza Crossing Weekly Report: COGAT/Israel Ministry of Defence, July 20, 2013. pdf—The Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories (COGAT) and the Ministry of Defence are responsible for traffic through the two Israeli crossings into Gaza. In a weekly report they itemize what has been let in or out of Gaza. Some interesting numbers.

 

Israel’s Skylark Spy Plane: Ultimate Weapons-Robotics. Discovery Channel. (Video)—A series of short videos documenting a few of Israel’s military innovations now in use.

 

Inside an Israeli Defense Lab: Rachel Nuwer, Popular Mechanics, Mar. 2013—A series of slides showing new developments in Israel’s defence labs. 

 

 

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ALTHOUGH EGYPT TOTTERS ON BRINK OF COLLAPSE, DON’T COUNT ISLAMIST BRETHREN OUT


Contents:                          

 

Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

The Region: Passivity in the face of Islamism: Barry Rubin, Jerusalem Post, June 3, 2013—A colleague wrote me the following thoughts: “As the expert on this issue, may I pose a question to you? I accept the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is messing up in Egypt – that they are suffering a credibility gap between promise and performance.

 

Egypt's Summer of Discontent: Eric Trager, Real Clear World, May 29, 2013—Due to a moribund economy, fuel and food shortages, and a lack of political opportunities, Egypt faces a tumultuous summer, and conditions will likely continue to deteriorate thereafter.

 

Mohamed Morsi’s Betrayal of Democracy: Editorial Board, Washington Post, May 13, 2013—Ahmed Maher, one of the leaders of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, supported Islamist Mohamed Morsi in last year’s presidential election because he believed Mr. Morsi’s victory over a military-backed candidate would be more likely to consolidate democracy in their country.

 

On Topic Links

 

Egypt’s Supreme Court Rules Against Shura Council: Zenobia Azeem, Al-Monitor, June 3, 2013

Monthly Infiltration from Sinai Drops from 2,000 to 2: Prime Minister's Office, June 2, 2013
Ethiopian Dam Project Raises Fears of Water Deficit in Egypt: Ahmad Mustafa, Al-Monitor, May 30, 2013

Jihad on Egypt's Christian Children: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, June 3, 2013

 

 

THE REGION: PASSIVITY IN THE FACE OF ISLAMISM

Barry Rubin

Jerusalem Post, June 3, 2013
 

A colleague wrote me the following thoughts: “As the expert on this issue, may I pose a question to you? I accept the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is messing up in Egypt – that they are suffering a credibility gap between promise and performance. But could this not also be positive in that in the process political Islam itself gets discredited? You would recall the Islamist Revolution heralded by Hasan al-Turabi in Sudan. However when I [met some of them], Turabi’s own students [were] critical about the Islamist revolution and indeed told me there should now be a division between state and faith. Could a similar development not happen in Egypt?”

This is a clever point, and it could certainly happen. Yes, by mismanaging Egypt’s affairs the Brotherhood could become unpopular and be voted out of office. To put this idea another way: Might despair be moderation’s best friend? There are examples of such a phenomenon right now in Egypt: An anti-Islamist media now exists to point out this discontent, though the opposition’s power is sometimes overestimated. The mistaken lesson of the 2011 Egyptian revolution at the time was that a lot of people protesting or voting equals democracy.

 

Yet power balances still matter. The old regime only fell because the old ruling elite wouldn’t save it due to exhaustion and factional conflict. The new Islamist ruling elite won’t make that mistake, at least for decades to come. A recent poll shows how Egyptians are becoming understandably gloomy over the situation.

 

Now Egypt faces a huge economic crisis. The country has only about two months’ reserves to pay for imported food. Where is it going to get the around $5 billion a month it needs to pay this bill? A proposed loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) that would pay for one month or so is being held up by the Egyptian government’s refusal to sign the deal because the IMF’s conditions require cutting subsidies, and cutting subsidies on food could lead to massive riots.

 

Westerners generally believe that repression and suffering lead to angry responses by the masses. Yet institutions can control the situation, propaganda reshapes beliefs, repression stifles opposition. Moreover, in Third World countries, a predominantly poor people can – because they know they have no choice in economic, political and social terms – put up with a lot more unhappiness and suffering than do middle class Americans or Europeans who have the leisure, information, freedom, and luxury of acting (albeit not necessarily effectively) on even minor complaints.

 

In short, dissatisfaction in Egypt doesn’t necessarily mean change.  Despair usually leads to passivity. If the last revolution failed or was disappointing are people going to want to mobilize for another one? Isn’t the message that politics don’t work or the forces making the mess are too strong? Thirty-four years after Iran’s Islamist revolution a lot of despair has only led to two peaks of moderate activity there. The first was co-opted (the Khatami presidency which achieved nothing), and the second was put down through repression (the 2009 Green Movement after the regime stole an election).

 

The Arab nationalist regime in Egypt lasted for almost 60 years and involved a lot of suffering and four lost wars (Yemen, and against Israel in 1956, 1967, and 1973). By the time the Brotherhood is discredited it will be far more entrenched in power and therefore harder to remove. Perhaps future elections will be fixed, or not even held at all. The Brotherhood will, for example, control the court system in future – this is currently its highest priority – and thus can guarantee electoral victories. By then, repression will set in deeper, discouraging open dissent. Much of the time it is true that the heavier the penalty for speaking out, the fewer who will do so. Even if you have a lot of discontented people on your side it is not easy to moderate, much less, overturn an Islamist dictatorship.

 

Speaking of Iran (and this is quite interesting), in the past, especially in the 1990s, it was argued that the visible failures of Iran’s revolution would discourage other countries from having Islamist revolutions, and at the time that did seem quite logical. Around the year 2000 the Islamist movement was widely considered to have failed. Yet disastrous precedents don’t necessarily discourage revolutionary Islamists, who simply claim, “We can do it better.” And it doesn’t mean the masses necessarily will not believe them, especially since Islam is such a passionate, powerful force.

 

If the highest goal of the Middle East peoples is democracy, freedom, human rights and material progress, the argument that these forces will triumph might be plausible. But is that in fact true? Just because people in the West think that way doesn’t make it accurate. Ideological enthusiasm and religious passion may carry the day rather than the everyone-wants-their-kids-to-get-a-better-life-as-their-top-priority school believes.

 

Not every parent celebrates their kid becoming a suicide bomber, for example, but a large number do. And even though they might be angry about the children being misled by demagogues, they know well enough not to speak publicly about it. Attacking a Christian church also lets off a lot of steam, as does blaming the Jews. Many people give up, thinking (or knowing) that there is no real road immediately visible for transforming their societies into prosperous and democratic ones. Others benefit materially by supporting a dictatorial regime. The government better ensure that one of these groups are military officers.

 

It is also often true that outside observers look at every specific development in isolation, ignoring the revolutionary rulers’ ideology and blueprint. With the armed forces apparently determined to be passive, there is only one effective institution holding back the Brotherhood: the courts. Judges appointed under the old regime are largely secular, and many of them showed pro-democratic independence even under the Mubarak dictatorship. One way or another, however, the Brotherhood is moving toward replacing the judges by forcing them into retirement. And then the regime will name its own judges, who will interpret things the way the Brotherhood likes as well as putting a very high priority on making Sharia the law of the land. The same process will be happening in the schools, mass media, religious and other institutions, finally reaching the entrance and promotion of Brotherhood sympathizers in the officer corps….

 

Indeed, it is very sobering to consider the Sudan, my colleague’s example of anger at an Islamist government leading to moderation. While the extreme Islamists did become discredited there eventually, the process took almost 25 years. Even today, the country is under an authoritarian dictator. And it is very significant to note that Sharia law largely continues to rule the country. The current Sudanese dictatorship, which has been credibly accused of genocide against black Africans in the south, merely uses the pedestal provided by the Islamist predecessor. On its behalf, the Muslim clerical association has just called for jihad against anti-government rebels.

 

Egypt is a more advanced country than Sudan and the Islamists there are badly split. There are now four main Islamist parties in Egypt. Yet they can also work together and are all pushing in the same direction. The moderates are still weak even if you add in all the other non-Islamists (including radical nationalists and leftists). And the opposition to Islamism is more fragmented than the Islamists, lacking even an ideology or program….

 

Thus, while anger and despair are going to rise in Egypt these factors are not in themselves enough to bring down a regime. Unless the army is convinced that the country is going to fall apart – and perhaps not even then – the Brotherhood is going to be in power for a long time. And that also applies to everywhere else Islamists are ruling – in the Gaza Strip, Lebanon, Tunisia, Turkey, and perhaps soon in Syria.

 

The writer is the director of the Global Research in International Affairs (Gloria) Center.

 

Top of Page

 

 

EGYPT'S SUMMER OF DISCONTENT

Eric Trager

Real Clear World, May 29, 2013

 

Due to a moribund economy, fuel and food shortages, and a lack of political opportunities, Egypt faces a tumultuous summer, and conditions will likely continue to deteriorate thereafter. While Washington should encourage Cairo to undertake necessary political and economic reforms that might calm the situation and improve governance, the Obama administration should concentrate on preserving vital strategic interests in the event of renewed upheaval.

Since Egypt's 2011 revolution, persistent political uncertainty and plummeting domestic security have undermined foreign investment and harmed the country's once-vibrant tourism industry. According to the Interior Ministry, the past year has witnessed a 120 percent increase in murders, 350 percent increase in robberies, and 145 percent jump in kidnappings. Foreign currency reserves dropped from approximately $36 billion at the time of Hosni Mubarak's ouster to $14.42 billion at the end of April 2013, with a $2 billion Libyan cash deposit in late March inflating the latter figure. Meanwhile, according to the Financial Times, Egypt's public sector salary bill has risen by 80 percent since the uprising to $25 billion annually; 400,000 government jobs have been added, and an additional 400,000 will be made permanent by the end of June.

This combination of shrinking reserves and growing expenditures is threatening the government's ability to import wheat and fuel, which it sells at subsidized rates. Fuel and fertilizer shortages have also impacted domestic wheat production, which is unlikely to reach Cairo's goal of 9.5 million tons — a benchmark intended to reduce Egypt's dependence on foreign imports. The fuel shortages have also catalyzed regular electricity outages (including multiple times in one day at Cairo International Airport), and rural areas are reporting water outages. These problems are expected to worsen as Egyptians turn on their air conditioners during the summer; the situation will become especially uncomfortable once Ramadan begins in early July, when approximately 90 percent of the population will be observing the month-long fast during daylight hours.

Historically, wheat shortages and subsidy cuts have sparked mass protests in Egypt, such as the 1977 "Bread Riots" and the demonstrations that accompanied the 2008 global food crisis. Indeed, fuel shortages have already given rise to sporadic protests nationwide since March. Although these demonstrations have been relatively small thus far, summertime power outages that make it too uncomfortable to be indoors could force more people into the streets.

Since November 2012 — when President Muhammad Morsi asserted virtually unchecked executive authority and rushed an Islamist-dominated constitutional process to ratification — Egypt's non-Islamist opposition has protested the Muslim Brotherhood-led government's autocratic behavior and increasingly questioned its legitimacy. For many activists, the Brotherhood's use of violence against non-Islamist protesters on December 5 represented the point of no return; the group's subsequent assaults on media freedom (e.g., prosecuting journalists who criticize Morsi) have led some to call for the military to return to power.

The latest iteration of this movement is the "Tamarod" (rebellion) petition campaign, which opposition activists launched on May 1. The campaign seeks to "withdraw confidence" in Morsi and rally public support for early presidential elections by focusing on specific grievances, including the persistent lack of security, ongoing poverty, and Morsi's supposed "subservience to the Americans." While the petition will likely fall short of the 15 million signatures its supporters hope to collect by June 30 — the one-year anniversary of Morsi's inauguration — the fact that it has already collected 2 million indicates widespread frustration, and June 30 may emerge as a major protest date.

The Brotherhood's response to these political challenges has only exacerbated the situation and seemingly strengthened the opposition's resolve. Rather than engaging its opponents, the government is repressing them. Ahmed Maher, founder of the "April 6" opposition movement, was recently arrested after returning from a trip to the United States, charged with inciting protests outside the interior minister's house. The prosecutor-general is also investigating two prominent television hosts — Amr Adib and former parliamentarian Mohamed Sherdy — for supporting the Tamarod campaign.

Unfortunately, Egypt's political polarization will likely persist well beyond the summer. The opposition will probably continue to be excluded from the political process. The next parliamentary elections, which have not yet been scheduled, are unlikely to occur before September, leaving street protests as the only viable avenue for opposition dissent. Moreover, when elections finally do occur, the Brotherhood will likely win again: even if the main opposition bloc (the National Salvation Front) abandons its current boycott commitment, as many analysts expect, its late entry will complicate efforts to compete with the Brotherhood's nationwide network, which has been in campaign mode since the beginning of the year.

In the interim, the Brotherhood appears unlikely to abandon exclusivist rule. Morsi's latest round of cabinet appointments further expanded the number of Brotherhood-affiliated ministers without adding any from non-Islamist parties, and he has rebuffed opposition demands to remove the interior and information ministers. Moreover, the officials who will lead the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) for a $4.8 billion loan are all Muslim Brothers.

This polarization will significantly inhibit Egypt's economic recovery for the foreseeable future. Morsi's apparent focus on consolidating the Brotherhood's power is contrary to the IMF's insistence on more inclusive governance, which the agency views as necessary for ensuring broad political support for any loan. In addition, persistent political tension and civil strife will deter foreign investment and keep tourists away, leaving Egypt reliant on petrodollar infusions (e.g., from Qatar and Libya) that are unlikely to continue flowing indefinitely. The cash crunch will also complicate government efforts to restore security, further compounding lawlessness and economic woes.

Meanwhile, the military does not appear willing or able to steer the country in a more positive direction. Although the armed forces are generally considered Egypt's strongest institution, the generals have repeatedly signaled their lack of interest in returning to power. They recognize that they performed poorly when they ran the country prior to Morsi's election, and they seem to know they are no more likely to succeed in governing than the Brotherhood given the extent of Egypt's challenges. In addition, the military's undemocratic nature makes it incapable of engendering the kind of broad consensus needed for reform.

 

Egypt's worsening economic and political frustrations, coupled with the state's declining ability to maintain order, make upheaval a strong possibility this summer and beyond. Washington should therefore focus on two goals.

 

First, it should continue encouraging Egypt's political actors to dial down the tension. This means telling the opposition not to give up on politics, since participation in the current system provides a more likely path to power sharing than calling for a "rebellion" against Morsi, which would only exacerbate the country's instability and further damage the economy. As for the Muslim Brotherhood, Washington should tell Cairo that the painful choices required by necessary economic reform (e.g., tax increases and subsidy cuts) make including the opposition and forging political consensus vital. U.S. officials should also point out that Egypt cannot rely on petrodollar infusions to sustain its shrinking cash reserves indefinitely, and that failure to institute vital reforms will ultimately lead its benefactors to view it as a bad investment.

 

Second, Washington should prepare for the likelihood that the Brotherhood and opposition will reject this advice, and plan for potential instability. In particular, the administration should focus on the three strategic interests that could be jeopardized:

 

1. The Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty, which may come under pressure if turmoil leads to greater violence from Sinai or more hostile populist politics from Cairo

 

2. The security of the Suez Canal, which recent civil unrest has already put at risk

 

3. Counterterrorism cooperation, given the recent emergence of Salafist jihadists in Egypt

 

Since the Egyptian military is primarily responsible for each of these items, the Obama administration should work with the generals to ensure that contingency plans are in place if the country's summer of discontent boils over.

 

Eric Trager is the Next Generation fellow at The Washington Institute.

 

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MOHAMED MORSI’S BETRAYAL OF DEMOCRACY

Editorial

Washington Post, May 13, 2013

 

Ahmed Maher, one of the leaders of Egypt’s 2011 revolution, supported Islamist Mohamed Morsi in last year’s presidential election because he believed Mr. Morsi’s victory over a military-backed candidate would be more likely to consolidate democracy in their country. But during a visit to Washington last week, Mr. Maher told us that Mr. Morsi had betrayed him and his April 6 Youth Movement. “They lied, they broke promises, they killed members of April 6,” Mr. Maher said. Mr. Morsi’s government, he said, increasingly resembled that of former strongman Hosni Mubarak: “They only seek power.”

 

Mr. Maher’s strong charges soon were substantiated by another transgression: Upon returning to Cairo from the United States on Friday, he was arrested at the airport. The 32-year-old, who founded the April 6 movement in 2008 to organize protests against the Mubarak regime, was charged with inciting a protest in March against Mr. Morsi’s interior minister. His transfer to a high-security prison quickly provoked a backlash both in Cairo and in Washington, and on Saturday authorities backed down. Mr. Maher was released, his case was transferred to a lower court and Mr. Morsi’s office and political party repudiated the airport arrest.

 

That retreat still left Mr. Maher facing charges, according to the state news agency, of “resisting the authorities, insulting the police, gathering and obstructing traffic” — counts frequently used by the former dictatorship against public demonstrations. It offered new cause for concern about a government that repeatedly has proclaimed its commitment to both democracy and compromise with its opponents even as it prosecutes critics and prepares repressive new laws.

 

Mr. Maher’s youth movement has resisted the polarization that has overtaken Egyptian politics in the past year. Though its leaders are secular liberal democrats with left-leaning views, they supported Mr. Morsi after obtaining direct assurances from him that he would seek consensus on the terms of a new constitution. The president broke that commitment in November, when he granted himself absolute power in order to force through a constitution favoured by the Muslim Brotherhood. Meanwhile, a state prosecutor Mr.Morsi appointed in what opponents contend was another illegal manoeuvre has been bringing charges against critics, including journalists and organizers of demonstrations. A legislative body dominated by the ruling party has given preliminary approval to a law that would eviscerate Egypt’s civil society, shutting down almost all government-watchdog and human rights groups.

 

Mr. Morsi’s spokesmen have asserted that he does not favour the political prosecutions and that the government is preparing a new version of the civil society law. But the president has not removed the prosecutor he appointed nor met other reasonable opposition demands, such as the correction of a gerrymander of electoral districts legislated by his party.

 

Mr. Maher opposes counterproductive strategies embraced by other opposition leaders, including a boycott of future elections or support for a military coup. But he warns that the United States is repeating past mistakes in Egypt by appearing to tolerate Mr. Morsi’s consolidation of power. “If you want to support democracy, say we are here in Egypt to support democracy, not whoever is in office,” Mr. Maher says. That’s advice the Obama administration should heed.

 

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Egypt’s Supreme Court Rules Against Shura Council: Zenobia Azeem, Al-Monitor, June 3, 2013—In a surprising decision, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) ruled on June 2 that the Shura Council, currently the country’s only functioning legislative body, and the Constituent Assembly, which drafted the December 2012 Constitution, are unconstitutional.

 

Monthly Infiltration from Sinai Drops from 2,000 to 2: Prime Minister's Office, June 2, 2013—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Sunday, "The fence that we built in the south is achieving the result for which it was erected.

 

Ethiopian Dam Project Raises Fears of Water Deficit in Egypt: Ahmad Mustafa, Al-Monitor, May 30, 2013—Ethiopia's decision to begin diverting the course of the Blue Nile (the largest of the Nile river’s branches), as a prelude to the construction of the Renaissance Dam, put Egyptian diplomacy in a difficult position and stirred fears over Cairo’s declining share in the Nile waters, but the Egyptian presidency managed to tame these fears.

 

Jihad on Egypt's Christian Children: Raymond Ibrahim, Gatestone Institute, June 3, 2013—Attacks on Christian children in Egypt are on the rise. Earlier this week, a six-year-old Coptic Christian boy, Cyril Yusuf Sa'ad, was abducted and held for ransom. After his family paid the ransom, the Muslim kidnapper, Ahmed Abdel Moneim Abdel-Salam, killed the child and threw his body in the sewer of his house

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MIDDLE EAST WATER — THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM — A SOURCE OF CONFLICT & OF JOY…MAYIM, MAYIM B’SASON

Download a pdf version of today's Daily Briefing.

 

Contents:                          

 

 

Ode to the Hebrew Language: Baruch Cohen, CIJR, May 8, 2013— This language is poetry, The language of Moses, Abraham, David and Ben Yehuda

 

How Water Became a Weapon in Arab-Israeli Conflict: Yochanan Visser, Jerusalem Post, Mar. 3, 2013—One of the results of the refusal to cooperate with Israel is that almost all of the 52 mcm of waste water generated by the Palestinian population flows untreated into Israel and the West Bank, where it contaminates shared groundwater resources. Nevertheless, the Palestinians claim that Israel is blocking their waste water infrastructure.

 

A Parched Syria Turned to War and Egypt May Be Next: Mitch Ginsburg, Times of Israel, May 9, 2013—Some look at the upheaval in Syria through a religious lens. The Sunni and Shia factions, battling for supremacy in the Middle East, have locked horns in the heart of the Levant, where the Shia-affiliated Alawite sect has ruled a majority Sunni nation for decades.

 

Getting Drunk on Water: Rabbi Ian (Chaim) Pear, Joyous Judaism, Dec. 21, 2007—The classic proof for this connection — that water and joy share an intimate relationship — is the water drawing ceremony that used to take place in the Temple area during the fall festival of Sukkoth. 

 

 

On Topic Links

 

 

Touring Israel's Ancient Water Systems: Tsvika Tsuk, Israel Parks

Watering a Thirsty Planet: I.C. Mayer, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb. 20, 2011

The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians: Israel Water Authority, March 2009

The Politicization of  the Oslo Water Agreement (dissertation): Lauro Burkart, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,Geneva Switzerland, 2012

Political Currents of Water Mgt: Israel, Palestine, and Jordan: Jay Famiglietti,National Geographic, May 13, 2013

Water: Facts about Israeli and Palestinian Use: The Israel Project,  March 22, 2013

 

ODE TO THE HEBREW LANGUAGE

Baruch Cohen CIJR, May 8, 2013

 

This language is poetry

The language of Moses, Abraham, David and Ben Yehuda

A brass trumpet blasting the cosmos destined to pour out floods of rage

Against the world’s abuses and indifference.

 

This language, this Hebrew language destined to pour out a flood of rage

Against the world’s indifference.

Thus, this language written with letters of fire is poetry!

It is a call from heaven to praise life.

 

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HOW WATER BECAME A WEAPON IN ARAB-ISRAELI CONFLICT

Yochanan Visser

Jerusalem Post. Mar.3, 2013

 

The conflict between the Palestinians and Israel is fought on many fronts nowadays. This is the result of a change in strategy decided on by the current Palestinian Authority leadership in 2008. A 2008 report by The Palestinian Strategy Group, which advises the PA, called “Regaining the Initiative” formed the basis of this strategic overhaul in PA politics vis-à-vis Israel.

 

According to the report, the negotiation route standard between 1988 and 2008 was to be shut down indefinitely and terror (termed “resistance” by the PSG) would be replaced by a more sophisticated “threat power.” This would entail the refusal to cooperate and the push for boycotts. Another important element in the new strategy was eliciting more third-party support and ensuring the Palestinian discourse would be the primary viewpoint in the discussion about the “Palestinian national project.”

 

Cognitive warfare, a form of propaganda, has become a successful element in this Palestinian attempt to elicit third-party support. Disinformation about the Israeli settlements in the West Bank spearheaded this campaign. Today much of the world is convinced that the Israeli settlements are the main reason for the absence of peace.

 

But in many other fields, too, the Palestinian discourse dominates the international attitude toward the Palestinian- Israeli conflict. The dispute about the water resources in the West Bank is a good example. The international community has been willfully misled by Palestinian propaganda on water issues.

 

Until now much of the literature about the water conflict followed either the Palestinian discourse (vast majority) or the Israeli discourse (small minority).

 

However, a thesis titled “The Politicization of the Oslo Water Agreement,” written by Lauro Burkart, a Swiss graduate of the Institute of International and Development studies in Geneva gives a more accurate and impartial picture of the topic of the scarcity of water in the Palestinian Authority.

 

Burkart interviewed many key players in the water conflict, Palestinians and Israelis as well as representatives of NGOs and the donor countries. He also examined many original documents such as the minutes of the meetings of the joint Israeli Palestinian Water Committee (JWC).

 

Here are some of the most important conclusions in Burkart’s thesis:

 

• The goals of the Oslo II water agreement have been reached regarding the quantities of water provided to the Palestinian population (178 mcm/year in 2006). The Oslo water agreement estimated that demand would eventually reach 200 mcm/year.

 

• The JWC functioned well in the first years following signature of the agreement, but since 2008 cooperation has come to a halt.

 

• The facts disseminated by the Palestinians, international organizations and donors about the root causes of the water scarcity in the West Bank are incorrect.

 

Burkart writes: “It is not the Israeli occupation policy but the Palestinian political resistance against joint management and cooperation that is responsible for the relatively slow development of the Palestinian water sector and the deteriorating human rights situation in the Palestinian Territories” and “There is convincing evidence of mismanagement within the Palestinian Water Authority (PWA).”

 

He cites the pro-Palestinian NGO Aman, that concluded that there is “no clear legal separation between the political and executive levels within the Palestinian water institutions. To date there is no real functioning water law. Furthermore the National Water Council is not meeting and not functioning well.”

 

Although the PWA embarked on an institutional reform process in reaction to international critics such as the World Bank this did not solve the issue of mismanagement within the institution. The head of the Palestinian Hydrology Group called the reform a “fundraising mechanism.”

 

The PWA also did not manage to gain control over many municipalities (where Israel has no control) due to the autocratic and undemocratic manner in which they are managed. These power holders did not want to lose control of the water systems since it was one of the main services provided by the municipalities.

 

As a result the water supply is not centralized and illegal drilling is rampant. The fact that the PA pays most of the water bills of the Palestinian population gives no incentive for saving and leads to an unreasonable use of water in the domestic sphere as well as in the agricultural sector.

 

Burkart also interviewed Dr. Shaddad Attili, head of the PWA, who was appointed in 2008. Attili, a Fatah member, is responsible for the de facto ending of the cooperation with Israel in order to bolster Palestinian water rights claims. He did this to strengthen the position of Fatah after the Hamas victory in the Palestinian elections.

 

This policy is conducted at the expense of the marginalized and peripheral Palestinian population which is suffering from water shortages. Burkart writes that the abundance of donor money allowed Atilli to continue the noncooperation strategy which has lead to a complete stagnation of the water negotiations during the past five years.

 

One of the results of the refusal to cooperate with Israel is that almost all of the 52 mcm of waste water generated by the Palestinian population flows untreated into Israel and the West Bank, where it contaminates shared groundwater resources. Nevertheless, the Palestinians claim that Israel is blocking their waste water infrastructure.

 

The facts are that most of the Palestinian waste water treatment and reuse projects have already received foreign funding and were supported by Israel.

 

The PA, however, has not taken sufficient action to execute those projects. Instead the PA claims Israel is demanding an unreasonably high level of treatment (BOD 10/10).

 

A JWC memorandum of understanding from 2003, however, which was signed by both parties, agreed on a gradual process to achieve this standard (starting with BOD 20/30).

 

Following a meeting in November 2011 between Colonel Avi Shalev of the Civil Administration and PWA officials about the implementation of Palestinian water projects, Israel offered to finance water and waste water projects that would serve Palestinian communities in the West Bank. The Palestinians didn’t respond.

 

Another solution that could solve the water crisis in the PA is seawater desalination. In fact Israel made an offer to the Palestinians to build a desalination plant in Hadera south of Haifa and pump the desalinated water to the northern West Bank. The Palestinians rejected this solution since it would put Israel in an upstream position to the West Bank. Another reason for this rejection has to do with water rights since the Palestinians claim the Mountain Aquifers.

 

Attili even withdrew a PWA expert team from an Israeli desalination program using the argument that Israel had unilaterally destroyed a number of illegal wells on the West Bank. This proved to be another example of Attili’s propaganda campaign.

 

Israel responded after Attili complained about the wells in a letter to the international community. The decision to shut down these wells was taken by the Joint Water Committee. After that several reminders were sent to the PWA which reiterated its intention to execute the JWC decision. Nothing happened, however. Four years after the decision was taken Israel decided to execute the decision since illegal drilling diminishes the amount of water produced by legal wells and damages the main aquifers.

 

It is obvious that Attili’s non-cooperation strategy is connected to the overall change in strategy vis-à-vis Israel in 2008 by the PA. Water has become a weapon against the so-called Israeli occupation.

 

Unfortunately Attilli has been able to convince the international community that Israel is to blame for the slow development of the Palestinian water sector. A good example is Abdelkarim Yakobi, the project manager in the department of water, transport and energy at the Office of the EU representative for the West Bank and Gaza. Yakobi, who was interviewed by Burkart, also blamed Israel for the slow development of the Palestinian water sector.

 

This is strange; if a Swiss graduate was able to get access to all the relevant information, why did the European Union, with all of its resources, not do the same? Had it done so there is no doubt the EU would have found out who really is to blame.

 

The EU has allocated funds for at least seven waste water treatment plants. It is reasonable to assume that the Europeans would have some oversight on the execution of these projects – so why did they not demand accountability from the PWA? In fact the PA has now been given a free pass to use water as a weapon against Israel. By doing so, the international community is in fact contributing to the aggravation of the conflict and harming the interests of the Palestinian population.

 

 

A PARCHED SYRIA TURNED TO WAR AND EGYPT MAY BE NEXT

Mitch Ginsburg

Times of Israel, May 9, 2013

 

Some look at the upheaval in Syria through a religious lens. The Sunni and Shia factions, battling for supremacy in the Middle East, have locked horns in the heart of the Levant, where the Shia-affiliated Alawite sect has ruled a majority Sunni nation for decades.

 

Some see it through a social prism. As they did in Tunis with Muhammad Bouazizi — an honest man who couldn’t make an honest living in this corruption-ridden part of the world — the social protests that sparked the war in Syria started in the poor and disenfranchised parts of the country. And others look at the eroding boundaries of state in Syria and other parts of the Middle East as a direct result of the sins of Western hubris and Colonialism.

 

Professor Arnon Sofer has no qualms with any of these claims and interpretations. But the upheaval in Syria and elsewhere in the Middle East, he says, cannot be fully understood without also taking two environmental truths into account: soaring birthrates and dwindling water supply.

 

Over the past 60 years, the population in the Middle East has twice doubled itself, said Sofer, the head of the Chaikin geo-strategy group and a longtime lecturer at the IDF’s top defense college, where today he heads the National Defense College Research Center. “There is no example of this anywhere else on earth,” he said of the population increase. Couple that with Syria’s water scarcity, he said, “and as a geographer it was clear to me that a conflict would erupt.”

Arnon Sofer, a longtime professor at the IDF's National Defense College, sees a link between the war in Syria and the water shortages there (Photo credit: Moshe Shai/ Flash 90)

 

The Pentagon cautiously agrees with this thesis. In February the Department of Defense released a “climate-change adaptation roadmap.” While the effects of climate change alone do not cause conflict, the report states, “they may act as accelerants of instability or conflict in parts of the world.” Predominantly the paper is concerned with the effects of rising seas and melting arctic permafrost on US military installations. The Middle East is not mentioned by name.

 

But Sofer and Anton Berkovsky, who together compiled the research work of students at the National Defense College and released a geo-strategic paper on Syria earlier in the year, believe that water scarcity played a significant role in the onset of the Syrian civil war and the Arab Spring, and that it may help re-shape the strategic bonds and interests of the region as regimes teeter and borders blur. Sofer also believes that a “Pax Climactica” is within reach if regional leaders would only, for a short while, forsake their natural inclinations to wake up in the morning and seek to do harm.

 

Syria is 85 percent desert or semi-arid country. But it has several significant waterways. The Euphrates runs in a south-easterly direction through the center of the country to Iraq. The Tigris runs southeast, tracing a short part along Syria’s border with Turkey before flowing into Iraq. And, aside from several lesser rivers that flow southwest through Lebanon to the Mediterranean, Syria has an estimated four to five billion cubic meters of water in its underground aquifers.

 

For these reasons the heart of the country was once an oasis. For 5,000 years, Damascus was famous for its agriculture and its dried fruit. Since 1950, however, the population has increased sevenfold in Syria, to 22 million, and Turkey, in an age of scarcity, has seized much of the water that once flowed south into Syria.

 

“They’ve been choking them,” Sofer said, noting that Turkey annually takes half of the available 30 billion cubic meters of water in the Euphrates. This limits Syria’s water supply and hinders its ability to generate hydroelectricity.

 

In 2007, after years of population growth and institutional economic stagnation, several dry years descended on Syria. Farmers began to leave their villages and head toward the capital. From 2007-2008, Sofer said, over 160 villages in Syria were abandoned and some 250,000 farmers – Sofer calls them “climate refugees” – relocated to Damascus, Aleppo and other cities.

 

The capital, like many of its peer cities in the Middle East, was unable to handle that influx of people. Residents dug 25,000 illegal wells in and around Damascus, pushing the water table ever lower and the salinity of the water ever higher. This, along with over one million refugees from the Iraq war and, among other challenges, borders that contain a dizzying array of religions and ethnicities, set the stage for the civil war. Tellingly, it broke out in the regions most parched — “in Daraa [in the south] and in Kamishli in the northeast,” Sofer said. “Those are two of the driest places in the country.”

 

Professor Eyal Zisser, one of Israel’s top scholars of Syria, agreed that the drought played a significant role in the onset of the war. “Without doubt it is part of the issue,” he said. Zisser did not believe that water was the central issue that inflamed Syria but rather “the match that set the field of thorns on fire.”

 

Since that fire began to rage in March 2011, the course of the battles has been partially dictated by a different sort of logic, not environmental in nature. “Assad is butchering his way west,” Sofer said. He believes the president will eventually have to retreat from the capital and therefore has focused his efforts on Homs and other cities and towns that lie between Damascus and the Alawite regions near the coast, cutting himself an escape route.

 

Sofer and Berkovsky envision several scenarios for Syria. Among them: Assad puts down the rebellion and remains in power; Assad abdicates and a Sunni majority seizes control; Assad abdicates and no central power is able to assert control. The most likely scenario, Sofer said, was that the Syrian dictator would eventually flee to Tehran. But he preferred to avoid that sort of micro-conjecture and to focus on the regional effects of population growth and water scarcity and the manner in which that ominous mix might shape the future of the region.

 

Writing in the New York Times from Yemen on Thursday, Thomas Friedman embraced a similar thesis, noting that the heart of the al-Qaeda activity in the region corresponded with the areas most stricken by drought. Sofer published a paper in July where he laid out the grim environmental reality of the region and argued that, as in Syria, the conflicts bedeviling the region were not about climate issues but were deeply influenced by them.

 

Egypt, Sofer wrote, faces severe repercussions from climate change. Even a slight rise in the level of the sea – just half a meter – would salinize the Nile Delta aquifers and force three million people out of the city of Alexandria. In the more distant future, as the North Sea melts, the Suez Canal could decline in importance. More immediately, and of greater significance to Israel, he wrote that Egypt, faced with a water shortage, would likely grow more militant over the coming years. But he felt the militancy would be directed south, toward South Sudan and Ethiopia and other nations competing for the waters of the Nile, and not north toward the Levant.

 

As proof that this pivot has already begun, Sofer pointed to Abu-Simbel, near the border with Sudan. There the state has converted a civilian airport into a military one. “The conclusion to be drawn from this is simple and unequivocal,” he wrote. “Egypt today represents a military threat to the southern nations of the Nile and not the Zionist state to the east.”

 

The Sinai Peninsula, already quite lawless, will only get worse, perhaps to the point of secession, he and Berkovsky wrote. Local Bedouin will have difficulty raising animals in the region and will turn, to an even greater degree, to smuggling material and people along a route established in the Bronze Age, through Sinai to Asia and Europe.

 

Syria, even if the war were swiftly resolved, is “on the cusp of catastrophe.” Jordan, too, is in dire need of water. And Gaza, like Syria, has been battered by unchecked drilling. The day after Israel left under the Oslo Accords, he said, the Palestinian Authority and other actors began digging 500 wells along the coastal aquifer even though Israel had warned them of the dangers. “Today there are around 4,000 of them and no more ground water. It’s over. There’s no fooling around with this stuff,” he said.

 

Only the two most stable states in the region – Israel and Turkey – have ample water.

 

Turkey is the sole Middle Eastern nation blessed with plentiful water sources. Ankara’s control of the Tigris and the Euphrates, among other rivers, means that Iraq and Syria, both downriver, are to a large extent dependent on Turkey for food, water and electricity. That strategic advantage, along with Turkey’s position as the bridge between the Middle East and Europe, “further serves its neo-Ottoman agenda,” Sofer said.

 

He envisioned an increased role for Turkey both in the Levant and, eventually, in central Asia and along the oil crossroads of the Persian Gulf, pitting it against Iran. Climate change, he conceded, has only a minor role in that future struggle for power but it is “an accelerant.”

 

Israel no longer suffers from drought. Desalination, conservation and sewage treatment have alleviated much of the natural scarcity. In February, the head of the Israel Water Authority, Alexander Kushnir, told the Times of Israel that the country’s water crisis has come to an end. Half of Israel’s two billion cubic meters of annual water use is generated artificially, he said, through desalination and sewage purification.

 

For Sofer, this self-sufficiency is an immense regional advantage. Israel could pump water east to Jenin in the West Bank and farther along to Jordan and north to Syria. International organizations could follow Israel’s example and fund regional desalination plants, which, he noted, cost less than a single day of modern full-scale war.

 

Instead, rather than an increase in cooperation, he feared, the region would likely witness ever more desperate competition. Sofer said his friends see him as a sort of Jeremiah. But the Middle East, he cautioned, is a region where “leaders wake up every morning and ask what can I do today to make matters worse.”

 

 

GETTING DRUNK ON WATER

Rabbi Ian (Chaim) Pear

Joyous Judaism, Dec. 21, 2007

 

Last night was the first really good rain of the season here in Israel –  and I use the word ‘good’ purposely.  After all, the rain last night was not just strong and steady, but it — like all rain here — was also good for Israel.   On one level — the physical level — understanding why this is so is probably fairly obvious: Rain nourishes the land, from replenishing Israel’s drinking water resources to enabling the growth of agriculture.  Without rain, we can’t survive — and so it certainly is very good when rain comes along.

 

I would like to talk about how this rain — and water in general — is also good for Israel on a spiritual level.   To many, this assertion, too, may appear fairly obvious; after all, our sacred sources are replete with references to the value of water – water symbolizes Torah, rain is viewed as a sign of blessing, and praying for rain is considered the paradigmatic means to cry out to God and deepen one’s relationship with the Creator.  I would like to, however, discuss a less well known connection between water and spirituality — namely that water is the source of the deepest form of joy in Judaism.

 

The classic proof for this connection — that water and joy share an intimate relationship — is the water drawing ceremony that used to take place in the Temple area during the fall festival of Sukkoth.  During this ceremony, water was drawn in golden vessels from the Siloah well just outside of the old city in Jerusalem, then accompanied with much fanfare and shofars blasting to the Temple area, and ultimately poured over the holy Alter in an elaborate and majestic way.  Celebrations throughout the day before and night (and day) afterwards accompanied this process.  As the Talmud describes:

 

The entire city of Jerusalem glowed with light during this time thanks to golden candlesticks more than 70 feet high filled with golden bowls of holy oil.  The greatest Sages would participate joyfully in the celebration, performing the most extraordinary feats. Some of them would bear burning torches in their hands while singing Psalms and other praises of G-d. The Levites would play many various musical instruments, including harps, lyres, cymbals, and trumpets.  The great Sage Rabbi Shimon ben Gamliel rejoiced at the water festival by juggling eight lighted torches; he would also kiss the ground as he did head stands, a feat which no one else could do.  Reb Levi used to juggle in the presence of Rabbi Yehuda HaNassi with eight knives. Shmuel would do the same with eight glasses of wine, without spilling any of their contents. Rabbi Abaye would juggle before Rabbi Rabba with eight eggs.  Rabbi ben Chanania said, “When we used to rejoice at the place of the water-drawing, our eyes saw no sleep.” It is explained that the entire day was occupied with holy activities, so that the participants in the simcha were busy from day to night.

 

Sounds like a great party, huh?  The Talmud certainly thought so, and thus declared: ”Whoever never witnessed the Simchat Beit Hashoeva – The Joyous Celebration of Drawing of Water – has never in his life seen true joy.”

 

Now while I am all for a good party, it strikes me that there are at least two problems with the description above.  First, isn’t the declaration of the Sages that “one who has not witnessed the Drawing of Water Celebration has never seen true joy” a little exaggerated?  Surely there must be other times of great joy in the lives of people; births, weddings and other personal, communal and national celebrations are but a few possibities.  We, of course, can dismiss the statement of our Sages as simple hyperbole, but is there also a way to understand it literally?

 

Second, and this question is not mine but rather the query of Rabbi Aron Soloveitchik, why is it that water is the source of all this joy?  Wouldn’t it make more sense if some other liquid, something more regal – like holy oil — or more celebratory — like wine — was the medium poured onto the Temple’s Alter?  After all, throughout our sacred texts we have a number of examples of how precious these latter liquids?  Olive oil, for example, is used to light the Menorah inside the Temple (and of course is the hero of the Chanuka miracle, a source of millenia of joy); wine, meanwhile, is described by the book of Psalms  as the source that ”gladdens the heart of man.”  Surely either of these liquids — both of which are more expensive, more rare and more valued by all — would have made a better choice to celebrate rather than simple water (which also, at least in those days, was basically free to all)?  So again, why is it that water is the source of all this joy?

 

Rabbi Soloveitchik answers as follows:  Yes, wine is a source of joy, just as the psalmist says it is.  And yes, imbibing it has the power to cause one to celebrate … and that’s the problem.  Wine is an outside factor that produces joy, and thus the joy that is produced is often outside the person him or herself.

 

Water, in contrast, does not produce any effect whatsoever on the person.  Nor is it something overly special — like olive oil in those days — that one would innately rejoice over possessing it.  It was everywhere, as common as … well, as common as water.  Therefore, if one was able to appreciate the water — despite it’s mundaneness — well, then, the resultant joy would not have been produced from the outside but rather something that emanated from within the person.

 

Water is a basic building block of life, and obviously we could not survive without it.  But because it is so basic we often forget about just how precious it really is.  Being joyous over it, therefore, is not obvious … just as it is not obvious to celebrate all things that are common and part of our everyday existence — our families, our friends, our daily routine, the little moments. 

 

Just imagine, though, if in spite of the fact that feeling uncontrollable joy over these basic things is not obvious we felt such joy nevertheless.  Just imagine, if in spite of the fact I always see my family, and I always do many of the same things each day — and thus these things are not special in the sense that they are not unique nor rare — just imagine if I nevertheless always felt a great joy in expereincing them.  Just imagine if everytime I saw my family it was like the first time (or some other special time) I saw them — like the day I married to my wife, the moment my child was born, the reunion with my parents after a long absent.  If that were the case, certainly I would not only live a more joyous life on a regular basis, experiencing joy thoughout the day, but I would also be able to even heighten the sense of joy when experiencing things that are less common.  If I learn how to appreciate my child everyday and not just on her birthday, or at her wedding, or at some other special time, then certainly I will appeciate these latter moments with even greater intensity and joy when they do arrive.

 

And that’s the lesson of water.  Yes, compared to wine and oil, it’s cheaper and less special.  And yes, water in itself — unlike wine — does not produce joy.  To be able to celebrate water, then, is a very high level; it means one has achieved an existential state of joy, one not dependent on outside forces, not wine nor the occurrence of some special event.  No, all such a person needs are the basics in life, the water in life.

 

Now we can understand the statement of the Talmud much better.  They were not saying that someone who never witnessed this particular ceremony never saw true joy in his life; rather, they were saying that someone who cannot find joy in the celebration of water alone — someone who cannot find joy in the common, everyday experiences – well then, this person will never experience true joy — even at uncommon moments.  Their joy will be the joy of wine – of needing an outside element — and that is incomplete.

 

If, however, such a person finds joy in everyday living, his potential for joy throughout life becomes unlimited.

 

And that’s something to celebrate. 

 

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On Topic
 

Touring Israel's Ancient Water Systems: Tsvika Tsuk, Israel Parks — “To each of the dwelling-places, both on the summit and around the palace, as well as in front of the wall, he (Herod the great) had cut in the rock a number of capacious cisterns, as reservoirs of water; thus securing a supply as ample as is derived from fountains”.  (The Jewish War by Josephus Flavius, book 7, chap. viii, 3).

 

 

Watering a Thirsty Planet: I.C. Mayer, Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Feb. 20, 2011— Israel's advanced approaches to water scarcity position it perfectly to tap into markets targeting the world's most rapidly depleting resource. Israel may be a land of milk and honey, but it is not blessed with an abundance of fresh water resources. In fact, the Sea of Galilee is the country's only natural lake and the rivers in Israel are quite modest in scale.

 

The Issue of Water between Israel and the Palestinians: Israel Water Authority, March 2009—The purpose of this document is to examine the issue of water between Israel and the Palestinians by presenting the existing water agreements and modes for implementing them, as well as stating the principles of both sides for coping with the shortage of water, currently and in the future.

 

The Politicization of  the Oslo Water Agreement (dissertation): Lauro Burkart, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies,Geneva Switzerland, 2012—Political events in the aftermath of the second Intifada led to a radicalization of the positions. This resulted in a politicization that is particularly driven by the Palestinian political leadership.

 

Political Currents of Water Management: Israel, Palestine, and Jordan: Jay Famiglietti,National Geographic, May 13, 2013—The geopolitics of water management in the Middle East are primarily governed by the basic distribution of freshwater resources: there are vast differences between the naturally available water resources in the region. Layer to this the additional complexity of political stability, financial assets, and other socioeconomic factors, and the potential for improved transboundary water management in the Middle East becomes vastly complicated.

 

Water: Facts about Israeli and Palestinian Use: The Israel Project,  March 22, 2013—Israel is in full compliance with the terms for water use and supply as outlined in the Oslo II peace process and delineated in the Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement. In fact, Israel provides 30 percent more water to the Palestinians than required, with the total amount of water available to them exceeding agreed-upon terms.

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