Vol. 10, No.3 Spring 2001
IASPS Conference: Water Crisis is Basis for Regional Alliance
High-level officials from Turkey and Israel concluded two
days of discussions (May 30-31) sponsored by the Institute for Advanced
Strategic and Political Studies in Jerusalem, focusing on economic policy
aspects of the current water crisis in Israel, and a new geopolitical strategy
for the region.
A speedy agreement for Israel to import water from Turkey will promote this new framework, Institute Strategic Fellow Paul Michael Wihbey said.
At an IASPS public conference held in Jerusalem on May 30,
Deputy Israeli Minister of Infrastructure Naomi Blumenthal said that "Israel is
on the verge of a catastrophe" regarding its water supplies.
Minister of Infrastructure Avigdor Lieberman said he
expected a tender just issued for water desalinization plants to bear fruit "only
in two years" when the plants are finished. Lieberman criticized "decisions that
were not being made quickly enough." He lashed out at the Israeli bureaucracy
and state apparatus that "stop all activity" and economic progress. Lieberman
declared that "it is hard to have an efficient economy when decisions take an
average of 26 to 30 years."
Lieberman said that looking at the region, Israel's
nearest partner is Turkey. Security and defense issues are often discussed, but
economic cooperation is also a mutual interest. "Our greatest interest is
economic cooperation in water and energy," said Lieberman, noting that "diversification
of Israel's water sources is vital."
Water as a First Step
The Turkish ambassador to Israel, Ahmet Uzumcu, claimed
Turkey wants to "use water to promote peace in the area." The first concrete
proposals to import Turkish water were made two years ago, but bureaucratic and
other delays have prevented any action being taken. He added that Turkey is not
going to make a huge profit from an agreement to export its water to Israel,
because the amount of water Israel is planning to import is not that great.
In one of the strongest and most frank statements made
during the discussions, Dr. Ali Ihsan Bagis, director of the Hydropolitics and
Strategic Research and Development Center at Hacettepe University in Ankara,
called on Israeli policymakers to "make a gesture and stop prolonging
negotiations over the price of water." In his opinion, he said, the long delays
were not favorably perceived by policymakers in Turkey.
Ilan Berman, a contributing analyst at the Institute for
Advanced Strategic and Political Studies in Washington, D.C. and a fellow at the
American Foreign Policy Council, agreed, and blamed the cancellation over the
past year of $5 billion worth of military and industrial contracts between
Israel and Turkey, on Turkish displeasure at the delays in reaching a water
Berman urged Israelis and Americans to view the upcoming water deal as a first step towards a strategic relationship, that would later include Jordan, and that would provide a Western-based alliance for the region to counter the Syrian-Iraqi and Russian-based axis already existing.
Oil and Gas Pipelines
Israel's Minister for Regional Cooperation Tsippi Livni appeared as one of the keynote speakers at the conference. She spoke of the benefits that could accrue to Israel from a new oil and gas pipeline, from Baku in Azerbeijan through Tblisi in Georgia and ending at Ceyhan in Turkey. Livni noted that both Turkey and Israel stand to benefit from Caspian gas and oil from this area.
Necdet Pamir, of the Center for Eurasian Strategic Studies
(ASAM) in Ankara, explained that "it is of vital importance for the newly
independent republics in the Caspian region to be able to immediately export
their hydrocarbon riches through routes that are not exclusively crossing
Russian territory..., it is also crucial for Turkey to diversify its supply of
energy sources.'' Pamir offered Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan and Turkmenistan as
examples of potential energy sources for Turkey, and noted that Turkey in turn
offers them "the most rational market and export route'' as an alternative
to Russian outlets.
Also speaking at the conference and taking part in
discussions were Israeli Minister without Portfolio Dr. Yuri Stern, who, over
the past two years, has been engaged in long and fruitful discussions with IASPS,
both in Jerusalem and in Washington, on Israeli water and energy policy; Knesset
Science Committee member Eliezer "Cheetah" Cohen; and Israeli, Turkish and
American businessmen and academics.
P. Michael Wihbey summarized the discussions: "The
establishment of a four-nation working group comprising the U.S., Israel, Turkey
and Jordan, to examine and report on regional issues of water management and
allocation, is of great importance.
"A speedy conclusion of an agreement for Israel to import
fresh water from Turkey will enhance the Turkish-Israeli strategic alignment.
"The government and people of Israel have much to gain from a new pipeline from Baku to Ceyhan. This pipeline will be a boon to the whole region, given the need to diversify oil and natural gas supplies to European and Mediterranean consumers, including Turkey and Israel."
Also in this issue:
Prologues and a Future
Fellows Month in Washington