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Latest News in Israel – 2nd August

Israeli-Arab citizen found with six pipe bombs at West Bank checkpoint

Guards belonging to the Ministry of Defense Crossings Authority have thwarted a potential terror attack, after they uncovered improvised pipe bombs in the car of an Israeli-Arab man on Sunday night.

While initially the guards thought the man was in possession of four bombs, police sappers later found an additional two in the vehicle.

The unnamed man, a resident of the southern town of Rahat, has been taken for questioning by security forces. He was stopped and searched at a checkpoint in the West Bank while driving a car with Israeli license plates. It has not been confirmed whether the suspect is the owner of the car.

The checkpoint is located on Route 5, in the Shomron region of the West Bank. Had he been allowed to continue, the man’s journey would have taken him towards the town of Kfar Saba in central Israel. It is not known whether he was on the way to carry out an attack that evening.

Route 5 has been re-opened to traffic in both directions.                      (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli forces thwart attempted stabbing at West Bank checkpoint

Security forces thwarted an attempted stabbing on Sunday afternoon at the Huwara checkpoint near the West Bank city of Nablus.

During the incident, a Palestinian arrived at the checkpoint in a vehicle and exited it before approaching the IDF soldiers stationed at the post with a knife.

Israeli troops shot the Palestinian, who was later declared dead by a military medic. There were no Israeli casualties in the incident.

Following the attempted stabbing, security forces seal-off entrance to Nablus in order to allow emergency crews to arrive to the scene.

Meanwhile near Beersheba, police announced that they had lifted a previous warning of a security situation in the Negev region, adding that ongoings in the area had returned to routine.

Earlier, a large contingency of security forces were deployed to the Negev region in light of the unspecified security situation.

Police and firefighting units had erected roadblocks, however no special instructions had been issued for residents in the area. However, police had advised residents to remain vigilant and report any suspicious persons or objects.                    (Jerusalem Post)

Israel Gearing Up for Worst-Case ‘Day After’ Scenarios Against ISIS, Hezbollah if Russia-Brokered Syria Deal Materializes

Israel is gearing up for the “day after” an agreement is reached in Syria between the Assad regime and rebel forces, by preparing for worst-case scenarios, the Hebrew news site Walla reported on Sunday.

According to the report, attempts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to broker such a deal are on the verge of bearing fruit, something that Israel is planning for both politically and militarily. Where the latter is concerned, the IDF is taking into account that after the two warring sides in Syria achieve understandings, jihadists will turn their attention to and aim their fire at the Israeli border. This possibility was behind a series of drills conducted by the IDF’s Golani Brigade along the Syrian and Lebanese borders last week, to train for combat against ISIS terrorists.

Though, as Walla reported, the IDF defines the Syrian border as “stable” – despite a number of incidents of stray fire and mortar-landings over the past few weeks – the Northern Command is bracing itself for a new reality. Northern Command chief Maj. Gen. Aviv Kochavi thus ordered drills to prepare for potential cross-border attacks and infiltrations. In such events, he said, the IDF would retaliate with force.

The IDF was satisfied with the ability of the troops participating in the drill to meet the challenge. One aspect of the exercise was based on the assessment that most of the civilians on the other side of the borders are not terrorists, with only a small number of jihadis operating in their midst. An entire battalion was deployed in the exercise to pose as Syrian civilians, whom the soldiers in the field were to keep isolated from fire on either side.

One way this was done was through announcements shouted by Arabic-speaking officers into megaphones, to warn Syrian civilians of imminent IDF attacks against rebels. This was one move aimed at fostering a good relationship with the villagers living near the border fence — many of whom are already predisposed to Israel, after being treated in Israeli hospitals for wounds sustained in the crossfire of the war.

Meanwhile, assessments in the IDF are that an inter-Syrian agreement will lead not only to fighting against rebel jihadis, but with Iran’s proxy, the Lebanon-based terrorist organization Hezbollah, which supports the Assad regime. In such an event, the IDF believes, the need to maneuver deeper in Lebanon will be significantly greater than it was during Israel’s war against Hezbollah 10 years ago.

As The Algemeiner reported on Thursday, two major joint exercises, conducted by the US Marine Corps and the IDF, were undertaken recently. One called CAYA Green (for “come as you are when you get the green light”) simulated a raid on enemy shores. The other, Noble Shirley 2016, held in southern Israel, practiced counter-terrorism techniques against ISIS.

Earlier this month, US Secretary of State John Kerry and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said they had agreed on “concrete steps” to achieve a truce in Syria – following the complete breakdown of the partial ceasefire they brokered in February.

The bloody civil war in Syria has been going on since 2011. Putin backs the Assad regime. Washington is aiming to receive greater cooperation with Moscow in fighting the terrorist rebel groups, in exchange for Putin’s promise to rein in Assad.                            (the Algemeiner)

Netanyahu still interested in expanding coalition after reshuffle

After reshuffling some of the ministerial portfolios on Sunday, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said he was keeping the Foreign Affairs portfolio free and hoped to expand the government.

“Our governmental system creates tensions,” Netanyahu said at a two-and-a-half hour briefing with diplomatic reporters. “Overall the government is functioning well, but I am still interested in expanding it.”

Asked whether he was interested in replacing Bayit Yehudi with the Zionist Union, he replied that he wanted to expand the government, not constrict and then expand it.

The premier’s comments came just a few hours after the cabinet approved the minor reshuffle, with Netanyahu retaining the Foreign Affairs, Communications and Regional Cooperation portfolios.

Following speculation in May about the formation of a national unity government with the Zionist Union or a major reshuffle, Netanyahu ultimately made just a few minor moves to fill vacancies in his cabinet.

Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon received a second portfolio, the Economy Ministry, making him one of the most powerful finance ministers in the state’s history. The ministry’s labor and employment departments will be added to the ministry overseen by Welfare and Social Services Minister Haim Katz, thus reviving the Labor and Social Affairs Ministry.

Jerusalem Affairs Minister Ze’ev Elkin retained his current portfolio and gained the Environmental Protection Ministry, which Kahlon had overseen since Avi Gabbay, a member of his Kulanu party but not an MK, resigned from the post.

Netanyahu had sought ways to promote Minister-without- Portfolio Tzachi Hanegbi and Deputy Regional Cooperation Minister Ayoub Kara, but this came to naught.

Kara had received a promise from the prime minister to be promoted to a minister as late as Saturday night. One possibility is that Hanegbi will become regional cooperation minister and Kara a minister without portfolio.

“My appointment would have made Israel, Netanyahu, and the Likud look good around the world at a time when the prime minister is trying to reach out to minorities,” said Kara, who is Druse. “Netanyahu needs this appointment more than I do.”

At Sunday’s cabinet meeting, Social Equality Minister Gila Gamliel complained to Netanyahu that the Likud had too few ministers, according to the distribution of portfolios among the parties in the coalition.

Bennett voted against the appointment of Katz. Gamliel voted against a decision to transfer authority over the Government Advertising Office to Culture and Sport Minister Miri Regev.

During the briefing with reporters, Netanyahu touched on negotiations with the US over a new 10-year defense package, deflecting criticism that Israel could have gotten a better package had he negotiated before the Iran nuclear deal was signed last summer.

He said this was not the case, and that Israel would not have received significantly more had the aid negotiations concluded last year.

Acting National Security Council head Yaakov Nagel was scheduled to leave for three days of talks on the matter in the US on Sunday night, but Netanyahu would not discuss the sum being considered.

The deal is widely expected to reach $38 billion over the next decade.

The premier denied a Washington Post report quoting former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani as saying that Israeli leaders preferred Donald Trump as president over Hillary Clinton, saying he was being scrupulously careful in his meetings with American officials not to get involved in the election.

“I say we are not interfering and will work with whomever wins,” Netanyahu said The prime minister also said he spoke to US Secretary of State John Kerry on Sunday afternoon. Kerry updated him on his meeting in Paris Saturday afternoon with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu said he speaks to Kerry every few days.


PM Netanyahu…..note that Yuval Rotem, former Israeli Ambassador to Australia, sitting behind

The prime minister, who has come out squarely against a French initiative to hold an international Middle East peace conference at the end of the year, said Egyptian President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi had expressed an interest in moving forward a regional peace process, which Israel favored.

Netanyahu said that countries in the region had a “stake” in the diplomatic process, and that it had a better chance of succeeding if they were involved.

In addition, the prime minister explained Israel’s strategy of seeking alliances around the world – not as a replacement for that with the US, but in addition.

“What we see in the world is that the strong survive; the weak do not survive,” Netanyahu said. “And the strong build alliances.”

Israel was building alliances based on the fact that it is an “intelligence superpower,” as well as a country with technology that others seek, he said.

Netanyahu said that with the entire world facing the problem of terrorism, intelligence was essential, and Israel provides intelligence. The intelligence it has provided other countries prevented a number of attacks around the world, he said, without providing details.

Regarding efforts to build alliances, he confirmed what was reported last week in The Jerusalem Post, that he intended to make a trip to western Africa in the coming months.

Regarding the brouhaha over the delay in the start of operations by the new public broadcaster – an issue that led to heated debate in the cabinet on Sunday – Netanyahu repeated what he has said in the past: that there is an over-centralization of news in Israel, and that he wants to open up the private television market to viewpoints from across the political spectrum while retaining a public broadcaster that will present all views.

(Jerusalem Post)

Palestinian father tries to sacrifice his son for Palestinian Propaganda

This is the education that these children are receiving and there can and will be no peace under such circumstances

The F-35 Lightning II Adir takes off on its maiden flight

Israel’s first stealth fighter, a Lockheed Martin F-35 “Adir”, took its maiden flight, passing all of the tests with flying colors.

The flight, which lasted some 20 minutes, is the first operation of an Israeli stealth aircraft since the plane was formally “delivered” to Israel at a ceremony in Fort Worth, Texas in June.

The plane is one of two aircraft which are scheduled to be delivered to Israel by December 12th, 2016.                       (Arutz Sheva)

Member of Saudi delegation: Israeli society wants peace

Abd al-Mujid al-Hakim, a member of the Saudi Arabian delegation that recently visited Israel and the Palestinian territories, told BBC Arabic on Friday that he believes Israeli society wants peace.

“In Arab societies, the picture of Israeli society is that it embraces a culture of death, wants to spill blood, and does not believe in peace. That [picture] is not correct.” He continued, “The Israeli society that I encountered embraces a culture of peace, has accomplishments it wants to (protect), wants coexistence, and wants peace.”

Hakim, who also serves as director of the Middle East Center for Strategic and Legal Policy in Jedda, added that he thinks that the current stalemate in the peace process does not relate to differences in policy between the Israelis and Palestinians.

“The problem between the Israeli and Palestinian sides is not that they have different positions. When we dialogued with Mr. Dore Gold, members of Knesset, and members of organizations fighting for peace, the disagreements did not relate to the Arab Peace Initiative. They accept the Arab Peace Initiative.” Instead he suggested, “The problem is the lack of mutual trust between the two sides.”

Hakim added that he and his colleagues do not just want to achieve a political peace between states, but also a general peace between peoples. “We do not want peace like Camp David. It is true that it is a peace that has succeeded in terms of politics, but it failed on the popular level. We want peace and an end to suffering though a political and popular peace.”

Hakim also called on parties that condemned his delegation’s visit to not use the Palestinian issue for political gain. “Lets stop exploiting the Palestinian suffering and issue to achieve political gains in the region…Enough of this exploitation.”

He then defended his delegation’s visit, saying it seeks to achieve peace. “We are spreading peace. We want to achieve a new reality for the Palestinian citizen, different from the miserable reality under which he currently lives.”

Hakim and his colleague, Former Saudi General Anwar Eshki, and other Saudis, who arrived as a part of a delegation to meet with Israeli and Palestinian officials and members of civil society, have confronted multiple criticisms for their visit in the past week.                           (Jerusalem Post)

UN-veiling the Israeli narrative

A dozen ambassadors representing countries from all over the world, arrived in Israel Sunday at the invitation of Israel’s UN Ambassador Danny Danon, who plans on showing his colleagues an alternative and more complex view of Israel.

Danon’s guests included ambassadors from Uruguay (which serves as the UN Security Council), Thailand, Serbia, Tanzania, Liberia, Bosnia, Panama, Equatorial Guinea, Palau, the Marshall Islands and Moldova.

“Everyone who visits our country walks away with a deeper understanding of our security challenges,” said Danon. “The aim here is to try and get them to change their voting patterns, in the UN and beyond.” He added that the visit also holds a mutual interest, to learn and teach one another. “It’s also important to remember that the countries of the world view Israel as an inspiration and wish to learn from our success.”

The delegation’s trip was set up by the American Jewish Committee. During their time in Israel, the ambassadors will tour Kibbutz Nahal Oz located near the border with Gaza, visit the Ziv Medical Center in Safed to meet some of the Syrian patients receiving care there, undergo a security briefing along the border with Lebanon and fly the Israeli skies to get a bird’s eye view of the country.

Wishing to showcase different sides of Israel, Danon’s guests will also visit holy sites in Jerusalem, a water purifying plant in Ashkelon and be introduced to Israel’s ever-growing culinary scene.                   (Ynet News)

IDF artillery undergoes rapid changes in face of hybrid foes

A newly established IDF artillery brigade recently held a large-scale war drill to prepare for a potential clash with Hamas in Gaza, but the live-fire training involved far more than shells.

During the drill, the brigade, dubbed Flame of Fire – a part of the Sinai Division – also fired precision-guided Spear (Romach) rockets, produced by Israel Military Industries, which are surface-to-surface, GPS-guided weapons. The brigade operated radars that can detect the source of enemy rocket fire and enable rapid return fire and deployed additional measures that remain classified.

The drill sheds light on the evolving role and capabilities of artillery units in the IDF. In recent years, these were dismissed as being no longer relevant to 21st-century asymmetrical warfare, yet they proved vital in operations that saved infantry units under heavy fire in Gaza during the 2014 war with Hamas.

“There are some who eulogized the artillery before Operation Protective Edge,” Col. Rami Habudraham, 41, commander of the Flame of Fire Brigade, told The Jerusalem Post on Sunday.

“In [the Gazan City district of] Shejaia, it was the artillery that rescued the Golani Brigade [from a coordinated Hamas ambush of antitank missiles and machine-gun fire],” he said.

A soldier from the recently established Flame of Fire Brigade participates in a live-fire drill in southern Israel last week[2]

A soldier from the recently established Flame of Fire Brigade participates in a live-fire drill in southern Israel last week

The Flame of Fire Brigade began its drill last week at the Tze’elim Ground Forces Training Center in the Negev. Its mock mission was to provide assistance fire to an infantry brigade moving into Gaza. The drill ended 50 kilometers away at the Shivta Field Artillery Training Center.

Until recently, the Flame of Fire Brigade’s commanders were instructors at the Shivta training center before the IDF decided at the start of the year that the center would double as a cutting-edge firepower and field intelligence force and not be limited to training.

Habudraham, who spent his entire military career in the Artillery Corps, said a new concept is evolving in the IDF that is tailor-made to the hit-andrun, vanishing hybrid enemies that seek to terrorize the Israeli home front with rockets and attack the IDF.

“Statistical [non-accurate] fire can surprise the enemy and throw it off balance,” he said.

“The catch is, how to deploy this firepower correctly. We did not do it so well in the Second Lebanon War. We did it well in Operation Protective Edge, and we will do it better in the next war. It is about firing small, accurate barrages that do much more damage.”

There is an additional catch in the IDF’s evolving approach: the combination of mortar-shell fire with precision- guided rocket and missile fire against targets singled out by intelligence as being particularly important to damaging the enemy. Habudraham called this concept “focused, intelligence- based fire.”

This is why artillery units in the IDF are increasingly housing units that are not artillery. Instead, they fire precision- guided rockets and missiles, including the Romach, which entered service in January, alongside the older Tamuz surface-to-surface missiles and other weapons.

The Flame of Fire Brigade also has its own field intelligence unit and its own radars.

The new concept began to take hold when the IDF formed the Golan Division in 2014 to deal with the unstable Syria border and the myriad of potential enemies that were active beyond the border. It was then that the IDF set up a new Fire Assistance Center in the Golan Division to fast-track strikes on enemies in a chaotic landscape.

Across the Syrian border lie the al-Nusra Front, Hezbollah and ISIS, and the IDF reorganized its ground forces. As part of the changes, the Artillery Corps was given the ability to gather its own intelligence on the battlefield. The end result is a shortening of the sensor to shooter cycle, the officer said.

In the coming years, the Artillery Corps will also receive GPS-guided shells, which will make logistics easier when traveling into hostile territory since less of the munitions are needed for strikes, meaning that fewer have to be hauled into the battlefield.

Artillery brigades will provide critical assistance firepower to infantry units out ahead of them, a fact that shapes all of its training today, the commander said.

“Hamas functions by attacking and then disappearing into urban areas,” Habudraham said. “One of the challenges is how to track them and respond rapidly while adhering to constraints posed by the need to avoid hitting noncombatants.”                 (Jerusalem Post)

Israeli Cabinet Gives Backing to Bank Reforms

The cabinet on Sunday unanimously approved legislation forcing the two biggest banks to divest their credit-card companies as the centerpiece of reforms aimed at making borrowing easier for consumers.

But as ministers approved the bill, which will go to the Knesset this week for the first of three readings required for it to become law, Bank of Israel Governor Karnit Flug signaled concerns about its affect on the banks’ financial stability.

“More banks and more small banks and more financial intermediaries that are not banks mean a higher risk of collapse,” she said in remarks to the cabinet, saying regulators would have to shepherd the process carefully. Nevertheless, Flug said she supported the reforms.

The draft law, based on the recommendations of the government’s Strum committee, also make it easier for new banks to be formed. However, the panel’s call for the banks to divest their jointly owned credit clearinghouse, Shva, is being deferred until later, under the terms approved by the ministers.

The vote was a victory for Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon, who has made competition in banking one of his key policy initiatives. He defended the measures against critics, which include the International Monetary Fund.

“There are special-interest groups that are giving the false impression that we are flooding the economy with credit. This is the opposite of the truth,” he said. “All we are doing is ensuring that those with no access to credit can get it.”                                          (Haáretz)

Netanyahu: Israel will remain neutral in U.S. election

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said on Sunday that Israel would remain neutral in the U.S. presidential election campaign and avoid any intervention on behalf of any candidate.

The remarks were made in a press conference with diplomatic correspondents and quoted by Haaretz.

Netanyahu told the reporters that although he is attending the United Nations General Assembly in September he doesn’t have any meetings set as yet with either candidate, the Republican Donald Trump or the Democratic Hillary Clinton.

“We are presenting both candidates with our positions but are not interfering,” he stressed.

“There is no point in interfering and it’s not smart to interfere,” added Netanyahu.

The Israeli Prime Minister faced allegations of interfering in U.S. politics when he met Mitt Romney, the Republican candidate, ahead of the 2012 presidential race, when President Barack Obama wound up being reelected.

Netanyahu did not support Romney in any perceivable way, but the dislike and disrespect that the Obama administration showed for Netanyahu throughout his first term made it easy for anti-Netanyahu media to present the PM as being pro-Romney.

In Sunday’s briefing, Netanyahu also rejected arguments that Israel could have achieved a better U.S. aid package had he negotiated earlier, before the Congressional vote on the Iran deal, as President Barack Obama had suggested.

“I know what was really discussed,” he said, adding that “Israel would not be left wanting.”

“We are still in the process, and hope we are near its end. Reaching a military assistance agreement with this administration will send a message of multi-partisanship with regard to everything related to American support for Israel,” Netanyahu said, according to Haaretz.

Netanyahu’s acting national security adviser, Jacob Nagel, left for Washington on Sunday for three days of talks to try to finalize the aid deal.

The current defense agreement between Israel and the United States remains in force until 2018, and Netanyahu has been urged to accept Obama’s 10-year military aid package which reportedly includes a total of $145.8 million for Israeli missile defense programs, a sharp drop in financial support.

A total of $3 billion in defense aid is given annually, but Netanyahu has asked for an increase to $5 billion annually, in light of the greater need for security due to the growing Iranian threat after the nuclear deal.

Despite the disagreements, however, officials in Washington recently said they believe Netanyahu would sign the new memorandum of understanding with the Obama administration instead of waiting for the next president.                                           (Arutz Sheva)

Israel Proves the Desalination Era is Here

One of the driest countries on earth now makes more freshwater than it needs

By Rowan Jacobsen,               Scientific American


Ten miles south of Tel Aviv, I stand on a catwalk over two concrete reservoirs the size of football fields and watch water pour into them from a massive pipe emerging from the sand. The pipe is so large I could walk through it standing upright, were it not full of Mediterranean seawater pumped from an intake a mile offshore.

“Now, that’s a pump!” Edo Bar-Zeev shouts to me over the din of the motors, grinning with undisguised awe at the scene before us. The reservoirs beneath us contain several feet of sand through which the seawater filters before making its way to a vast metal hangar, where it is transformed into enough drinking water to supply 1.5 million people.

We are standing above the new Sorek desalination plant, the largest reverse-osmosis desal facility in the world, and we are staring at Israel’s salvation. Just a few years ago, in the depths of its worst drought in at least 900 years, Israel was running out of water. Now it has a surplus. That remarkable turnaround was accomplished through national campaigns to conserve and reuse Israel’s meager water resources, but the biggest impact came from a new wave of desalination plants.

Bar-Zeev, who recently joined Israel’s Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research after completing his postdoc work at Yale University, is an expert on biofouling, which has always been an Achilles’ heel of desalination and one of the reasons it has been considered a last resort. Desal works by pushing saltwater into membranes containing microscopic pores. The water gets through, while the larger salt molecules are left behind. But microorganisms in seawater quickly colonize the membranes and block the pores, and controlling them requires periodic costly and chemical-intensive cleaning. But Bar-Zeev and colleagues developed a chemical-free system using porous lava stone to capture the microorganisms before they reach the membranes. It’s just one of many breakthroughs in membrane technology that have made desalination much more efficient. Israel now gets 55 percent of its domestic water from desalination, and that has helped to turn one of the world’s driest countries into the unlikeliest of water giants.

Driven by necessity, Israel is learning to squeeze more out of a drop of water than any country on Earth, and much of that learning is happening at the Zuckerberg Institute, where researchers have pioneered new techniques in drip irrigation, water treatment and desalination. They have developed resilient well systems for African villages and biological digesters than can halve the water usage of most homes.

Bar-Zeev believes that Israel’s solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.The institute’s original mission was to improve life in Israel’s bone-dry Negev Desert, but the lessons look increasingly applicable to the entire Fertile Crescent. “The Middle East is drying up,” says Osnat Gillor, a professor at the Zuckerberg Institute who studies the use of recycled wastewater on crops. “The only country that isn’t suffering acute water stress is Israel.”

That water stress has been a major factor in the turmoil tearing apart the Middle East, but Bar-Zeev believes that Israel’s solutions can help its parched neighbors, too — and in the process, bring together old enemies in common cause.

Bar-Zeev acknowledges that water will likely be a source of conflict in the Middle East in the future. “But I believe water can be a bridge, through joint ventures,” he says. “And one of those ventures is desalination.”

Driven to Desperation

In 2008, Israel teetered on the edge of catastrophe. A decade-long drought had scorched the Fertile Crescent, and Israel’s largest source of freshwater, the Sea of Galilee, had dropped to within inches of the “black line” at which irreversible salt infiltration would flood the lake and ruin it forever. Water restrictions were imposed, and many farmers lost a year’s crops.

Their counterparts in Syria fared much worse. As the drought intensified and the water table plunged, Syria’s farmers chased it, drilling wells 100, 200, then 500 meters (300, 700, then 1,600 feet) down in a literal race to the bottom. Eventually, the wells ran dry and Syria’s farmland collapsed in an epic dust storm. More than a million farmers joined massive shantytowns on the outskirts of Aleppo, Homs, Damascus and other cities in a futile attempt to find work and purpose.

Water is driving the entire region to desperate acts.And that, according to the authors of “Climate Change in the Fertile Crescent and Implications of the Recent Syrian Drought,” a 2015 paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, was the tinder that burned Syria to the ground. “The rapidly growing urban peripheries of Syria,” they wrote, “marked by illegal settlements, overcrowding, poor infrastructure, unemployment, and crime, were neglected by the Assad government and became the heart of the developing unrest.”

Similar stories are playing out across the Middle East, where drought and agricultural collapse have produced a lost generation with no prospects and simmering resentments. Iran, Iraq and Jordan all face water catastrophes. Water is driving the entire region to desperate acts.

More Water Than Needs

Except Israel. Amazingly, Israel has more water than it needs. The turnaround started in 2007, when low-flow toilets and showerheads were installed nationwide and the national water authority built innovative water treatment systems that recapture 86 percent of the water that goes down the drain and use it for irrigation — vastly more than the second-most-efficient country in the world, Spain, which recycles 19 percent.

But even with those measures, Israel still needed about 1.9 billion cubic meters (2.5 billion cubic yards) of freshwater per year and was getting just 1.4 billion cubic meters (1.8 billion cubic yards) from natural sources. That 500-million-cubic-meter (650-million-cubic-yard) shortfall was why the Sea of Galilee was draining like an unplugged tub and why the country was about to lose its farms.

The country faces a previously unfathomable question: What to do with its extra water?Enter desalination. The Ashkelon plant, in 2005, provided 127 million cubic meters (166 million cubic yards) of water. Hadera, in 2009, put out another 140 million cubic meters (183 million cubic yards). And now Sorek, 150 million cubic meters (196 million cubic yards). All told, desal plants can provide some 600 million cubic meters (785 million cubic yards) of water a year, and more are on the way.

The Sea of Galilee is fuller. Israel’s farms are thriving. And the country faces a previously unfathomable question: What to do with its extra water?

Water Diplomacy

Inside Sorek, 50,000 membranes enclosed in vertical white cylinders, each 4 feet high and 16 inches wide, are whirring like jet engines. The whole thing feels like a throbbing spaceship about to blast off. The cylinders contain sheets of plastic membranes wrapped around a central pipe, and the membranes are stippled with pores less than a hundredth the diameter of a human hair. Water shoots into the cylinders at a pressure of 70 atmospheres and is pushed through the membranes, while the remaining brine is returned to the sea.

Sorek Desalination Plant[1]

Sorek Desalination Plant

Desalination used to be an expensive energy hog, but the kind of advanced technologies being employed at Sorek have been a game changer. Water produced by desalination costs just a third of what it did in the 1990s. Sorek can produce a thousand liters of drinking water for 58 cents. Israeli households pay about US$30 a month for their water — similar to households in most U.S. cities, and far less than Las Vegas (US$47) or Los Angeles (US$58).

The International Desalination Association claims that 300 million people get water from desalination, and that number is quickly rising. IDE, the Israeli company that built Ashkelon, Hadera and Sorek, recently finished the Carlsbad desalination plant in Southern California, a close cousin of its Israel plants, and it has many more in the works. Worldwide, the equivalent of six additional Sorek plants are coming online every year. The desalination era is here.

What excites Bar-Zeev the most is the opportunity for water diplomacy.What excites Bar-Zeev the most is the opportunity for water diplomacy. Israel supplies the West Bank with water, as required by the 1995 Oslo II Accords, but the Palestinians still receive far less than they need. Water has been entangled with other negotiations in the ill-fated peace process, but now that more is at hand, many observers see the opportunity to depoliticize it. Bar-Zeev has ambitious plans for a Water Knows No Boundaries conference in 2018, which will bring together water scientists from Egypt, Turkey, Jordan, Israel, the West Bank and Gaza for a meeting of the minds.

Even more ambitious is the US$900 million Red Sea–Dead Sea Canal, a joint venture between Israel and Jordan to build a large desalination plant on the Red Sea, where they share a border, and divide the water among Israelis, Jordanians and the Palestinians. The brine discharge from the plant will be piped 100 miles north through Jordan to replenish the Dead Sea, which has been dropping a meter per year since the two countries began diverting the only river that feeds it in the 1960s. By 2020, these old foes will be drinking from the same tap.

On the far end of the Sorek plant, Bar-Zeev and I get to share a tap as well. Branching off from the main line where the Sorek water enters the Israeli grid is a simple spigot, a paper cup dispenser beside it. I open the tap and drink cup after cup of what was the Mediterranean Sea 40 minutes ago. It tastes cold, clear and miraculous.

The contrasts couldn’t be starker. A few miles from here, water disappeared and civilization crumbled. Here, a galvanized civilization created water from nothingness. As Bar-Zeev and I drink deep, and the climate sizzles, I wonder which of these stories will be the exception, and which the rule.