Israel Can Have its Salt Water
By: Helmi Moussa Translated from As-Safir (Lebanon).
Since the beginning of the Zionist project, Israel's founding fathers drew up a roadmap so that the rising entity would not only survive, but flourish. Water played a central role in how this entity was shaped, whether it involved underground or surface water — such as the Tiberias or Al-Hawlah Lakes — or salt water, like that found in the Mediterranean Sea or the Gulf of Aqaba.
About This Article
Israel’s success in developing water desalination projects means that the country is less likely to wage war over water resources, writes Helmi Moussa. Thanks to decades of development in water technologies, Israel can use saltwater to meet its people’s needs without relying on its neighbors.Publisher: As-Safir (Lebanon)
Desalination Facilities in Israel…Will This Keep It From Waging “Wars over Water Resources?”
Author: Helmi Moussa
First Published: June 14, 2012
Posted on: June 18 2012
Translated by: Hiba Hasan
Categories : Israel
Over time, the conflict between Israel and the Arab countries over both freshwater and salt water intensified, whether it was over the Jordan River tributary or the Straits of Tiran. For decades, many predicted that the war over water resources would become the most virulent in the region.
However, after combining technology with money and political, regional and international changes, the water resources issue has been revisited from another angle. It is possible that the talk about gas discovery in the Mediterranean Sea and the possible outbreak of conflict over gas — whether between Israel and Lebanon, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, or even Egypt — has overshadowed the issue of water. Talking about fresh water as a probable cause of conflict has ceased.
Clearly, part of the reason why the focus on fresh water has shifted, at least from the Israeli side, is due to Israel’s successful investment in water desalination projects.
Some people in Israel talk about this issue as if it were a miracle. The state, which would have gone to war for water resources, realized that desalinating water is not only less expensive than war, but it can also become a profitable investment. [Israel], a state once desperate for fresh water, has now become a country wishing to export it — or at least the technology that can produce it.
Media reports have emphasized Israel’s satisfaction with the water issue after seven austere years during which it faced scarcity, especially in surface water and groundwater. For years, water experts had been adjusting the “red line” for water in Israel. However, their satisfaction stems mainly from the water desalination projects that were established on the Mediterranean shore, described by some as one of the “largest in the world.”
Currently, there are five desalination facilities in Israel that are either complete or nearly complete, the largest of which is in Hadera city. In addition to these, there are two facilities in Ashkelon, Palmachim, Soreq, and Ashdod. By 2013, these facilities are expected to desalinate approximately 600 million cubic meters of water annually. This is nearly four times the amount pumped from Tiberias Lake each year.
At this point, half of the running water in Israeli homes comes from water desalination plants. Israelis stopped relying on rain water years ago; now they resort to sea water to meet their needs. The IDE Company (a subsidiary of Delek Group) and Kail Company played an important role in transforming Israel into a major player in the desalination field. The two companies have established desalination plants not only in Israel, but also in many countries around the world.
Ironically, Israeli experts said that the idea of water desalination is very old, and that the Phoenicians were the first to come up with it. “The first scientific article written about water desalination in history was published by Arab chemists in the eighth century,” they added. An Israeli expert said that, despite the great difference between today’s facilities and those set up in the past, the underlying principle “has existed for hundreds of years, at least.”
Israel’s concept of water desalination goes back to David Ben-Gurion, in the early 1950s. According to an Israeli expert, “he was the first to notice the water shortage and the impact that it would have on the geopolitical situation.” The expert also said that “Ben-Gurion understood that we could not afford to rely on our neighbors, so he figured that a portion of our water needs could be met through dams that collected rainwater, and the rest could be met through desalinating salt water.” Indeed, Ben-Gurion ordered that a government committee be established to handle the water issue. The committee was comprised of water and electric company representatives and the chairman of the American Electric Power Company.
The first water desalination plant was established in Eilat in the mid-1960s. It reflected the size of US involvement in developing this sector. The first desalination plants used evaporation techniques, which was too expensive and required too much power. After a few years, Israel and the “Fairbanks Whitney” company based in the US came together to develop a type of desalination technology conceived by Alexander Zarhin, a Russian Jewish scientist who had immigrated to Israel.
Zarhin and a group of scientists established an Israeli-US by the name of “Desalination Plant M.D.” which constructed a facility near the beach in Tel Aviv. Eventually, the company set up four small desalination plants in Eilat, each capable of producing 350 cubic meters of water per year. Despite the complexities involved in the desalination methods used by these plants, the firm introduced a new, quickly-evolving technical element which made use of pressure mechanisms. The “Israeli Desalination Engineering Company” was then founded, and soon became the IDE Company.
Between the mid-1960s and 1980, the company sold over one hundred water desalination facilities to several countries around the world, including Spain and Italy. However, the evolution of the Israeli company in this field mainly took place after the opening the Iranian market during the era of the Shah. The Shah was a partner to Israel in both the development of the Eilat-Ashkelon pipeline and in several desalination projects.
As the Israeli government continued with its water desalination program, its production increased from 50 million cubic meters of water per year in 2000, to 400 million in 2003. In 2007, the government decided that it would aim to desalinate 750 million cubic meters of water per year starting in 2020. As mentioned previously, [in 2013], the government’s goal is to desalinate 600 million cubic meters of water.
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