Lebanese water works threaten Israel’s supply

JERUSALEM, March 14 (JTA) – Israeli security sources are expressing concern over work on the Lebanese side of the border to build a water-pumping station on the Hatzbani River, one of the main feeders into Israel’s water supply.

The Hatzbani, Dan and Banias rivers feed into the Jordan River, which leads into the Sea of Galilee, Israel’s main supply of drinking water.

Uri Saguy, chairman of the Mekorot water company and a former Israel Defense Force intelligence chief, called the Lebanese step illegal and a violation of the delicate status quo.

He cautioned that some sort of arrangement must be reached on the matter, which he described as a potential causus belli.

A French news agency quoted an Israeli security source as calling the Lebanese actions very grave, and warning that Israel would be forced to respond.

Legislator Michael Kleiner of the hawkish National Union Party called the work in Lebanon a “provocation.”

The development comes as Israel faces a severe water crisis due to several years of low rainfall.

Israel is considering a number of remedies, including importing water from Turkey and building water treatment and desalination facilities.

During deliberations on the water shortage this week, Water Commissioner Shimon Tal said the situation is so bad that the country will be hard pressed to provide water for basic needs.

“In order to ensure that there will be drinking water in faucets next year, drastic steps must be taken,” he said. “We have to cease watering lawns and gardens.”

Despite its own shortfall, Israel provides water to Jordan under the terms of the peace agreement between the two countries. In past drought years, Jordan has rejected any suggestions that Israel be allowed to reduce the amount of water it provides.

Just before taking office earlier this month, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon was presented with several recommendations for dealing with the water crisis.

Among them was a total ban on watering lawns and parts of parks and gardens for three years and the introduction of emergency measures for water supplies in cities, according to the Jerusalem Post.

Farmers, already reeling from a 50 percent cutback in fresh-water quotas in recent years, would be asked to use even less.

The minimum permissible level of the Sea of Galilee has been lowered several times in recent years, but the hydrological service has recommended not allowing levels to drop any further for fear of irreparably damaging water quality in the lake and underground reservoirs. The main danger is an increased risk of salination due to higher concentrations of pollutants in the reduced amount of remaining water.

If Lebanon now siphons off water from the Hatzbani, it could undermine the foundations of Israel’s water management policy, Water Commissioner Tal warned.

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