And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely.—Revelations 22:17
Did you ever take a shower in Singapore? I don’t mean one of those tropical showers pouring down from the tropical skies almost every day, but an indoors shower in a nice bathroom. In Singapore, everything is brightly clean; you can shave using the faucets as mirrors. Unlike other tropical destinations, hot water is always available. After a minute or two, one feels an odd tingling on the skin. Yet, there weren’t any bedbugs in the clean sheets; they couldn’t have survived all the way from… Carefully tasting a drop, one finds that it is acidic. Singapore uses ion-exchange desalination technologies; to the bathrooms it supplies slightly cheaper water, which had been left acid and tingling.
Singapore and Israel are close allies; I often had commented on the military links between the two island states. Israel may not be a physical island, but it is an isolated culture, with much in common with its Eastern Asian friend. The links don’t end at the missiles level, both countries are water-thirsty. Singapore solved its problems with large desalination plants; Israel is working on that and on the verge of taking strategic decisions.
Water has been always a strategic asset in the Holy Land. The foundation of the State of Israel wouldn’t have been possible without the establishment in 1937 of “Mekorot” (“Origins” in Hebrew), the national water company. The transfer of water from the fertile north to the semi-desert central plains allowed the creation of Gush Dan (Dan’s Block), the large metropolis at Israel’s center with Tel Aviv at its heart. In the first two decades of the state, “HaMovil HaArtzi” (The National Water Carrier) established a fast water-route between the Sea of Galilee (a lake), the Central Plain, Jerusalem (via Burma Road) and the Northern Negev Desert. It worked for a few years, but the level of the Sea of Galilee dropped dangerously. In order to save this vital lake, the amounts of its waters allowed to flow southwards through the Jordan River were severely limited. I grew up next to this river, yet, seeing it amounted to a minor miracle.
This excessive exploitation was one of the causes for the dry up of the Dead Sea southern part (see map below); if no solution is found to this problem the sea level of Earth’s lowest point will drop to minus 550m in the following 100 years. Several projects exist, but they are expensive and may cause other environmental problems. In the future, one of them would be implemented to save Israel and Jordan lucrative bromine derivatives industries, but this topic belongs to a future article. Further drilling of the Mountain Aquifer is forbidden by the 1995 Interim Agreement, which is part of the Oslo Peace Process. In the late 1990s, Israel started exploring the desalination options for the Mediterranean Sea.
Israel’s Desalination Plants
An Urgent Phone Call to Marie Antoinette
Considering the ugly stereotype assigned to French people by Israelis, one must wonder at the strategic help this country has given to Israel along the years. After all, they can’t claim ignorance; many French live in Israel, including in the West Bank (France Fortifies Israeli Settlements). France provided Israel with the initial technologies for its nuclear program; this option was promoted by Shimon Peres who discarded their independent development by the Weizmann Institute. In the 1990s, Israel remembered this and chose France as one of the desalination project developers.
Unlike with the Israeli obsession to give the Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields as a gift to the USA, the desalination project was freer, with a limited international bid taking place. The Finnish Kemira, represented by the Jacobson Agencies was the underdog, and lost all bids and attempts. The winner was French Veolia; its predecessor Compagnie Générale des Eaux (CGE) was created by an Imperial decree of Napoleon III.
The first experimental plant in Israel was opened in Eilat in 1997. The first commercial plant opened in Ashkelon in 2005. In 2013, Israel has seven desalination plants. The one in Hedera (see picture above) is a seawater reverse osmosis (SWRO) desalination plant; it is the largest of its kind in the world. With the expansion of the projects, the price of desalinated water is dropping; by the end of this year is expected to reach $0.50 per cubic meter. Two other plants are expected to open this year, in Ashdod and Soreq (next to Israel’s research nuclear reactor), bringing the use of this water to over 10% of the total. The latter project is owned by a billionaire from Hong Kong, Li Ka-Shing. However, Israel is stuck.
The USA is practically empty; during my trips there, even what Americans call cities looked to me like a vast emptiness, a long series of large and quite empty parking lots. America is so empty that Americans consider Chinaa densely populated country. That is true along China’s coast, but take a railway trip from Shanghai to Kashgar—across the country—and most of the time only a vast desert would be seen from the windows. Israel and Palestine are populated beyond Western comprehension; I won’t cite density numbers here because that would imply recognizing Israel’s borders. The point is that there is no space left; it is so crowded that certain cemeteries bury the dead in multi-level graves. The Mediterranean Eastern coast from Gaza to Lebanon is home to almost ten million people, many military bases and countless, bulky civilian infrastructures. In other words, there is no place left for additional desalination installations.The IDF is moving much of its intelligence and training infrastructure to the Negev. The Intelligence Corps would move to the Likit Area, east of Beer Sheva, and west of the Shoket Junction. The Military Intelligence School would be moved to the Negev Junction. Technological intelligence units (mainly the SIGINT 8200 base at Glilot) would be relocated near the town of Omer.
The last step includes the move of Mamram—the IDF computing unit—to a location adjacent to the Negev University in Beer Sheva. All these would be transferred by 2017. The massive complex of military bases at Tzrifin—a military area dating back to the British Mandate—would be moved to the new City of Training Bases being built south of Beersheba until 2014. Even after this radical change in the IDF deployment, there would be a lot of space controlled by the army within Israel’s largest metropolitan area. Yet, the freed land would be used for residential and commercial areas, which can pay much more than desalination plants. Israel needs place for them, new airports and military bases that must be kept in the center.
In June 2012, the Cabinet—the Israeli government committee of senior ministers—approved a feasibility study on the construction of three artificial islands in front of Tel Aviv, a plan dating back to the 1990s. In contrast to the original residential project, these islands would contain airports, large industrial facilities, power stations, military bases, and further desalination plants. They would also ease Israeli military control of the gas fields disputed between this country and Lebanon. This idea has problems. Everybody having splashed in the sea next to Tel Aviv knows that it goes deep fast, and it features strong undercurrents. The seabed rapidly drops over 2km, setting sharp limitations to engineering projects. Yet, Israel is thirsty and has never missed an opportunity to advance the idea of Greater Israel; the Mediterranean Sea would be its next victim.
Roi Tov is a graduate—among others—of Tel Aviv University and the Weizmann Institute of Science. In addition to his memoir, Tov is published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Molecular Physics and other scientific journals. He won various travel writing and photography awards.
In his writings, he tries to reveal life in Israel as a Christian Israel Defense Force (IDF) officer—from human rights violations to the use of an extensive network of underground agents. He was recognized first as a refugee and subsequently as political prisoner of Bolivia.