Water As A Conflict Issue in South Lebanon


Richard Moore

Original source URL:

Subscribe to InI¹s Mailing List/Newsletter


Water As A Conflict Issue in South Lebanon by Tobias Eickelpasch (Year 2001)



In a certain way, to take a closer look at water in Lebanon and the Middle East 
means to become a hydrologist. Hydrologists are experts who examine and do 
research on water close to the land surface of the Earth. Hydrologic sciences 
can be further categorized into oceanography, the study of water in the oceans 
and the sea, limnology, the study of water in lakes and inland seas and finally 
there is glaciology which talks about ice on the land surface. And let¹s not 
forget the meteorologists who examine water in upper atmospheres as well.

Of course, one should not mix up this science with the content of this study. 
However, there is an important coherence that needed to be pointed out, an 
overlap between this science and the water issue in the Middle East in general 
and Lebanon in particular. All the fields related to hydrology are connected and
inter-related. Hydrologists and meteorologists contribute to the study of water 
movement in the lower boundary layers and they are linked by the concept of the 
hydrologic cycle. Sea water evaporates, condenses within the atmosphere, comes 
down to Earth as precipitation and closes the circle through flowing back in the
rivers and the sea. Equal ties can be found ­ on another scale and under 
different circumstances of course ­ in the water issue in the Middle East.

³Water as a conflict issue in South Lebanon², although it appears to be 
regionally and thematically narrowed down, always has to be considered within a 
larger context. It is impossible to give a comprehensive and all-including 
summary of the ³cycle of events² in this place still brulant. Water is 
perpetually flowing and so do events still follow hot on each other´s heels. 
Almost daily there are news in the media adding new pieces to a ³constantly 
changing kaleidoscope². Lebanon, Syria, Israel and the United Nations Interim 
Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) brought and bring in new, differently colored and 
sized mosaics. The relations between the involved parties always play an 
important role: for example ³The Treaty of Brotherhood² between Lebanon and 
Syria in 1991 and how Lebanon´s past and connection to Syria is still 
omnipresent in Lebanon in the form of aproximately 25.000 Syrian soldiers. Or 
how the reputation of the UNIFIL troops sometimes changes from a peace-keeping 
force to ³sympathizers² with one faction or another and now to a future 
observation group. Or Israel, which wanted access to South Lebanon even before 
its borders were set before 1948; it later occupied South Lebanon for more than 
18 years and withdrew in 2000.

The water conflict in South Lebanon reflects to a certain extent the 
Arab-Israeli conflict, a dispute that started more than 60 years ago, is still 
ongoing and will probably not come to an end in the near future. While working 
on this research one had to keep in mind that

In this patchwork of ethnic and religious rivalries, water seldom stands alone 
as an issue; it is entangled in the politics that keep people from trusting and 
seeking help from one another.

(Amery & Wolf, p. 218)
Beirut, August 7, 2001
Content Overview
This report will be divided into four parts:
1. The Water Situation In Lebanon In General

Part one should give an introduction into the geographical settings, the current
conditions and major problems of the region. For this, I mostly relied on 
information from the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Western 
Asia (UN ESCWA). Their employees in Beirut helped me to get a general picture of
³water in Lebanon².

2. The History And Development of Today¹s Still Ongoing Conflict

Next, we will jump back in history and begin to analyze the roots of the 
conflict that is still continuing in South Lebanon. First disputes arose at the 
beginning of the 20th century with consquences still visible today. The special 
example of the Litani River as a matter of conflict will then lead to current 

3. The Water Issue in South Lebanon Today

The third part will mainly consist of a media analysis. I had the chance to 
read, watch and hear the coverage of recent events from and in Beirut, from May 
until August 2001. I analyzed the English-speaking press mainly, but also ³The 
Middle East Reporter² ­ a daily that summarizes the content of Arabic 
newspapers. I could also take a look at the archive of Associated Press 
Television News in Beirut, which provided me with live pictures from a region 
that is difficult to get into.

4. Conclusion!?

Finally, the conclusion will talk about future outcomes, solutions and ideas.


Water as a conflict issue in South Lebanon today is a pivotal topic.While 
gathering information, I encountered several problems that need to be mentioned:

There is not much up-to-date literature about recent developments or facts and 
figures on water resources in the South. Since the region had been occupied for 
more than 18 years by Israel and since the withdrawal in 2000, not many 
researches have or could have been conducted. Rumours and tensions, as in the 
example of the Litani River, were sometimes baseless or not examinable due to 
political restrictions. Numbers varied a lot and whether or not a statement was 
reliable was hard to tell. Even governmental authorities face problems in 
accessing the South and examine the actual subject matter. I personally 
experienced how hot the topic still is; during my research Lebanese governmental
authorities refused to answer certain questions, referring to Syria for example.
That is why I most of all relied on media content and news in order to be able 
to draw a wider picture of the current situation. It is my intention to 
highlight as many views, perspectives and opinions as possible.

The Water Situation In Lebanon In General

Lebanon is situated in the Middle East, on the eastern shore of the 
Mediterranean Sea. Its territory ranges from the northern and eastern border to 
Syria ­ 375 kilometres ­ to the Southern border with Israel ­ which has a length
of 79 km. It has a total size of 10,400 sq km including 170 sq km of water. (CNN
World Factbook)


While talking about Lebanon¹s geography, it is important to take into 
consideration the geography of the whole Middle East. What is unique in Lebanon 
are the wide mountain ranges, declining from North to South. The resulting 
effect makes the coastline and the west-facing foothills well-watered, with a 
higer precipitation along the western slopes of the mountain ranges. Lebanon has
elevation extremes from sea level to over 3,000 metres at its highest point, the
Qurnat as Sawda¹.

This means that in comparison to its neighbors, Lebanon possesses springs in 
higher altitudes which naturally flow downhill and toward the sea. High mountain
ranges also mean snow and consequently, as soon as the ice melts, it irrigates 
land on lower altitudes. The mountains experience heavy winter snows from time 
to time. In addition, seasonal rainfall run-off is sufficient to generate 
perennial river flow (UN ESCWA 1997-98, p. 109).

There are three rivers that play the most important roles in this paper: the 
Litani, Hasbani and Wazzani. The first one is located entirely in Lebanon and 
comes from the valley of Beqaa, where its springs are near the city of Baalbek, 
coming from the Mount Lebanon and Anti-Mount Lebanon ranges. It flows through 
the Beqaa, fills up the lake of Qaroun and shortly after turns west and heads 
toward the Mediterranean Sea. It is about 106 miles long in total and it is the 
largest river in Lebanon. The Hasbani and Wassani both origin from South Lebanon
and flow southwards. They are contributors to the Jordan river.

A water-rich country in the Arab world

Lebanon is, compared to most other Arab countries, a water-rich country. 
Remarkably, in the World Factbook by the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA), 
pollution of coastal waters from raw sewage and oil spills is the only major 
water concern mentioned for Lebanon. As we will find out later, Lebanon¹s 
neighbors and key players in the conflict in South Lebanon, Syria and Israel, 
face greater restraints, which cause inadequate supplies of potable water and 
limited natural fresh water resources and put the affected countries under 
stronger pressure.

 (Amery & Wolf, page 51)
Overall developments

The UN ESCWA witnessed a development in Western Asia, which also holds true for 
Lebanon: during the last 10 years, the water demand has increased dramatically 
because of a high population growth, urban migration, improvement in the quality
of life and efforts to establish self-sufficiency in food and industrial 
development. The greatest problem in the Middle East is water wastage, caused by
low water charges and high leakage in the distribution system. In Lebanon in 
particular, drinking water quality and the coverage of sanitation services has 
not improved during last 10 years. Only Iraq and the Republic of Yemen have a 
similar regressive tendency in Western Asia.


While talking about water consumption, it is always crucial to keep in mind that
agriculture is the most water consuming sector in general. It is not so much the
indiviual who  uses it in everyday life, this only represents 10% of the water 
needed. Ninety percent of all water being used is in the end and in one way or 
another embedded in food (Amery and Wolf). Agriculture in Lebanon mostly relies 
on surface and ground water for irrigation purposes. Due to sufficient 
groundwater Lebanon only has to exploit the sources to a certain limit so far.

Water policy

Lebanon´s water policies were initiated in 1993 and aim at the further 
assessment of surface and groundwater demand and optimizing water allocation as 
well as management. However, the UN ESCWA predicts problems to come up in 2025 
in case Lebanon continues its present rate of increase in consumption. This 
supposition made in 1998 is derived from the comparison of figures from 1997 and
the projections for 2000 and 2025. Should irrigation for agricultural purposes 
be expanded, it will be most likely that within or after the next 24 years 
Lebanon will have to cope with a major water shortage problem.

It seems that the current efforts to avoid shortage have focused more on 
short-term strategies, as for example the improvement of water services through 
rehabilitation of the distribution system. For the coming years Lebanon´s 
objectives are the increased utilization of surface water resources and 
development of groundwater recharge schemes (UN ESCWA 2000; p. 20).

As for the Arab world in general, Lebanon will have to overcome mainly the 
following tasks:

­ the lack of public awareness of rational use and management of water

­ the lack of institutional coordination
­ the lack of up-to-date knowledge of sources in quantity and quality

­ the absence of cooperation at the regional or sub-regional level in shared 

The latter two play key roles in the conflict in South Lebanon.
The History And Development of Today´s Still Ongoing Conflict

More than a third of the total world´s population lives near a surface water 
divided or shared by two or more countries; for example Mexico and the United 
States, Thailand and Vietnam or India and Bangladesh. However, it is the Middle 
East where the most dramatic and volatile water disputes take place. Nowhere 
else does water have such an impact on political action and economical matters. 
In addition, the conflicts are wide-ranging, including many factors and players.
Water policies are based on different public perceptions, attitudes, conflictual
circumstances and more or less proven and incorrect information.

To consider a country´s water situation solely is almost impossible, especially 
in the case of South Lebanon, a region caught between Syria and Israel. 
Throughout history, Lebanon has found itself a buffer state. Various factions 
and groups fought for a variety of reasons on its ground. Since the outbreak of 
the Civil War in the mid 70s the country has been in a state of transition. 
South Lebanon, for example the region around Chebaa, experiences a back and 
forth from 1967 until today. Experts assess that one of the main reasons for 
Syria´s and Israel´s involvement in Lebanon is water. Both Judith Harik, 
professor of political science at the American University of Beirut, and Dr. 
Tarek Majzoub, a judge who was also trained as an electrical engineer and who 
wrote several books on this issue, see the same motive.

First Findings

At the end of the 19th century Jewish strategic planners already realized the 
importance of water while making the first plans for a new state of Israel. 
Zionist leaders after World War I considered it necessary to extend Israel to 
important sources in order to keep Israel economically viable (Sabbagh, p. 505).
The Sea of Galilee, the Yarmouk River, the Golan Heights and the Litani River 
were, among other landmarks, supposed to mark the natural border in the north. 
After the San-Remo accord in 1920, which decided on the former territories of 
the Ottoman Turkish Empire, Chaim Weizman, who later became Israel´s first 
president, wrote to the British Foreign Secretary, Lord Cruzon:

[Š] the accord draft France proposed not only separates Palestine from the 
Litani River, but also deprives Palestine from the Jordan River sources, the 
east coast of the Sea of Galilee and all the Yarmouk valley north of the 
Sykes-Picot line. I am quite sure you are aware of the expected bad future the 
Jewish national home would face when that proposal is carried out. You also know
the great importance of the Litani River, the Jordan River with its tributaries,
and the Yarmouk River for Palestine.


The Zionist movement, however, faced opposition by the French and was not able 
to extened the borders and reach the Litani.

Further studies

During World War II and after, investigations and assessments of the regions´s 
resources continued. For example in 1939 Ionide and Hayes published their 
studies, Lowdermilk in 1944, Klab in 1949 and McDonald in 1950. Of these plans 
the Lowdermilk plan caught great attention and was considered the ³water 
constitution² by the Zionists. Lowdermilk proposed to use the Dan, Zarqa, 
Banias, Yarmouk and the Hasbani river in Lebanon as conrtributors to irrigate 
the Jordan Valley. Furthermore, the Litani should make up an artficial lake in 
northern Palestine from where water could be pumped to the Negev Desert in South
Palestine. Lowdermilk´s plan failed in the end because Eric Johnston in the 
1950s, then special envoy to the Middle East of President Eisenhower´s US 
administration, denied the use of half the flow or more of the Litani 
(Dolatyar). Nonetheless, the Lebanese waters in the South were of interest to 
the Zionists/Israelis for their purity and surplus (Kolars/Naff, p. 4).

A widening gap

At the end of World War II the situation became even more complicated. The new 
state of Israel was about to come into being, and the water needs of the native 
Palestinians and the increasing numbers of immigrating Jews had to be satisfied.
Besides, the latter were (and to a certain extent still are) not necessarily 
used to water scarcity. The first major Arab-Israeli clashes took place in 

Israel as a new sovereign country was proclaimed on May 14, 1948 by David Ben 
Gurion. With sovereignty power also came to the Jews. The Zionist movement, led 
by their ideology and motto ³to make the [Negev] desert bloom² (Dolatyar), 
abandoned further plans of regional development. Or, as Dolatyar describes it, 
after a period of bargaining for water from 1918 until 1948, Israel began to 
develop national and shared water resources.

The developmental circle

After 1948 Israel was, due to its growing military power, able to annex more and
more territories. Despite the already mentioned ideological background, Israel 
thought strategically and practically.A greater territory promised more access 
to water, which again allowed Jewish farmers to produce better and larger crops.
Increased agricultural production resulted in a higher capacity for absorption 
of Jewish immigrants to Palestine. And Palestinian farmers, who could not keep 
up with the more advanced Israeli production, ended up in bankruptcy and ³had no
other choice than sell their land to always-ready-to-buy- Zionists² (Sabbagh, p.

The foundation of this strategy is not only the acquisition of land, which was 
solvable through military dominance, but also the availability of water. Without
it, the developmental circle was at stake. This explains why

[s]ince 1948 and particularly after 1967 Israel had confiscated and controlled 
most of the Arab lands and water resources under the title of ³security reasons²
or ³security needs². [Š] Mr. Y. Shamir, Prime Minister of Israel in 1990, 
summarized this policy in the sentence: ³Great Aliya (immigration) needs great 
Israel.² This means that great immigration needs all water resources in the 
occupied territories to still be under the control of Israel. On the same 
principle ³Aliya² in the future needs new water resources and new lands, 
otherwise Israel will be in a water crisis!² (Sabbagh 513)

Proposals and rejections from both sides

Because of their dependency on agriculture and increasing population, Middle 
Eastern countries were then obsessed with ensuring their water supply (Soffer, 
p. 3). On the one hand, in the case of Israel, it was the National Water Carrier
(NWC), a project that was meant to transfer water from the Jordan through Israel
to the Negev Desert, which faced severe opposition by the Arab countries. On the
other hand, the Arabs met under the leadership of Egyptian President Jamal Abdul
Nasser in January 1964 and planned ³a deriving of Jordan River branches² 
(Sabbagh, p. 511). Although the Arabs with their proposal stuck to their granted
proportion of 125 million cubic meters (according to the Johnston plan from the 
1950s), Israel considered the project a threat to its national security and 
decided to impede it by all means.

The constellation at the Syrian-Israeli border in the mid-60s. (Sabbagh, p. 511)

Relations between Arabs and Israelis concerning water in the years after the 
establishment of Israel were marked by a ³proposal-disagreement² scheme. Eric 
Johnston´s efforts to settle the water issue in the mid-50s failed mostly 
because as long as the Arabs accepted a plan, Israel would reject it because it 
wasn´t granted access to the Litani waters. And the other way round, the Arabs 
couldn´t say yes to a proposal and decide for example on the Litani due to 
political changes in Syria and Lebanon. The situation didn´t bring any 
agreements and just increased the pressure on both parties.

External factors

The Arab countries with the 1964 water project bypassed the issues of the 
settling of Palestinian refugees outside their homeland and the recognition of 
Israel. Because of that, Israel began provoking the Syran army. Israel needed 
sufficient reasons to be able to justify military action and to be able to 
prevent progress in Arab water projects. Consequently, when the Palestinian 
National Liberation Movement Al-Fatah targeted the NWC, Israel took revenge and 
aimed at the Syrian construction site. These acts of retaliation were the 
forerunners of the six-day War in 1967. Dolatyar quotes in this context Ariel 
Sharon, today Israel´s Prime Minister that

³people generally regard June 5, 1967 as the day the six-day war began, [Š]. But
in reality, it started two and a half years earlier, on the day Isreal decided 
to act against the diversion of the Jordan.²


Professor Harik is of an equal opinion. During an interview she mentioned the 
first clashes between Arabs and Jews south of the Yarmouk and Dan River in 1964 
which indicated the hostility of the involved parties and their interests in the
scare source. As a result of the 1967 war, Israel took the Golan Heights (and 
not, as Professor Harik emphasized, Jerusalem) and predominated in water 
questions through their military power. Since then, negotiations and fights 
between Syria and Israel were mainly about the water-rich Golan Heights and the 
surrounding region of South Lebanon. Obviously, Israel could retain upper hand 
in this region until today.

Lebanon ­ struggling with domestic and external problems

Lebanon at that time tried to keep itself out of the Arab-Israeli conflict and 
rival Arab nationalism, not least because it had to deal with internal religious
factionalism. Besides ist domestic problems, Lebanon had to cope with the 
impacts of external rival Arab nationalism. And for all actors, be it the Arabs 
or Israelis, Lebanon´s rivers were still of importance. On the one hand there 
was the Arab diversion plan. It intended to rechannel the Hasbani to the Litani 
or Yarmuk river and thus cut off parts of the supply Israel was longing for. On 
the other hand, Israel still spoke about its proposal that Lebanon should sell 
water (which was perfectly feasible, according to Kolars (p. 7)) from the Litani
to the water-poor, northern regions of Israel.

However, the controversial standpoints on water utilization and also the 
Palestinian problem prevented the parties from seeking further bilateral 
accomodations. Lebanon remained reserved concerning its water. It could hardly 
estimate future needs for example for the South and wanted to be careful. Also, 
the Lebanese government did or could not realize further deployment plans for 
political and ethnic reasons (Soffer, p. 217). The Litani was part of many plans
(Lowdermilk 1944, Hays-Savage Plan 1948, Cotton Plan 1985 and older proposals 
developed in times of the French mandate), but besides being considered for 
development schemes by various parties, nothing much happened. The original plan
to irrigate southern Lebanon including the plateau around Nabatieh has not yet 
been accomplished.

In 1966 the centerpiece of the Six-Year Master Water plan was finished: since 
then the Litani waters accumulate at the newly built Qaroun dam and marginal 
parts of it are diverted to a small stream called Awali. Hydro-electricity is 
produced to provide Beirut, among other parts of Lebanon, with power. 
Nonetheless, ³[a] constant but variable surplus [Š] has flowed unused into the 
Mediterranean² (Kolars/Naffer, p. 3). Soffer writes about estimates from 1982, 
when about 80 mcm of water are used for irrigation and another 20-120 mcm that 
are not utilized at all (Soffer, 219).

(Soffer, p. 218)
The Lebanese water and the Golan Heights

Despite the lack of development plans, South Lebanese water remained in all 
actors political and strategical considerations, especially because it 
contributed to the Jordan and the area around the Golan Heights. Israel needs 
(according to the Jerusalem Post; November 16, 1999) 1.6 billion cubic meters 
and has a total of 1.8-2 billion cubic meters of available water. Undoubtedly, 
the Golan Heights with approximately one mcm groundwater (Dr. Mazjoub) played 
and play an important role. As a result of the 1967 war Israel took the Golan 
Heights (and not Jerusalem, as Prof. Harik emphasizes) and wanted to ensure that
no non-Israeli scheme for the diversion could be implemented (Amery & Wolf, p. 
224). Still today, this area is a key negotiation point between Syria and 
Israel. Later on, the struggle would be even expanded to who dominates Lebanon 

The 1970s and the Civil War

The 1970s led to more degeneration in the South. The Palestinian Liberation 
Organization (PLO) established itself there in 1971 and with it Lebanese 
territory was watched cautiously by the Israelis. After drought-stricken years 
in 1973 and 1974 and before the ensuing Israeli-Palestinian hostility, the 
population from the South migrated northward, mostly to the capital. A region 
already underdeveloped faced more and greater restraints.

Then the Civil War broke out in 1975. Although the Civil War was mainly between 
reformist, left-wing Muslim factions and right-wing Christian forces, Syria and 
Israel from then on were sucked in even more. In the end, Syrian interests 
prevailed, but Israel invaded Lebanon twice in 1978 and 1982.

In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon. The ³Litani Operation² was meant to end the 
presence of approximately 5,000 guerillas and destroy their infra structure 
(Hiro, p. 127). Part of the plan was to establish a buffer zone to prevent more 
cross-border attacks. The South Lebanese Army (SLA) under Israeli control had 
the task of securing a two-to-six miles wide and 50-miles-long stripe. This zone
also reached the Litani river, a fact that was to create rumors and tensions 
between the neighboring countries, as I will explain later. Israel tried to 
expand its territorial gains until the northern city of Zahle, near Beqaa, but 
it failed because of Syrian resistance.

In June 1982, Israel invaded Lebanon again after an (unsuccessful) attempt to 
assassinate the Israeli embassador in London by the Abu Nidal Organization. The 
Litani and Hasbani were still in reach for Israel, however, opinions on whether 
or not water was the broader incentive for the invasion in 1982 differ. Kolars 
and Naff argue on the one hand that to seize Lebanon´s southern waters was not 
the primary motive (p. 9). On the other hand, Dolatyar describes that ³many view
Israel´s retention of southern Lebanon as an extension of its peristent efforts 
o secure the Litani waters. Although the invasion was run under the pretext of 
security, Israel sought other natural supplies of water from the Litani.² 

Whatever the true background was, a number of factors kept Arab mistrust 
concerning Israel´s striving for water alive: Kolar¹s reports of hydrological 
data conducted in Beirut by Israel; the fact that Israel in South Lebanon 
withdrew to the Awali only and thus had to defend a larger area while it also 
had the opportunity to retreat until the Zahrani and control a smaller 
territory; or the introduction of water restrictions on Lebanese farmers in the 
South similar to the ones imposed on the Palestinians (p. 10).

 The Litani controversy

Althought the Litani entirely flows within Lebanon and thus it is no 
³international² river, there has been a long-lasting and still ongoing 
controversy between Middle Eastern states, Lebanon and Israel in particular. 
Historical and geographical reasons let conflicts and dispute arise and created 
supposition and speculations.

(Soffer, p.214)

Chronologically, there were three proposals during the 20th century, that moved 
the Litani on an international stage. First of all, in 1919, the World Zionist 
Organization suggested the Litani  mark the northern border of a new state of 
Israel. The World Zionist Organization claimed that it was the ³natural northern
border of Eretz Israel² (Soffer, p. 219) and they saw the potential in the 
amounts of water. Secondly, the Lowdermilk plan in 1944, as mentioned before, 
contained the Litani waters in an overall utilization plan for the Jordan and 
its tributaries. Thirdly, Blass, a member of the delegation accompanying U.S. 
envoy Eric Johnston in the early 1950s, had the idea of reallcoating the Jordan 
basin with the help of the Litani waters. Neither one of the proposals was 

Nonetheless, the Litani was of interest for all nearby countries: Lebanon, Syria
and Israel, expected a greater water scarcity while the true potential of the 
Litani was not fully investigated. As described earlier, Israel had indeed 
gained access to the Litani through the security zone. Israel´s penetration into
Lebanese territory in 1978 and 1982 was considered by some experts to be for 
water reasons only (according to Soffer, p. 221: Mideast Market, 1983; Naff and 
Matson, 1984: 75; Halawani, 1985; Amery, 1993; Schofield, 1993) The region 
became a hot spot with the South Lebanese Army (SLA) led by Israel and the then 
newly founded Hizbollah, a militant organization opposing the occupation.

The confused situation gave birth to conjecture and rumors. Israel´s claims for 
the Litani were long known and the occupation zone gave Israel access. Various 
publications, as Soffer lists, talk about Israeli actions:

At first, two Arab accusations said that Israel has a plan to divert 400 million
m3 annuallly of the Litani water from the Khardala Dam (close to the Khardala 
Bridge, where the river once turned westward), which is planned to be built. 
This quantity is about 60 percent of the total Litani discharge. With this deed 
Israel is returning to execute its plans of 1919. (Halawani 1985: 52) Halawani 
added that in order to divert the Litani´s water, the Khardala Dam, which still 
does not exist, must be built, and a five-mile tunnel must be dug.(Soffer, p. 

The general opinion is that Israel diverted the Litani water to Hasbani by a 
tunnel, and through it 500 million m3  annually reach Israeli territory. In this
way Israel hurts Lebanese farmers who used the water. (Musallam, 1986: 6)

(Soffer, p. 220)

Russian sources were of an equal opinion: on December 26, 1982, the Monday 
Morning wrote: ³Israel has already begun diverting the waters of the Litani.² 
(Soffer, 220)

The Mideast Market, a western publication, published the statement that:

³Lebanon is afraid that Israel has already begun diverting the Litani and there 
are recurring, although unproven, rumors that Israel has already begun to 
transfer water to the Galilee settlements in an underground siphon.² (Mideast 
Market, July 22, 1983: 19)

(Soffer, p. 220)

However, no matter what was (or is) rumored, there are various reasons that 
refute such accusations. Arnon Soffer discusses in five steps the most often 
heard arguments (p. 221f.):

1. Given the geographical settings, it would have been very expensive to build a
dam and pumps in order to be able to transfer water from the Litani to the 
Marjayun Heights. Therefore, a dam would have been necessary that would have 
raised the water level several hundred feet.

2. In 1994, there were talks about a tapline bringing water to the Golan 
Heights. Again, it is questionable how the needed facilities could have been 
built secretly.

3. The UNIFIL troops in the South observed the region constantly since 1974. 
They probably would have seen larger constructions sites respectively could have
reported on the removal of water.

4. Besides the population living in and around the gorge of the Litani, American
spy satellites could have perceived any activity on a larger scale.

5. Soffer asks, whether the total amount of water that could be have been 
diverted would have justified the economic effort and whether Israel seriously 
would have wanted to come under international criticisim for such operations.

Merely one act, the trucking of water, really demonstrated how water was 
virtually carried across South Lebanon. But this may not be overvalued, for the 
quantity of water being transferred was small and an expansion of this method to
remove greater quantities would have been economically prohibitive. As Deputy 
Commander Officer Reidy from the Irish battallion said  in an interview on June 
22, 2001, the trucking still happens occassionally. While formerly also soldiers
of the SLA needed to provide themselves, today, villages and farms still use 
this more feasible way. The lack of infra structure, e.g. water pipes, forces 
them to do so.

Of course, the question whether or not and if so, to which extent Israel took 
water from the Litani, has not been and can´t be completly answered. Kolars 
states that Israel did take water out of Lebanon but ³not in any significant 
amounts² (page 13):

Despite seismic soundings and surveys, the weight of evidence indicates that 
Israel has not yet [at the time the book was published Israel was still 
occupying the South; the author] laid pipelines or dug tunnels for the diversion
of large amounts of the Litani water; [Š]. (Kolars, p. 13)

The act of extraction by Israel, however, can´t be turned down as trivial, he 

Soffer does not explicitly talk about how much water has been taken, but he 
denounces the way experts and journalists have tried to transform the Litani 
into an international river and to implicate it into the Arab-Israeli conflict. 
The Litani is not an international river and the laws relating to international 
rivers do not apply to it. (p. 223)

The example of the Litani symolizes how confusing the situation in the South has
been. Because of the Litani´s location and its ³internationalization², because 
of geopolitical aspects, for example regional water plans that drew the Litani 
into a conflict of great scale and because of speculations and rumors, fuel as 
been constantly added to the flames of the conflict between Lebanon, Israel and 

After the Civil War ­ the 1990s

When the Civil War ended in 1990, Israel remained in the South and defended its 
security zone. Needless to say that in South Lebanon the water infrastructure 
did not profit from the continuing tensions and the departing inhabitants: the 
Israeli occupation lasted until spring 2000, the Lebanese government did not 
conduct any research or implement development plans during that time; Hizbollah 
gained dominance in the South and still keeps on fighting the Israeli forces 
near Chebaa.

Water as a conflict issue has dropped into the background. Its importance is 
ranked behind the Arab-Israeli conflict in general, political disputes or 
territorial questions, not least because only a few people with less political 
influence are left in the South (see Appendix). The current situation shall now 
be discussed in the following chapter.

The Water Issue in South Lebanon Today
The Chebaa Farms

During my two month stay in summer 2001, I had the chance to take a look at the 
mountain ranges near the Chebaa farms in South Lebanon. The Chebaa farms appear 
in the news from time to time because of confrontations between Israel´s 
military (positioned on the mountains nearby) and Hizbollah. On July 1, 2001 it 
was time again: in retaliation for an Israeli attack on a Syrian radar station 
in the Bekaa valley the same day, Hizbollah answered with mortar fire and 
short-range missiles. Seven military positions on and around Mount Hermon were 
hit. The only difference this time was that I did not hear about it from the 
news ­ I was an eyewitness. I was at Fatima Gate at the Lebanese-Israeli border 
with the group of students I was traveling with, when the first detonation 
reached our ears. It sounded like a thud, remote bass drum, just like a 
bombshell. For the first time I heard and saw the evidence that the conflict in 
South Lebanon, the dispute I had read about in books and newspapers, came to 
life in front of me, in a distance of approximately four miles.

Compared to the greatest parts of South Lebanon, the Mount Hermon region near 
Chebaa is rich in water. Due to precipitation, rain and snow, the level of the 
groundwaters is high. Cilina Nasser, a reporter for the Cairo Times had the 
chance to talk to the General Manager of the Litani River Authority, Nasser 
Nasrallah (Cairo Times; April/May 2001). He estimates that there is a total of 
200 mcm crossing the border from Lebanon to Israel ­ 113 mcm of these are from 
Hermon. The waters of this region contribute to the Hasbani, Wazzani and Sreid 
and supply the Jordan river as well. In an arid region like the South, the 
mountain ranges and valley indeed look like heaven.

Lebanese representatives like Nasrallah now criticize Israel for occupying the 
Chebaa region, which originally belonged to Lebanon: ³Israel´s occupation [Š] 
means that Lebanon is unable to utilize the ground and surface water from the 
area.² Similarly, Lebanon has not been allowed to use the Hasbani waters. Cilina
Nasser mentions a study conducted by Shmuel, Kantor, a former chief engineer and
head of the planning department in the Israeli Mekorot Water Company. According 
to his figures, the Sea of Galilee annually receives about 150 mcm of water from
the Hasbani. Further utilization on the Lebanese side would result in a lack of 
water on the Israeli side and put Israel under pressure. However, the Hasbani 
undoubtedly belongs to Lebanon as well and Nasrallah said that the losses of 
approximately US$2 billion were put on a list of compensations Lebanon wants to 
sue Israel for.

Lebanon, Syria, Hizbollah and Israel

How important then is water as a conflict issue in the South today? Is it of 
less significance now than in the past? Or is the whole conflict just about 
water but hidden under another cloak? As I discovered later, it alters 
permanently: the subject rises to the surface and sometimes even becomes top 
news in the media, then it disappears again from agendas and political or public
debate. However, water has played and most likely will play a major role in 
politics, negotiations and military confrontations. The following paragraphs 
highlight how the waters of South Lebanon not only reach across the border but 
also have to do with every player and many other factors.


Lebanon is a water-rich country in the Arab world. Although it has not 
implemented major development and infra structure plans ­ especially in the 
South ­ it does not face the same water scarcity as Syria or Israel. Lebanon is 
far from what is going on in for example Damascus, where the main spring dried 
up in July 2001 and the capital of Syria is now left with no more than four 
hours of water every day. And Israel, according to Dr. Majzoub, has used up its 
groundwater sources completly. Israel drilled so deep and pumped water from such
great depth that the springs will never replenish again. Israel now relies on 
surface water, water coming from outside the country and desalination of sea 
water only.

On the one hand, the Lebanese government is criticized often for its laxity in 
implementing infra structure projects in the liberated areas in the South. On 
June 5, 2001 the Middle East Reporter reports of an article in the conservative 
An Nahar. Hizbollah´s Deputy Secretary General Sheikh Naim Qassem then stated 
that ³there is absolutely no excuse for the government and its institutions to 
neglect the reconstruction of those areas.² But on the other hand, Mohamed 
Abdulrazzak, Chief of the Natural Resources in the UN ESCWA, questioned in a 
talk with me how the Lebanese government is supposed to support a scarcely 
inhabited South with less influence?

Undoubtedly, Lebanon has to assume responsibility in the South, also under the 
prospect of a UNIFIL troop reduction. In July 2001, 1.000 of the total 4.500 
soldiers were already withdrawn, said UN spokesman Timor Goksel in An Nahar 
(Middle East Reporter; June 30, 2001). Kofi Annan in May recommended to cut the 
troops in half until summer 2002. He was also quoted by the The Daily Star that 
³[m]ore steps should be taken by the government to ensure the return of 
effective Lebanese authority throughout the South, including the deployment of 
its army² (The Daily Star; July 24, 2001). Lebanon objected the decision by the 
UN to downgrade the troops and turn their role from peace-keepers to mere 
cease-fire monitors. An Nahar´s English Internet portal reported on August 1, 
2001 that local media analysts announced in unison ³that the Security Council 
has in effect rebuffed Lebanon´s claim of sovereignty of Shabaa farms and 
Hizbullah´s legitimate right to wrest the farms from Israeli occupation by 
guerilla warfare.² The newspaper even lamented that the future outcomes are hard
to predict and UNIFIL ³is not going to remain a buffer force much longer.²

Lebanon, however, stands under political and economical pressure. It is in 
conflict with Israel, but surely can´t afford another war. Currently, the only 
way the Lebanese government can keep up pressure on Israel legally, is a 
proposal by Prime Minister Rafik Hariri. Reuters cited him saying that Lebanon 
was considering suing Israel for damages for ³human and material losses that 
included tens of thousands of casualties, displaced people, infrastructural 
damage, the Qana massacre of 1996 and the 1968 Israeli air raid on beirut 
International Airport.² The case was currently analyzed by law experts, he said.
(Middle East Reporter; June 27 & July 3, 2001)

In addition, Israel still provably threats South Lebanon by violating its air 
space in the so-called ³Sonic War². In November 2000, naharnet.com wrote that as
stated by UN spokesman Timor Goksel Israeli aircraft violated Lebanese airspace 
123 times in one month. An agreement to end this provocativeness has not been 
found yet.

Lebanon´s relation to Syria is of course very different. With the ³Treaty of 
Brotherhood² in 1991 Syria and Lebanon entered a close relationship. Syria is 
sometimes called the political mentor of Lebanon (Middle East Reporter; July 2, 
2001) and Western military experts estimate that there are still at least 25.000
Syrian troops in Lebanon (Middle East Reporter; July 2, 2001). Given the water 
situation in Syria, it is probable that these bonds are necessary for Syria to 
ensure access to water sources in the future.

Israel´s Foreign Minister Shimon Peres commented on Lebanon´s relation between 
Syria and Lebanon, too. On Radio Israel and in several Arab newspapers (An 
Nahar, As Safir, Al Mustaqbal) he was quoted with: ³in fact Lebanon does not 
exist. It is torn up between Syria and Iranian-allied Hizollah² (Middle East 
Reporter; July 2, 2001).


As mentioned earlier already, Syria is in a more dramatic situation concerning 
water. The Middle East Reporter talked of deteriorating circumstances on June 26
and on July 23, when a spring, providing Damascus with water for thousands of 
years dried up. Since this will not improve futurewise and given the 
geographical settings, Syria is becoming even more vulnerable. It refuses any 
multi-lateral meetings where Israel takes part and plans to strike a deal with 
Turkey and share the waters of the Tigris and Euphrates (The Daily Star; July 
27, 2001).

The Golan Heights with its water reservoirs, which in part belonged to Syria 
before 1967, is a key point in Syria´s future plans. Syria and Israel are 
negotiating but an agreement does not seem to be within reach. Here, Israel´s 
attitude towards Syria of course plays a role. Israel emphasizes it is convinced
that Syria is responsible for Hizbollah attacks against its territory. In June, 
Israel was reported to have sent warnings to Syrian President Bashar Assad that 
after another Hizbollah attack any retaliation would go in the direction of the 
Syrian military (Middle East Reporter; June 14, 2001). As the incidents at the 
end of June and beginning of July proved, Israel is willing to make the 
statements come true.

Syria, however, defines its position differently: the Al Baath daily, speaking 
for the ruling Baath party, said the Assad regime ³does support both the 
Lebanese resistance and the Palestinian resistance. But that does not mean that 
Syria dictates to either of them² and ³Syria will never serve as security cop 
for Israel.² (Middle East Reporter; July 4, 2001)

Prof. Harik remarks that the water issue explains a lot about the 
Syrian-Lebanese relation. With its political and military influence on the 
Lebanese government and Hizbollah, Syria tries to keep both parties ³at each 
other´s throat². Lebanon will probably not make any concessions to Israel 
concerning the Chebaa region and so will Hizbollah ­ but both don´t get along 
with each other. Thus, the Syrian run on two tracks: the government has to mend 
the diplomatic way and stay on it and the military resistance is given by 
Hizbollah, which runs without governmental interference from the Lebanese side.


Hizbollah as a fundamental Shi´a militia is the dominating force in South 
Lebanon. Mostafa Haj-Ali, Deputy Head of Hizbollah´s Media Information Center, 
summarizes its program as follows: to fight Israel is the primary goal, to 
represent Hizbollah´s interests politically, to support and reconstruct weaker 
regions, as for example the South and Bekaa, and to keep up a dispute with the 
government. In An Nahar an unnamed senior military officer added another effort 
to the program: during the past several months Hizbollah allegedly recruited 
Israeli Arabs in Israel proper and tried to convince them to support Hizbollah 
(Middle East Reporter; June 26, 2001).

But in general, Hizbollah is not directly fighting for water as in the example 
of the Chebaa area mentioned above. Hizbollah´s Member of Parliament Abdullah 
Qasir in a Cairo Times article from April/May 2001 states that Hizbollah ³does 
not take into consideration the richness of the land in water, soil, or any 
other economic reason when it comes to liberating the land.² First priority in 
their case is the fact that Israel still occupies ³Lebanese land² and this is 
enough reason for them to fight.

Despite Hizbollah´s dominance in the South, in Lebanon in general it has lost 
credibility, says Gebran Tueni, the publisher and editorialist of An Nahar in an
interview on July 9, 2001. He criticizes the influence Hizbollah has and the way
it shapes the image of Lebanon outside its borders. He asks where in the world 
another force but the government can so much direct and control ³foreign 
policy²? And in prospect of Hizbollah´s overall aim, to establish an Islamic 
state in Lebanon similar to the one in Iran, Tueni does not think Hizbollah can 
impose their attitude on the Lebanese people.


The dependency of Israel on water has been emphasized before. Nonetheless, it is
vital to keep in mind the general situation: from the very beginning on Israel 
was longing for a secure water supply. The gap between actual supply and need 
respectively expectation has become wider and wider. Dr. Majzoub roughly 
explained this problem with the unadjusted expectancy of European or Russian 
Jews in an environment they were and are not used to. Furthermore, the Israeli 
government presses ahead with new settlements ­ 300 new homes are planned for 
the Golan Heights alone (Middle East Reporter, June 27, 2001). Consequently, no 
easing in the water question can be foreseen yet. Israel has to think about ways
to maintain and even expand their water supply. It then appears unlikely that 
the Lebanese water will be of less interest for them futurewise.

In March 2001, this was highlighted again by the Wazzani incident near the 
Hasbani at the Lebanese-Israeli border. The Financial Times talked already about
a looming `water war´ (March 16) when Lebanese villages began pumping water out 
of the Hasbani. Avigdor Lieberman, Israel´s minister for infrastructure, accused
Lebanon to take water needed for settlements near the border and threatened 
Lebanon with the prospect of military action. I later had the chance to see on 
the footage from the Associated Press Television News in Beirut that the pipe 
used by the Lebanese village has a 4-inch diameter. Timor Goksel knew about 
this, too, and dismissed Israel´s arguments: ³Israel appears to be having a 
water crisis because people are worried they will not have enough water for 
their swimming pools² (Financial Times). In addition, Goksel stated that Israel 
had been informed of the projects several weeks before (The Daily Star; July 27,

Besides, Israel is entangled in the conflict over South Lebanon´s water with 
Syria and Hizbollah. Hizbollah is considered a terrorist militia, which stands 
for a constant threat to the national security. In September 2001, tensions on 
the Lebanese-Israeli border have been as high as never before during Ariel 
Sharon´s legislative period. In means of retaliation in case of a Hizbollah 
attack, Israel feels constrained to strike at Syria. As stated by Israel, 
Hizbollah´s guerilla troops, after they hit Israel, hide in South Lebanese 
villages under the protection of civilians. To attack civilians contravenes 
Israel´s strategy, thus, since Syria is linked with Hizbollah by Israel, the 
Syrian military is attacked in retaliation. The vicious circle is closed.


It would be presumptuous and bold to state that one could predict an outcome, 
solution let alone conclusion of the water conflict in South Lebanon. Surely, in
view of the ³constantly changing kaleidoscope², an accord will be difficult to 
find. Here are two examples that perhaps demonstrate ways to overcome the 
persistent problems.

A study by the UN and Italy

In summer 2001 the United Nations and the Italian Embassy in Lebanon have 
started a project to gather more information and data on the Hasbani and Wazzani
river ³in order to offset future water disputes arising between Lebanon and 
Israel² (The Daily Star; July 27, 2001). The idea was developed after the March 
2001 incidents, when again conflicts arose around the use of Wazzani water. Now,
objective data shall be collected to end diverging assertions on how much water 
is really available. The Lebanese government blessed the study and is eager to 
dissipate the notion that Lebanon is drawing more water than allocated by 
international law, reported The Daily Star.

Professor Tony Allan

Professor Tony Allan, professor of geography at the School of Oriental and 
African Studies in London, points out that the belief that water is unlimited is
wrong. Water is scarce ­ to think it is unlimited is a misjudgement and 
³reinfoces economically and ecologically unsound allocative and management 
practices² (Isaac & Shuval; p. 375). And in the case of water-richer Lebanon, 
political problems strongly influence investment and institutional development.

For the whole Middle East he sees another solution for the future: the idea of 
³virtual water² ­ water embedded in food. He explains in The Daily Star that the
water used in everyday life by drinking, washing or flushing the lavatory makes 
up a small part of the total amount of water only (for drinking: approx. one 
cubic meter annually; for domestic purposes: approx. 50-100 cubic meters per 
year). 90% of all water budgets are devoted to agriculture and finally embedded 
in foods. Prof. Allan gives an example: to produce flour, which seems perfectly 
dry, wheat needs to be grown. To produce a ton of wheat takes about 1,000 cubic 
meters of water. Consequently, a country that imports wheat saves water 

He also proposes a three-step plan in order to reduce anxiety about water:

1. Bring the issue into the open and secure supplies of virtual water through 
international food agreements.

2. Reallocate and manage the demand of water to the most profitable use.

3. Use water more efficiently by e.g. reducing waste, improving the 
infrastructure and irrigation and so on.

Yet, Prof. Allan is aware about the political constraints in the Middle East. To
meet water shortage ³by importing vast and growing quantities of food ­ forever 
­ creates feelings of deep insecurity² (The Daily Star; July 27, 2001). But 
reallocating water sources can be beneficial as well, as a project realized by 
his own college prooved.

It is to hope that Prof. Allan´s vision of ³virtual water² will have a 
perspective. Taking into consideration the past development of the conflict it 
would be too naive to predict a solution that can and will be found soon. 
Anyway, the example of the newly initiated study serves as a good signal and 
hopefully, the importance of water as a vital element and the fact that war 
cannot positively influence ecological givens creates cooperation and peace.


Books, Brochures

United Nations Economic And Social Commission For Western Asia (1997-98). Survey
of Economic And Social Developments in the ESCWA Region. New York: United 
Nations, 1998

United Nations Economic And Social Commission For Western Asia (2000). 
Conference on Energy Policy and its relation to the water sector in the Arab 
World. New York: United Nations, 2000

Amery, Hussein A.; Wolf, Aaron T.. Water in the Middle East. Austin: University 
of Texas Press, 2000

Dolatyar, Mostafa; Gray, Tim S.. Water Politics in the Middle East. New York: 
St. Martin¹s Press Inc, 2000

Sabbagh, Aleef in: Isaac, J./Shuval, Hillel (Eds). Water and peace in the Middle
East. Amsterdam: Elsevier, 1994

Dolatyar, Mostafa in: Watkins, Eric. The Middle Eastern Environment, John Adams 
Publishing Consultants, 1995

Kolars, John/ Naff, Thomas. The Waters of the Litani in Regional Context. 
Oxford: Centre for Lebanese Studies, 1993

Soffer, Arnon. Rivers of Fire ­ The Conflict over Water in the Middle East. 
Oxford: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 1999

 Hiro, Dilip. The Middle East. Phoenix: Oryx Press, 1996

Newspapers, Magazines

Nasser, Cilina. ³War reservoir² in: Cairo Times; April/May 2001, Volume 5, Issue

 The Middle East Reporter; editions in 2001:

June 5, June 14, June 26, June 27, June 30, July 2, July 3, July 4, July 9, July
23, July 27

 The Daily Star:

­ Associated Press. ³UNIFIL strength cut back again² in: The Daily Star July 24,

­ Blanford, Nicholas. ³Water study aims to avert disputes with Israel² in: The 
Daily Star; July 27, 2001

­ Whitaker, Brian. ³Virtual water may be way to fight drought² in: The Daily 
Star; July 28, 2001

Morris, Harvey & Smyth, Gareth. ³Israel-Lebanon `water war´looms² in: The 
Financial Times; March 16, 2001

 CIA ­ The World Factbook 2000 ­ Lebanon
Central Intelligence Agency
August 1, 2001
 The Internet portal of An Nahar: <www.naharnet.com>

­ ³Security Council Rebuffs Lebanon, Downgrades UNIFIL²; August 1, 2001 (11:41 

­ ³UN Says Israel Violated Lebanese Airspace 123 Times in One Month²; November 
9, 2000 (5:14 pm)


During my stay in Lebanon I had the chance to interview the following experts:

 Professor Judith Harik
Professor of Political Science at the American University of Beirut
 Dr. Tarek Majzoub

Judge, Author and Electrical Engineer; specialized on water since 1988

 Gebran Tueni
Publisher and Editorialist of An Nahar
 Mohamed Abdulrazzak
Chief of the Natural Resources in the UN ESCWA
 Mostafa Haq-Ali
Deputy Head of Hizbollah´s Media Information Center

Escaping the Matrix website     http://escapingthematrix.org/
cyberjournal website            http://cyberjournal.org
subscribe cyberjournal list     mailto:•••@••.•••
Posting archives                http://cyberjournal.org/show_archives/
  cyberjournal forum            http://cyberjournal-rkm.blogspot.com/
  Achieving real democracy      http://harmonization.blogspot.com/
  for readers of ETM            http://matrixreaders.blogspot.com/
  Community Empowerment http://empowermentinitiatives.blogspot.com/
  Blogger made easy             http://quaylargo.com/help/ezblogger.html