In Everything to Do With Water, Israel is a World Leader


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In Everything to Do With Water, Israel is a World Leader
Should the Jewish state help the water-poor Saudis?
By Hugh Fitzgerald

Many countries have been running out of water suitable for drinking o clean enough for agricultural use. Multi-year droughts, brought on by global warming, have caused colossal losses to farmers. Population increases have led to great strains as well on the available groundwater. Aquifers, that took thousands of years to develop, have been depleted within a few years. Perhaps the worst example of water mismanagement is Saudi Arabia. Beginning in the 1970s, the Kingdom allowed landowners to dig as many wells as they desired, in order to transform the desert into lush farmland. An agricultural boom followed, and Saudi Arabia improbably became the world’s sixth-largest exporter of wheat.

By the 1990s, Saudi farmers were pumping an average of 5 trillion gallons a year. The problem was that Saudi Arabia doesn’t get nearly enough annual rainfall to replace those withdrawals. Its aquifers had built up over tens of thousands of years, and were now being drained all at once. By the 2000s, the aquifers had become dangerously depleted. Wells dried up. Oases that had persisted since biblical times were now gone. The country has had to build costly desalination plants for drinking water. Most important, Saudi Arabia’s agricultural output declined sharply, with the amount of farmland now less than half of what it was in the 1990s. In an attempt to conserve what water remains, the country ended entirely the production of wheat in 2016; all of its wheat is now imported from Ukraine and Russia, and we all know what has happened to those sources. Saudi Arabia is an extreme case, but there are many other countries, especially in the MENA region, where the rainwater is insufficient, and aquifers are rapidly being deleted.

And then there is Israel. This tiny, inventive country is a world leader in every aspect of making maximum use of existing water resources and creating new ones: waste water management, water recycling, desalination of ocean water, drip irrigation, and even the production of water from the ambient air, by using the new Watergen machines that Israeli scientists have recently invented. Israel has no other choice but to be inventive about water management. The country is 70 percent desert, and the early Zionist farmers confronted a scene of desolation and waste. The Jews of Israel used their greatest resource – their brains – to “make the desert bloom,” a claim made not by the Zionists themselves, but about them by famous American agronomist, Walter Clay Lowdermilk, a North Carolinian who visited Mandatory Palestine in the 1930s and 1940s, and wrote Palestine Land of Promise, in 1944.

There is more on Israel’s husbanding, recycling, and producing of water here:

A country that is 70 percent desert faces a unique challenge in finding sustainable water sources, but by treating and reusing approximately 90 percent of its wastewater, Israel has done just that.

The small country reuses 90% of its wastewater and is light years ahead of the rest of the globe – the next closest competitor is Spain, which reuses around 30 percent of wastewater, according to Dr. Jack Gilron, head of the department of desalination and water treatment at the Zuckerberg Institute for Water Research.

Yet Israel’s success in wastewater treatment and reuse likely won’t translate effectively to other countries….

And this brings us to a film, “Who Are The Marcuses,” about a couple, both Holocaust survivors, who managed to invest early with Warren Buffett, became rich, and donated a half-billion dollars to Ben Gurion University for the study of water management. More on their donation, and Israel’s multifaceted success in the husbanding of water resources, can be found here: “Israel, Water and the Next 100 Years,” by David Suissa,, May 28, 2023:

…The film delves into Israel’s long history as a leader in alleviating water scarcity, from Theodore Herzl’s early writings about “water for the people” to David Ben-Gurion’s enormous investment in water transportation to the research and innovations in desalination, water generation and purification that have transformed the country.

It’s impossible to overstate the depth of the relationship between Israel and water. Early pioneers who confronted the desert landscape understood that water would be a decisive factor in the success of the Zionist project. Having a strong army to defend the state was indispensable, but without plentiful water there would be no state to defend.

Water, then, entered the bloodstream of Zionism. It consumed everyone from farmers to politicians to scientists to philosophers. When philosopher Micah Goodman speaks in the film about the “two Zionisms,” he refers to both the “safe harbor for the Jews” and the “opportunity to contribute to the world.”

Now Israel stands ready, as it has for decades, to share its knowledge about every aspect of water purification, water production, water use, with the rest of the world, and indeed it has already been sharing its expertise with countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and has now started to share as well with its Arab partners — Morocco, the UAE, Bahrain — in the Abraham Accords. Benjamin Netanyahu offered in June 2018 to help Iran with its water problems, in a well-known video. More about his offer can be found here.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video in which he offered Israel’s water expertise to an Iran he said faces an environmental disaster due to persistent drought.

“Today I’m going to make an unprecedented offer to Iran,” Netanyahu said in the English-language video, which featured links to the State of Israel’s Persian website with information about water shortage, and to a Persian-language Telegram account.

“It relates to water,” Netanyahu says in the video, after pouring himself a glass of water and drinking it. “The Iranian people are victims of a cruel and tyrannical regime that denies them vital water. Israel stands with the people of Iran.”

Netanyahu stressed a commitment to help the Iranians. “And that is why I want to help save countless Iranian lives,” he said in the video clip. “Here’s how: Iran’s meteorological organization says that nearly 96% of Iran suffers from some levels of drought.

“Issa Kalantari, a former Iranian agriculture minister, said that 50 million Iranians could be forced out of their homes due to environmental damage. 50 million!

“Millions of Iranian children are suffering due to mismanagement, to incompetence, and the theft of vital resources by the Iranian regime,” he said.

Netanyahu told the Iranians that Israel faced similar water issues and found ways of dealing with them.

“Now, Israel also has water challenges. We’ve developed cutting edge technologies to address them,” he explained in the video. “Israel recycles nearly 90% of its waste water. That’s far more than any other country on earth. We invented drip irrigation. Our technology targets individual plants with exactly the nutrients they need for the plant.”…

Spain is a very distant second as a recycler of waste water; some 30% of its total water is recycled, compared to 90% for Israel.

This is going to be the century of water. There will be water wars – one is brewing right now between Ethiopia and Egypt over the waters of the Nile. There may soon be another war between Iran and Afghanistan over rights to the water in the Helmand River. Even within countries there are bitter disputes, as in the US, between the five riparian states that share the waters of the Colorado River.

Iran did not respond to Netanyahu’s 2018 offer to share Israel’s expertise in waste water management. But the UAE and Morocco are glad to have Israelis help them with their water problems, including help with drip irrigation of crops, and recycling of waste water for agricultural use.

The Saudis have already drawn down more than four-fifths of the water in the Arabian aquifers; they are desperate for help in husbanding their water resources and producing potable water out of the air with Israel’s novel Watergen technology, or out of the sea with desalination, a field in which Israel leads the world. The Crown Prince knows that the megacities that will be built as part of his Vision 2030 plan will require billions of cubic meters of water. Already, just Riyadh alone uses more than one billion cubic meters of water. To whom can MbS turn for help, in drip irrigation, in desalination, in water squeezed out of the ambient air, in waste water recycling, if not to his northern neighbor, the Jewish state that is hoping for the Saudis to join the Abraham Accords, and to normalize ties with it, so that the full panoply of Israel’s water expertise can be deployed to help the water-poor Saudis out of the fix they created for themselves with their wheat-growing? Some water experts predict that there will be no water left in Saudi aquifers by 2030; others say it will happen as late as 2040. What will the Saudis do then? They have no choice but to take advantage of Israel’s cutting-edge expertise, not in ten years or five, but right now.