Peace (Canal) in the Middle East?

Boaz Wachtel is looking to bring peace to the Middle East, one gallon at a time. His proposal for a ‘Peace Canal', running from Turkey to Israel, is meant as a first step in stabilizing the Middle East, where both water and peace are in short supply. Though previous proposals to build a Peace Canal have failed, Wachtel's is different.

The Jordan River in Israel (from WikiMedia)The Jordan River in Israel (from WikiMedia)

Wachtel's Turkey-Israel Peace Canal, officially titled the ‘The Peace Canal on the Golan Heights', has several advantages to the Red-Sea to Dead-Sea Canal plan currently being studied by the World Bank. First, the Turkey-Israel project is more environmentally friendly, according to Wachtel. Also, the Turkey-Israel Peace Canal would involve more codependence and cooperation between Middle Eastern states, meaning that it would decrease the possibility of a war in the area surrounding Israel, while bringing crucially needed water to the area.

The Peace Canal on the Golan Heights would involve four key Middle Eastern countries. As proposed the water would run from Turkey, through western Syria and the contested territory of the Golan Heights before splitting and going to the upper Jordan River and to the Wahdah Dam on the Yarmuk River, in Syria. Passing through the dam the water would split again, some going south into Jordan and the rest going west into Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Israel and the Palestinian Territories would also receive the water flowing into the Jordan River once it leaves Syria.

Map of Jordan, Israel and Western Syria (from WikiMedia)Map of Jordan, Israel and Western Syria (from WikiMedia)

Of course, in the Middle East nothing is as simple as it sounds. With Israel's recent assault on a dubious Syrian location, and possibly military action by Turkey in the near future, a Peace Canal may not be on the table for the time being. Hostilities between Israel and Syria also threaten to make the Turkey-Israel Peace Canal an impossibility since Israel is not interested in having its water controlled by a hostile state. The Syrian interest in the project, beyond obtaining scarce water resources, would be both to increase goodwill with Israel and to support the Palestinian Territories, the only two areas within Israel that cannot afford desalinization technology. Also, it is unlikely that Syria could afford to build a canal without financial assistance from Israel and Jordan.

Jordan desperately needs the canal to reduce its water deficit, which is contributing to the one meter per year drop in Dead Sea water levels. Israel and the West Bank are also partly at fault for the continually dropping water levels and the West Bank in particular needs fresh water for farming. While Israel can afford to desalinate water from the Mediterranean, Dead and Red Seas, Israel would gain a wide canal separating it from Syria along the Golan Heights. Such a canal would make the use of heavy armor between the two states an impossibility, providing an advantage to technology-rich Israel's Air Force and advanced missile systems. Israel also stands to gain a cheap water resource that could reduce tensions with Palestinians, who regularly receive water at a higher cost than Israelis across the border.

The ever-shrinking Dead Sea, as seen from Massada (image from WikiMedia)The ever-shrinking Dead Sea, as seen from Massada (image from WikiMedia)

Israel may gain strategically from the Turkey-Israel Peace Canal too. While Israel will undoubtedly maintain its ability to desalinize water for defense reasons, regardless of the price and availability of water, Syrian dependence on a new canal would give Israel a strategic advantage because of the canal's vulnerability.

Environmentally, the Peace Canal on the Golan Heights would be less risky than the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal. Some claim that introducing water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea would result in the creation of gypsum, which would alter the chemical composition of the Dead Sea and cause it to whiten. Others are concerned that the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal would cause algae blooms in the Dead Sea.

Though the Peace Canal on the Golan Heights is politically impossible right now, the need for water may someday force Jordan and Syria to consider the plan. And with positive externalities for all states involved the Peace Canal may be something that the Middle East can scarcely afford to ignore for much longer.

Hat Tip: The Jerusalem Post

More on the Red Sea-Dead Sea Canal here .

Lee Nunley
Middle East Innovations Writer