OpinionMiddle East

Climate change could be an opportunity for Israel

As the fallout shakes the Middle East, Israel can help its regional allies and become an oasis in the desert.

The Nile River, Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, contrasted by the desert nations of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, as seen from the International Space Station, June 19, 2019. Credit: NASA.
The Nile River, Red Sea and Mediterranean Sea, contrasted by the desert nations of Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Israel and Jordan, as seen from the International Space Station, June 19, 2019. Credit: NASA.
Eyal Zisser
Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

The latest round of escalation in the Gaza Strip wasn’t even over when Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah rushed to threaten another round of fighting on the northern border if Israel does not comply with his demands on the Israel-Lebanon maritime border. His threats of war were only one of the reasons this summer has been a particularly hot one, even before we shifted into high gear with Israel’s upcoming elections.

The weather isn’t making things easy. This summer saw record-breaking heat indices, and fleeing to Europe isn’t an option because of unprecedented heat waves across the continent. But for most Israelis, this was nothing more than a passing nuisance, one that air conditioning or a visit to the pool or beach can make bearable. We’ve gotten used to the warnings that the country is drying up. Calls to save water aren’t making an impression. It seems that, in Israel, there is no lack of water for drinking or agriculture thanks to the desalination facilities built over the past decade.

Still, there is reason to worry, not only about what lies ahead, but what is happening all around us, outside our little piece of land, which seems to be a paradise—a desert oasis.

In the Middle East, the climate crisis is not a far-distant prospect, but something that is happening now and causing real damage. Temperatures of over 50 degrees Celsius (122 degrees Fahrenheit) have been recorded in the Persian Gulf, Iran and southern Iraq. Experts think that the future could see temperatures of 60 degrees Celsius (140 degrees Fahrenheit) or even higher. In the United Arab Emirates, like Israel, people can seek haven in air-conditioned buildings, but cannot do so in large sections of the region, where there is no steady supply of electricity or water to homes. In the not-too-distant future, parts of the region will become unlivable for humans, forcing millions to abandon their homes and migrate north in search of other places to live and work.

In our region, water is becoming a scarce and precious resource. The long-term droughts combine with heat waves to dry up rivers and water reservoirs on which much of the region’s population depends. In Syria, weather disasters have led to economic distress, exacerbating a bloody civil war in which half a million Syrians lost their homes. The future isn’t looking bright for those who survived the war and stayed in the country.

Egypt below the Nile is no longer able to depend on the river like it used to. In addition to climate damage, Ethiopia has built the Renaissance Dam near the source of the Nile, prompting Egypt to threaten war for fear that the dam would reduce the amount of water that flows into the Nile, depriving 100 million Egyptians of their potable water.

Jordan, Israel’s neighbor, is also in greater distress than it has ever been. Refugees from Syria and those from Iraq who preceded them have increased Jordan’s population from seven million to 11 million. Jordan constantly faces shortages of water, and heat waves are exacerbating the problem by drying up the kingdom’s reservoirs.

This crisis situation applies to most of the countries in the region, from Yemen to Iran to Oman to Lebanon.

The Middle East is turning into a disaster area, due in part to actions by humans and their oppressive, corrupt and failed regimes, but also in part due to climate change fallout.

This reality gives Israel an opportunity to anchor its status in the region as a leading nation, technologically as well as militarily, by helping its allies with water supply and advanced technology. But the crisis itself is beyond Israel’s powers to contain, so it must be on guard in light of possible instability in many Arab nations, which could affect what happens on our borders. Either way, we are no longer a villa in the jungle, but an oasis in the heart of the desert.

Eyal Zisser is a lecturer in the Middle East History Department at Tel Aviv University.

This article was originally published by Israel Hayom.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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