Lebanon-Israel Transnational River Dispute Heightens Tensions

9 Jan 2021 by The Water Diplomat
TEL AVIV, Israel



This news article (Water Diplomat and The Water Diplomat) has been corrected to reflect a mis-spelling in the original article of "Metulla", and a misrepresentation of the legal status of the town.

Lebanese and Israeli media are reporting a dispute over a border region irrigation project, centring on reservoirs under construction on the Al-Wazzani River on the El-Hamames hill in southern Lebanon, close to the Israeli town of Metulla.

According to Beruit-based Al-Manar News, the project is for agricultural purposes and “Lebanon plans to benefit only from its right to its water resources in the area”.

The counterclaim made by unnamed Israeli authorities is that the work will deplete Israel’s water supply by halting the flow into the Jordan River. A 1 January report in The Times of Israel cited Israeli officials as saying that “an attempt by Lebanon to limit the flow of water into Israel would contravene international law”, a claim characterised by Hezbollah-funded Al-Manar as “propaganda”.

The Jordan River runs along the borders between Jordan, the Palestinian West Bank, Israel and southwestern Syria. It flows through the Sea of Galilee (Lake Kinneret), which is Israel’s most important source of surface water and provides around one quarter of the country’s water. Recent years have seen it drop to critical levels due to over-pumping and low rainfall.

The confrontation over the Al-Wazzani irrigation project comes as US-brokered talks between Israel and Lebanon on their disputed maritime borders remain in limbo. The two countries entered the talks, relating to oil and gas exploration in the area, last October. However, negotiations were postponed at the end of November when they reached an impasse and have yet to resume.

The report by Al-Manar asserts that “Israeli circles” are pushing for the disputed Al-Wazzani irrigation project to be included in the maritime negotiations.