Water—not oil—is the most valuable commodity in the Middle East (the world, really), as the thunder in Tel Aviv reminded us of this week, and Israel has an abundant supply—thanks to technological breakthroughs—and signed a deal Tuesday to sell a portion of that overflow to its parched neighbor and ally, Jordan.
The reason that Israel, a desert country in a constant state of drought, has an abundance of the most important desert commodity—water—is because of technology. We have learned how to take water from the sea and make it drinkable through desalination technology, where the salt is removed.
Today, 70% of Israel's domestic water demand is provided by desalination, a process by which salt and other impurities are removed from seawater to produce potable water. In other terms, the country is producing around 600 million cubic meters of desalinated water to meet its population's needs.
I remember when I moved here in 2003. Everyone was warned about using too much water. No one would dare wash their car with running water—just a bucket. There was an advertisement campaign, Israel Mityaveshet—Israel is drying up—with pictures of people's faces cracking like the dry, desert ground. Things have changed!
Thanks to the desalination method invented by Israeli scientist Alexander Zarchin and introduced for the first time in Eilat in the 60s, Israel does not need to rely on the weather anymore to procure drinking water for the population.
Karine Elharrar, Israel's Minister of Infrastructure, Energy, and Water, said the historic water agreement is evidence that "we want good neighborly relations."
Israel Foreign Minister Yair Lapid echoed the sentiment, "This is what good neighbors do, in line with Israel's policy of connections with other countries."
The deal represents the "largest water sale in the history of the two countries," according to Gidon Bromberg, Israel director of EcoPeace Middle East, a regional environmental group.
Israel will sell 50 million cubic meters of water a year to Jordan—double the amount previously going to one of Israel's closest Arab neighbors. Elharrar's office said the additional water would come from the Sea of Galilee. Israel's innovation in water management, capture efforts, and desalinization has made it an oasis in the desert compared to surrounding nations.
This is a win for Prime Minister Naftali Bennett and his new government. Relations between Israel and Jordan—its ally since a 1994 Peace treaty—had cooled under the Benjamin Netanyahu administration. However, to strengthen the ties again, Prime Minister Bennett secretly met with Jordan's King Abdullah II in July. The water deal is another sign of goodwill between the nations.