Jordan River 521.
(photo credit: Daniel Easterman)
The IDF is deliberating responses ahead of the possibility that Lebanon will
divert water from the Hatzbani River, a move that Israel has in the past viewed
as a casus belli – justification for war.
Israel’s concern stems from the
construction of a large tourism center on the Lebanese side of the river, not
far from the Israeli town of Metulla.
A senior IDF officer in the
Northern Command said that construction of the center needed to be closely
tracked due to the possibility it would be used to divert water from the
Hatzbani, which supplies 25 percent of the Jordan River’s waters.
is concerned about the site’s proximity to the border, particularly in light of
a number of near-clashes between IDF troops and soldiers from the Lebanese Armed
“It has our attention and we are keeping a close eye on what is
happening there,” the officer said. “Our concerns range from the diversion of
water to the possibility that the tourism center will be used as cover to launch
attacks against Israel.”
In one such case, a small force from the
Paratroop Brigade was patrolling the border near the river two weeks ago when
they spotted Lebanese troops standing 20 meters away and aiming their weapons –
including a rocket-propelled grenade – at them. One of the Israeli soldiers, who
speaks Arabic, heard the Lebanese commander dividing up targets for his men. The
Israeli soldiers called in a backup force that quickly arrived at the scene,
leading the Lebanese to withdraw.
In the meantime, Israel has shared its
concern with UNIFIL and plans to raise the issue at one of the upcoming
tripartite meetings, which the multinational peacekeeping force convenes at its
Naqoura Base for IDF and Lebanese army representatives.
become a strategic problem,” another officer said.
In 2001, Israel
threatened Lebanon with military action if it continued to allow villagers to
divert water from the Hatzbani River. Then-prime minister Ariel Sharon warned
Lebanon that diversion of the river’s waters would be viewed as a “pretext for
Israel’s threats came after Lebanon announced a plan to install a
new pipeline to the river and divert approximately 5,000 cubic meters of
drinking water to five villages nearby.
In 1964, the protracted “battle
over water” broke out between Israeli and Syrian forces over Syrian efforts to
divert the waters of the Hatzbani and Banyas rivers away from Israel. That led
to years of IDF action until the Syrians and Lebanese gave up the idea.