Israel-Turkey water saga flows on

Ben-Eliezer discusses building water pipeline from Turkey to Israel.

The way things look now, Turkey will be a full-fledged member of the European Union before Turkish water begins to gurgle out of a single Tel Aviv faucet. National Infrastructure Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer met in Ankara Tuesday with Turkish officials, including Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, and discussed for the umpteenth time the importation of Turkish water to Israel. This time, Ben-Eliezer focused the discussions on the possibility of building a water pipeline from Turkey to Israel. After nearly five years of negotiations, Jerusalem and Ankara signed an agreement in March 2004 for Israel to buy 50 million cubic meters of water a year from Turkey over the next two decades. Since that time, however, little has moved on a project that Israeli officials have since admitted had more to do with cementing Israel’s strategic ties with Turkey than providing for Israel’s water needs. Rather than importing water, desalination and conservation have accomplished more in the effort to solve Israel’s water problems. Under the 2004 agreement, the Turkish water was to be shipped to Israel in specially built tankers after other modes of transportation, such as massive, water-filled rubber balloons tied together and towed from Turkey to Ashkelon, were deemed unfeasible. In order to export the water, Turkey built a facility on the Manavgat River, which the country is now in the process of privatizing. A spokesman for Ben-Eliezer said that, since the Turks are now privatizing the Manavgat company, the two sides should open the agreement and explore the possibility of building the pipeline rather than shipping by sea. The benefit to Israel of a pipeline rather than tankers to ship the water is not only that this would likely cut down on the cost of the water, but that it lays the foundation for future pipelines to Europe. “If a water pipeline is built today, then tomorrow an oil and gas one can be laid,” said the spokesman. Although no price has yet been fixed for the cost of the Manavgat River water, it was expected to be considerably higher than the price of desalinated water, which runs to about 60 cents per cubic meter. The high cost of Turkish water was the reason that then-finance minister Binyamin Netanyahu and then-minister-without-portfolio Meir Sheetrit voted against the plan when it passed the cabinet in 2004. At that meeting, however, Prime Minister Ariel Sharon told the cabinet that the deal with Turkey was important diplomatically, even though there were cheaper ways to supply the country’s water needs, since it would help cement the important strategic ties that had developed between the two countries.