'Historic' Agreement to Link Red & Dead Seas
On Monday, Energy Minister Silvan Shalom announced that representatives of Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority (PA) will sign an "historic" agreement to cooperate in linking the Red Sea with the shrinking Dead Sea.
Under the agreement, which is to be signed at the World Bank in Washington, AFP reports that water will be drawn from the Gulf of Aqaba off of Eilat in Israel's south, with some desalinated and distributed to all three members of the agreement, and the rest transferred in 4 pipes to the Dead Sea.
While estimates say the Dead Sea is on pace to dry out by 2050, environmental groups have warned that the Dead Sea's delicate ecosystem could be damaged by a large influx of Red Sea water.
In August, Jordan announced a $980 million project to transfer water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, which appears to have been a recent impetus to the deal.
After the deal is signed, Shalom said "an international tender will be issued for the entire project -- building the desalination plant in Aqaba and laying the first of the four pipes."
Shalom praised the announcement as "a breakthrough after many years of efforts. It is nothing less than a historic move." He particularly noted the economic aspects of obtaining cheap water, the environmental aspect of "saving the Dead Sea," and diplomatic aspects of signing a deal as peace talks with the PA are failing by many accounts.
The announcement comes as the Jordan Valley region above the Dead Sea is becoming a topic of contention.
On Sunday, Coalition head MK Yariv Levin (Likud-Beytenu) warned that US pressure on Israel in the peace talks threatens Israel's presence in the Jordan Valley.
US Secretary of State John Kerry made several offers to the PA regarding security in the Jordan Valley during his recent visit. PA officials say PA Chairman Mahmoud Abbas rejected the offers because they would not have prevented Israelis from living in the area.
In response to concerns that Israel will give up on the Jordan Valley, Major General Nitzan Alon, the Head of the IDF's Central Command on Sunday expressed firmness in arguing "that the Jordan Valley is a strategic buffer for Israel," and added that the US supports this position.
Research has illustration the serious dangers Israel would face without a security presence in the Jordan valley.