Boaz Wachtel | Water Expert Israel
May 29th, 2008

Re: ‘Syrian Israeli Peace Process

“Opssimistic”, the quote from Israel’s Chief intelligence officer (in last week’s Haaretz weekend edition), accurately describes my feelings regarding the prospects of peace between Syria and Israel. On the (op)timistic side, the peace prize seems so lucrative, that even “our” politicians (on both sides of the Golan Border) who failed to deliver peace thus far, can not ignore the entire set of positive prospects and geo-political opportunities this round of talks has to offer.

On the same side of the coin, it was scientifically proven that optimists live longer then pessimists, so its healthier to develop and educate our children to posses a weak pessimistic personality, rather then to grow up to be full fledge pessimistic adults. Pessimism, regardless if the source is genetic or acquired, could be overcome with acts of peace, respect for the other, hopeful future and honorable living. Although pessimism is a free flowing commodity in the Middle East, I will not dwell on it because others are better pessimists then me. What I would say to the decision makers on both sides is this: you know what the outcome of failed talks could be; i.e. major war, rivers of blood of our youngsters, grieving families etc, all of which will bring Israel and Syria back to the negotiating table at some post war period begging each other for a peace accord we could have signed to begin with.

Water, and especially Turkish water, is a key element in the peace and confidence building process and a wonderful source of optimism for the entire region if played correctly. Climate change, rapid population growth, over pumping of aquifers, industrialization and pollution of water resources are diminishing access to clean water in the Middle East as elsewhere.

Although per capita availability of water in Iraq is greater then that of Turkey, with annual inventory of 200 billion cubic Turkey is still considered “well off” by its water poor neighbors. Since water is the “new gold’ of this era, and relatively speaking, Turkey has plenty of that “new Gold”, it should play its water card smart enough and rip tremendous strategic benefits from sharing this commodity.

For example, Turkey could slow down and possibly reverse Islamic radicalization in Syria, Palestine and Jordan. The religious radicalization in the Arab world is mostly the result of low income levels among the agrarian poor who are economically depressed due to limited access of water.

Turkey could also earn hundreds of millions of dollars or Euros if it sells few billion cubic meters annually. The late president of Turkey Ozal, and few presidents after him, offered to sell up to 4 Billion annually to Middle East countries from the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers in South east Turkey. These rivers have a combined average annual discharge of 14 billion cm. The manavgat is another possible source mentioned for water exports that could be used to augment the export from these two rivers. These three rivers combined are considered a huge water source compared to the annual 2.7 billion cm consumed by Israel, Palestine and Jordan combined.

The Peace Canal on the Golan Plan – a water export project designed to be integrated as part of the Syrian-Israeli peace process offers an opportunity for Turkey to play the water card now. Syria’s water position vis-à-vis Israel is more constructive then previous rounds of talks, but it is newly tied to compensation with Turkish water. That amount is around 300 million cubic meters annually, a relatively small amount by Turkish standards.

Turkey, the good faith mediator in the current round of the peace talks has good relations with both antagonists. As such, it could proactively make an official announcement that it has accepted Syria’s request to receive more water from Turkey in return for allowing all the natural flow from the Golan westward to be used with no restrictions by Israel. Turkey will not provide that amount to Syria through the Euphrates because both countries signed a water sharing agreement (500 cm/sec) a few years ago, a major reason for the rapprochement between them.

Turkey could offer Syria to receive the amount Israel will receive from the Golan Height as part of the Peace Canal Plan – The Plan calls for exporting between 2-3 billion cm annually for an even distribution between Syria, Jordan, Israel and Palestine. The parties are supposed to buy the water, but the price of 300 million cm from Turkey to Syria could be financed by external donor countries that have an interest in a stable Middle East.

The Peace Canal Plan on the Golan Heights could be used by Turkey, Syria and Israel to change the dynamics of the Arab Israeli conflict. Added water could allow the recipients to obtain hydrological security that support and sustain Syrian-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian peace accords. It would also allow for a safe Israeli withdrawal from the Heights as the part with the water canal with Turkish water on the current Syrian-Israeli border, would serve as tank barrier to deter and delay any armored attack of either side. As such, the combination of added water and a physical barrier on the ground could help any Israeli government persuade the Israeli public that Israeli withdrawal is from the Golan actually enhances Israeli military and hydrological security, considering the fact that Syrian massive missile arsenal can only be dismantled through a peace accord that includes the return of the Golan to Syrian hands.
In summary, I am optimistic as to the prospects of peace between Syria and Israel. That optimism is grounded in the Peace Canal Plan on the Golan Heights that serves the major interests of the parties around the Jordan River watershed, i.e. Syria, Israel, Jordan and Palestine.

A bold Turkish offer to implement the Peace Canal Plan could go a long way to cement a Syrian-Israeli peace accord, and with international guarantees, could help Turkey fill many of geo-political and economic interests and the “selling” of a Syrian-Israeli peace accord to the reluctant Israeli public.

Boaz Wachtel

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3 Responses to the Article

Naim Nazha MD Says:

war and killing will lead to more wars and killing , I agree with you about the canal from the Assad lake on the Ufratis to the sea of Galili , Turkey could increase the water to Syria ,

Unfortunatly in the Mideast saving face is more important than making good policy.

Boaz Wachtel Says:

Dear Naim,
Thanks for your comment. I think Syria will be better off with water from the Ceyhan and Seyhan rivers rather then more water in the Euphrates because: A) Euphrates water to Syria is partially used on the way by Turkish farmers, who discharge them back to the river, so the overall quality of the water is not as good as the water from these two Turkish rivers who have less agricultural use and their quality is better, B) There is a signed agreement between Syria and Turkey of 500 cm/sec, and the Turkish government is not interested from what I know to open the agreement that took years to finalize. C) Syria’s water problem is that of good qaulity drinking problem in the cities and less so in agriculture – if Syria adopts more modern irrigation techniques, not only will it save large quantity of water but its food production will rise, D) The Peace Canal Plan is designed to supply large quntity of water to Syria, Jordan, Palestine and Israel from the two turkish rivers. The Syrian compensation for allowing Israel to use the Golan water could be delivered to Syrian cities, as part of this plan and Israel, or other donor countries could pay for it.
My proposal can be read in full at:
I llok forward to hear your comment on the Peace Canal Plan

Off the Wall Says:


Notwithstanding the technical difficulties associated with your proposal, allow me to express my appreciation for the sincere efforts to convert water from the next source of conflict to a medium of understanding.

Yet, for how long can Syria and Israel rely on water from Turkey given population growth in Turkey and its expanded agriculture. I believe that any water transfer project should be accompanied by water recycling projects. In Orange County, California, the $300 Million water treatment facility is now providing for Aquifer recharge as well as contributing to the re-establishment, albeit, slowly, the pressure gradient required as a barrier against sea water intrusion. It is my hope that with peace, joint projects such as this would take priority. The interesting thing is that some climate models seem to indicate while the southern part of our region is likely to experience dryer and hotter environment, Turkey’s headwaters basins may experience improved snow conditions. Granted much more studies are required to downscale the results to have meaningful water resources assessment.

Another important issue to consider is the confluence of water and energy. Again, a substantial amount of energy consumption in California is related to water transfer and distribution. As such, the Peace Canal project must also be complemented by regional efforts to develop clean energy resources, Israel, Syria, and Jordan are well poised to make good use of Solar energy, and given winter winds, we are all familiar with, Israel, Syria, and Lebanon, can, and should develop viable wind energy solutions.

Finally, with respect to financing both the project and the subsequent water purchases, I think that over the long term, both Israel and Syria should be able to make deals with Turkey without requiring donor countries. Otherwise we will both look like holding the world hostage.

The above are my first impression about your proposal. It is rather refreshing to develop a project that transform water from a monster of future conflicts (Water), into an enabler of peace. A good start, no doubt about that.

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