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Energy and Climate Reshape Israel’s ’Hood

And the Dead Sea experiences shrinkage

Marc Tracy
November 15, 2011
The drying of the Dead Sea is visible in this photograph taken last week.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)
The drying of the Dead Sea is visible in this photograph taken last week.(Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Images)

There was a fascinating article in the Sunday New York Times about how advanced technology, new energy finds, and global warming are all conspiring to create, as the headline has it, “A New Era of Gunboat Diplomacy”—of the navies of rival countries jousting dangerously for maritime supremacy. “If the South China Sea is simmering,” reports Mark Landler,

then the eastern Mediterranean is seething. There, claims to huge natural-gas reserves off the coast of Cyprus and Lebanon have raised tensions with Turkey, which occupies half of Cyprus, as well as with Israel. Cyprus and Israel are drilling for gas, angering Turkey. The militant Islamic group Hezbollah, in Lebanon, has threatened to attack Israeli gas rigs.

Further complicating this is the bitter rift between Turkey and Israel after the deadly Israeli commando interception of a Turkish flotilla trying to transport aid to Palestinians in Gaza last year.

“Part of it,” adds a regional expert, “is just the greater assertiveness of Turkey’s foreign policy everywhere.” similarly with Hezbollah—for which the mammoth offshore gas field Leviathan could be, as Tablet Magazine Mideast columnist Lee Smith put it, a new Sheba Farms. The pretext is kind of the whole point.

Meanwhile, the article notes that global warming has unfrozen parts of the Arctic Sea, leading to disputes over energy sources and shipping lanes. Israel has no polar ice caps to melt, but it does have disappearing water: In some places, the Dead Sea’s coastline has receded by as much as one-third of a mile. Less water means more land; and around the Jordan River, more land axiomatically means more conflict. The northern section of the sea is in the West Bank. Is the new land the military’s? Israel’s? The Palestinians’? (They didn’t have this issue the last time the Dead Sea lost water, about 120 millennia ago.)

Meanwhile, while the Dead Sea had made the Final Fourteen in voting for something called the New 7 Wonders of Nature, it failed to make the last cut. Part of the problem is that Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and Jordan all ran separate campaigns. The absence of peace claims one more casualty.

Marc Tracy is a staff writer at The New Republic, and was previously a staff writer at Tablet. He tweets @marcatracy.