Graduated in Geography with a major in Environmental Protection. In love with sustainability, ecology, geology and nature.
Water is an important asset, the available quantities of which are disproportionately distributed around the world. In the desert, sub-tropical regions, water shortages occur, while water resources elsewhere are under increasing pressure from rising population numbers, increasing water consumption per capita and increasing waste water. Thus, more and more regions of the world are facing the lack of quantitatively and qualitatively adequate fresh water, and in addition to food and energy, water is becoming a fundamental strategic asset, leading to international disputes.
Also for the Middle East, characterized by a lack of water resources, water has always been a politically sensitive topic. In particular, Israel has been trying to ensure sufficient water resources for the rapid development of the country since its creation. The control of strategically important water resources was one of the important reasons that made Israel engage in armed conflicts with its neighbors. With military force, Israel has provided control over strategically important areas of water supply and has limited the access to water resources, which has further increased tensions between countries.
The Litani River Basin in the southern part of Lebanon is in addition to the Jordan River Basin, the most important water source in the region, and it is not surprising that Israel and Lebanon have often encountered an armed conflict. From 1982 to 2000 Israel occupied the southern part of Lebanon. At present, no armed fighting is taking place due to the Litani River, but they were held in the past (the war in 1967, 1982) and are not excluded for the future.
Litani River Basin
Geographic Description of the Litani River Basin
River Litani (Arabic: نهر الليطاني; transcription: Nahr al-Līţānī; classical name: Leontes) is an important watercourse in the south of Lebanon. The river longitude is just over 150 kilometers, and its basin measures about 2100 km2, which represents 20% of the country's surface area. The whole river basin of the Litani River lies within the boundaries of Lebanon. The river originates in the central part of the Bekaa valley (Biqa'a), west of Baalbek. Bekaa is 15 km wide and 120 km long valley, which represents the northern continuation of the Jordan tectonic trench. It lies between the young limestone mountains of Lebanon in the west and the mountains of Anti Lebanon and Hermon in the east. The northern part of the valley flows into the Orontes River and the southern part into the Litani River.
Litani flows through the Bekaa valley to the south and at Quaroun enters the gorge, on which it runs about 30 km and near Beaufort turns to the west. The river crosses the hilly terrain of the al-Amal region and the north of Tyre flows into the Mediterranean Sea. The highest point of the basin (2551 m) lies in the western part of the Lebanon mountains, and in the south of the basin, altitudes do not exceed 920 m.
Litani is one of the most important water resources in Lebanon and is crucial for the settlement and economic development of the southern part of the country.
The Climate of Lebanon
The climate of Lebanon is typically Mediterranean, humid to semi-humid during the rainy season in winter and semi-arid in the dry season in summer, with mild and short spring and autumn. A typical average section across the Litani river basin from west to the east shows the Mediterranean climate along the coast, semi-arid in the Bekaa valley and the typical continental Mediterranean in the northern parts of the Anti Lebanon Mountains. The subtropical climate designates the southern coastal parts of the river basin. The annual rainfall in the basin varies between 300 mm in the interior and 1300 and 1400 mm on the ridges. High mountains are an obstacle for wet winds and cold fronts that come from the Mediterranean Sea. Therefore, the amount of precipitation from the coast to the ridge increases and then gradually decreases towards the east. In the northern and southern parts of the interior, temperatures are about 17°C and they rise to the central part of the interior, reaching 22°C. In the central Lebanon mountain, average temperatures are at a height of 1000 m around 15°C and fall to 9°C at an altitude of 2000 m. They vary between 19 and 23°C in the coastal belt.
The Litani River System
The surface system of the Litani River includes a considerable number of tributaries and streams. The main stream of the Litani River is 172 km long and has 60 km of tributaries. Depending on the physical characteristics (geographical and hydromorphological) and the pressure of human activities on surface aquatic ecosystems, the Litani River system can be divided into three different water bodies: the upper Litani, the Quaroun reservoir, and the lower Litani.
The Upper Litani represent the river system from the Quaroun reservoir upwards. This part occupies about half of the river basin and is characterized by dense settlement and industrialization. Here are the main pressures on the litany aquatic ecosystem with environmental consequences that are spreading down to the rest of the parts. In this section are also the main tributaries (Anjar Chamsime and El Berdouni) and the source of the river basin, and it is also characterized by flooding.
The Quaroun reservoir is an artificial water body at the southern end of the Bekaa valley. It is the main water management system in the Litani river basin and has a capacity of 220 million cubic meters, of which approximately 70% is used annually for irrigation and hydro-energy, while the remainder is stored for the dry season. Sedimentation and biodegradation occur in the reservoir.
The Lower Litani is a relatively less populated area. The river's stream is steeper than at the upper Litani and creates a canyon landscape. Although the Lower Litani comes down to certain pressures due to Quaroun dam and water retrieval, the river gets water again from many springs along the riverbed.
Litani, River for Life
A part of the river flowing west is called Qasimiyeh. This river represents the geographical boundary between Upper Galilee in its southern and mountainous Lebanon on its northern bank. The Qasmieh-Ras-el-Aïn region is one of the largest irrigation areas in the country, representing 32.64 km² and is divided among 1257 farmers who have been focused on the production of citrus and bananas.
There are 263 villages in the area of the river basin. The basin of the River Litani is predominantly inhabited by Shiite Muslims, the largest religious community of the country, which has about 850,000 representatives. The mostly rural Shiite community has been complaining over history that the Christian-led central government ignores them. This is partly because of the central government's distrust of the Shiites, who have maintained strong ties with their brethren in Iran for centuries. Moreover, political instability in the south, initially the outcome of the Israeli and Palestinian presence, gave the Lebanese government less incentive to exercise their authority and an apology for the absence of development programs in this largely agricultural area.
Provinces of Bekaa and South Lebanon, which occupy most of the river basin of the Litani river, are the country's most rural provinces and the main agricultural regions of Lebanon. They are also the least developed and the poorest of all the provinces. In many respects, they have fallen out of early political and economic development. Research shows that 25% of the population in the river basin is very poor, 50% shows a gradual increase in poverty, while 23% fall into the category of those who have less than the national average. The main source of income in the region is agriculture (represents 31%), characterized by poor irrigation practices and excessive fertilization and soil salinization. Agricultural land occupies 45% of the basin, and approximately as much is covered with natural vegetation (48%). The largest share of agricultural land is represented by fields (28.6%), followed by orchards (leafy fruit trees - 6%, citrus fruit - 0.5%, bananas - 0.4%, olives - 5%). Vineyards are located on 4% of the total area of the river basin. Artificial areas (urban, industrial areas, roads, ...) represent 4.31% of the surface of the river basin, a bare surface 2.58% of the river basin, and water bodies only 0.11%.
Litani faces environmental crisis
The Litani River Authority
The Litani River Authority (LRA) was formed in 1954 in order to promote the united development of the Litani river basin. Shortly after its establishment, LRA was busy by a powerful hydroelectric development project, which included the area between Lake Quaroun and the Mediterranean Sea. This development brought about major hydrological changes in the basin of Litanitana river, where the flows of its upper part above the Quaroun lake (the upper Litani valley) are redirected through the tunnels, lakes and power plants, and they merge with the Mediterranean Sea a few kilometers north of the original natural outflows. These changes resulted in an effective hydrological separation between the upper valley of the Litani River and its lower parts. The dam on the river Litani, 60 meters high and 1,350 meters long and completed in 1959, created Quaroun, artificial lake, measuring 11 km². A 6503 meters high drainage canal supplies water to the underground power plant; this is the largest hydropower project in Lebanon. It was eventually intended to provide irrigation for 310 km² of agricultural areas in South Lebanon and 80 km² in the Beqaa Valley. The emergence of a long-standing civil war in the 1970s and the associated Israeli and Syrian occupation of Lebanon plunged the country into disarray, freezing development and investment in infrastructure. Later return to a normal situation has prompted the LRA to re-launch some major projects.
The role of the river Litani in water supply and its meaning for Lebanon and Israel
Litani and Lebanon
Lebanon has sufficient renewable water supplies in terms of population, but it still faces major problems with the regulation and distribution of water and the need for reserves. Lebanon's water supply is primarily dependent on groundwater, whose quality is deteriorating fast and the demand for water is increasing, mainly due to growing urbanization, socio-economic growth, and economic and agricultural development. Thus, the availability of surface water is also important for Lebanon, both in terms of quality and quantity.
The Litani River has great environmental, social and economic significance for people living within its basin. The river supplies the population with drinking water and represents the main source of water for irrigation, and is also important for the industrial development of Lebanon. From the total production of Lebanese electricity, as much as 35% comes from the river Litani.
In the early fifties of the last century, the Litani project was created, which planned to irrigate 20,000 ha of land in the south and 10,000 ha on the Biqa'a plateau. For most Lebanon, electricity is to be supplied with six hydroelectric power plants. The project is a decade for the planned date of completion. The northern part of the project, located in the west of the Biga'a administrative unit, is more or less completed, but the government has not yet completed the southern part of the plan. Around 50,000 hectares are irrigated in Lebanon, which is a small area compared to the estimated requirements of 360,000 ha. According to estimates by the Lebanese government, the south of the country and the province of Biqa'a need 1 billion m3 of water annually, of which 800 million m3 would be used for agriculture, 85 million m3 for household consumption and 115 million m3 for the industry. The exploitation of the Litani River water is so indispensable for the industrial and agricultural development of the south of Lebanon; without water from Litani, irrigation in the south would be practically impossible, and most of the region would become a desert.
If agriculture and industry become the focus of Lebanon's development effort, they will probably play an important role in revitalization in the south, northeast and other less developed regions. The development of the Litani river basin will play a major role in this strategy. Equally important is the fact that the development of the river basin of Litani may be a very important action to prevent Israeli plans around this fully Lebanese water system.
Litani and Israel
Most of Israel's original immigrants came from developed countries, mostly Europe and North America, and to a lesser extent from Australia and South Africa. Early Jewish immigrants laid the foundations of an industrial and rapidly developing Israel and established a higher standard of living than they had in neighboring Arab countries or in local communities. All of this, combined with many agricultural immigrants, resulted in large demands for water.
The total Israeli consumption of water in the early 1980s was three times higher than in Jordan and twice as high as in Lebanon. Similarly, in 1982 the Israeli newspaper Davar reported a large range of water consumption per person among Jewish settlers in the West Bank and the Arab population in the same region; the first one consumed 100 m3/year and the second 40 m3/year. Such a pattern of high household and agricultural water consumption was created due to the high standard of living (swimming pools, greenery, parks, running water in houses, ...) and the Zionist emphasis on agriculture. The Zionist movement was ideologically committed to agriculture. It intended to protect the territorial integrity of the state by decisively occupying peripheral areas, creating a dietary independent state (for security reasons) and spreading the capacity of the land that could accommodate a larger number of immigrants.
All these goals have been achieved. Farmers in Israel enjoy cheap or free infrastructure, lower taxes, special credit facilities and export aid. On top of this, the costs of irrigation water are subsidized, which, according to some, fosters excessive water consumption and the cultivation of crops for exports, which require plenty of water. In the mid-1970s, water for Israeli farmers was up to three times cheaper than water for the rest of the economy. Agriculture in Israel consumes more than 73% of the total water supplies available to Israel.
The most important part of Israel's total water supply represents a covered water. The four most important sources of Israeli water are ground water, the Jordan River, smaller surface waters and recycled water, and water from desalination plants, totaling less than 2,000 million m3 per year. Important Israeli water resources are generally exploited, making it increasingly apparent that the only possible solution, in terms of water quality, quantity and proximity to the source, is the exploitation of a nearby source, the Litani River.
Already historically, Israel was interested in Litani. Israel could increase its annual water reserves by 800 million m3 (an average of 40% of annual water consumption in 1993) if it would retain access to the Litani River through the permanent occupation of southern Lebanon. Another reason why Israel wants Litani is that many aquifers, especially along the Israeli coast, are burdened, and water is becoming increasingly polluted.
Some in Israel say that the main reason for Israel's permission to exploit the Litani River is the fact that Lebanon does not do this or that Lebanon has relatively more water than Israel and that it does not need it or it is not consumed entirely. As proof, Israel refers to the Lebanese 'Litany Project', which was realized only one-third. However, Lebanon advocates that it needs all of its water and that it will not be able to realize the potentials of its waters and the land or maximize it if it does not have control over its waters and territory.
Israel intended to take advantage of the Litani in an area located just 2.5 miles from the Lebanese-Israeli border. Due to the fact that this is diplomatic and economically expensive for Israel, some have seen this as unlikely. However, the idea remains, Litani runs within a distance from Israel, which could be easily bridged with the tunnel. Between the Litani River meander and one of the upper tributaries of the Jordan River is only a few kilometers of distance. By building a tunnel through the mountains, the Litani could be diverted to the Israeli national aquifer system.
International law has determined that water cannot be withdrawn from this area; any current or future plans to take a river from its sub-basin would violate the principles of international law. It is specified: the waters within a particular waterway cannot be moved beyond the boundaries of this area - regardless of the political boundaries - until all the needs of those within this watershed are met. The reason for this is that, despite the non-compulsory nature of international law and the lack of enforcement mechanisms, it is best to have this as a negotiating guide. In the conflicts around the Litani River, we should adhere to international law.
The problem of water resources in conflicts between Israel and its Arab neighbors is trapped in a vicious circle. There can be no basic agreement on a fair distribution of water resources until a formal Middle East peace agreement is concluded, and such an agreement cannot be concluded until an agreement on a balanced distribution of water is reached.
Conflicts in the Litani River Basin
The period before the foundation of Israel
In the second half of the 19th century, European Jews have sought to create the Jewish state in historic Palestine, in which a million Jews from the Diaspora could immigrate. Their first major achievement in this direction was in 1918 when the British promised their assistance to the World Zionist Organization (WZO) in the establishment of the Jewish National House in Palestine.
The ideological fathers of the Jewish state in the Middle East were aware of the importance of extensive and quality water resources - such as the Litani river - for the existence and further development of the country, and it is not surprising that the first plans for the formation of Israel envisaged the inclusion of the Litani river basin in the new country or the redirecting of its current southward to its territory.
During the time between the two wars, the Jews in Europe actively lobbied the French and British governments to adjust the northern and northeastern boundaries of Palestine and incorporate the whole of the Jordan river basin and a large part of the Litani river basin. Jewish interests for the Litani river before sovereignty were handed down in letters written by Chaim Weizmann, leader of the WZO, to various British government officials in 1919 and 1920. In a letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Weizmann argued that Lebanon was "well-watered" and that Litani had no value for the area north of the proposed border, and that it could be more usefully exploited in the country far more in the south. He concluded that the WZO considers the valley and waters of the Litani river as essential for the future of the Jewish national homeland. David Ben Gurion, the leading Zionist and first Israeli Prime Minister, also proposed the inclusion of the Litani river in the Jewish state. At the peace conference in Paris in 1919, both Weizmann and Gurion presented the proposed map of Israel, which included the Litani river, but did not succeed in acquiring the Litani river for Israel. The reason for the failure was the secret Sykes-Picot agreement of 1915, where Britain and France have already established a border between Lebanon and Palestine, with which the Litani river has belonged to Lebanon.
WZO's desire was to run the Israeli eastern border a few miles east of the Jordan river and thus include its major tributary, Yarmouk. In 1930, Weizmann wrote to British Foreign Minister Lord Curzon that Palestine could not be economically independent if it was cut off from Litani, the Upper Jordan, and Yarmouk. Although the WZO failed in its hydrological requirements, the matter was not forgotten. In 1947, Ben Gurion imagined that Litani could be an Israeli northern border.
In addition to the idea of connecting the basin of Litani to Palestine or Israel, ideas about redirecting its flow appeared very early. The first plan to divert the Litani to the south was as early as 1905. The applicant stemmed from the thesis that the waters of the Jordan river basin are inadequate for the future needs of Palestine, and that it is, therefore, necessary to direct the waters from the Litani river into the Hasbani river, which is the tributary of the river Jordan.
In 1945, Professor Lowdermilk proposed a comprehensive plan for the region, which would include a change in the course of the Litani river towards the Jordan river and the use of its irrigation water along the Jordan Valley and central Israel (Palestine) to produce electricity for Lebanon. The plan due to the growing tensions between the Arabs and the Jews was never performed.
War in 1984
Thirty-one years after the UK's Declaration of Belfour affirmed the rights of Jews to a national dwelling in Palestine, David Ben Gurion declared the establishment of the State of Israel on 14 May 1948. Chaim Weizmann, who for many years embodied Zionism, was named the first president of the new state.
The Arab countries immediately responded to the proclamation of Israel; Egypt, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq, and Jordan mobilized the army against the new country and attacked it (the 1st Arab-Israeli war), but the Arab attack was not coordinated, and at the end of the year the Israeli army won convincingly. Israel has joined the western part of Jerusalem and some neighboring areas, and about 600,000 Palestinians have fled to neighboring countries. At the end of the conflict, Israel also occupied southern Lebanon. On March 23, 1949, Israel and Lebanon signed a ceasefire agreement, according to which the Israeli army withdrew to the state border.
Six Day War in 1967
Water was also the cause of the conflict in the Arab-Israeli war in 1967. In this war, water resources played a key role in Israeli strategic calculations.
The six-day war took place from 5 to 10 June 1967, the Arabs call it the June War. The conflict triggered Egypt when it closed the Gulf of Aqaba for Israeli ships and piled up units in Sinai, demanding that the UN peacekeeping forces in Sinai withdraw from the Israeli border. This was followed by the establishment of a military alliance between Egypt, Syria, and Jordan. Due to the threat to Israel, Israeli Defense Minister General Dayan ordered the attack, which surprised the newly formed military alliance. The attack was followed by the occupation of Sinai, ancient Jerusalem, the West Bank and the strategic Golan plateau. Thus, with the war, Israel increased the size of its original territory four times and became the world's military superpower, which caused new problems in the Middle East.
After the defeat, the Arab states have further increased support to the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO, founded in 1964), which has been dominated by the Fatah movement since 1967.
Although Lebanon also faced borderline tensions around water, it rejected calls by other Arab governments to participate in the war in 1967. The military weak in the south, Lebanon was unable to afford a conflict with Israel.
Immediately after the war of the year, according to Israeli territorial acquisitions of three (of its four) neighbors, Dayan stated that Israel, with the exception of southern Lebanon, has conquered all key or strategically important areas in its neighborhood.
Period between 1969 and 1978
After the Jordanian army expelled Palestinian guerrillas from Jordan in 1970, the PLO leadership and the focus of the fight against Israel moved to Lebanon. This has led to several Israeli attacks on Lebanon and deepened the conflict between Muslims and Christians.
After the six-day war, the territories occupied by Israel, the vague borders and the unresolved issue of refugees, led to continual individual clashes between Israel and the neighboring Arab countries. In 1973, Egypt and Syria attacked Israeli positions along the Suez Canal and the Golan Plateau (Yom Kippur War), but after the initial failures, the Israelis defended all occupied areas. The war ended with a truce that still applies today.
In 1975, a civil war erupted in Lebanon as a result of interreligious tensions between Christians and Muslims (with PLO). Among other causes of the outbreak of the war were the withdrawal of European colonization forces from the region, the rise of Arab nationalism, the conflict in Lebanon itself with regard to national identity, the Arab-Israeli war, and the arrival of Palestinian militants to Lebanon. In 1976, due to the Arab League meeting and the arrival of the Arab peacekeeping force, the war was interrupted for some time. Then the hostilities started again, primarily in southern Lebanon, first invaded by the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO), and then by the Israeli armed forces. In 1978, UN peacekeeping forces (UNIFIL - United Nations Interim Force In Lebanon) arrived at the territory, whose task was to enable and monitor the withdrawal of Israel from southern Lebanon, to ensure peace and security, and to assist the Lebanese Government in establishing power in the area. In the performance of its tasks, UNIFIL had problems with the non-cooperation of the parties involved. At the time of his withdrawal in 1978, Israel did not abandon the entire occupied territory to the control of international forces but handed over a 10 km border zone in the north-south direction to the Litani River to the Israeli Haddad militia. Thus, the area under UNIFIL control was divided into two parts. Their actions were also threatened by the PLO, which after the Israeli withdrawal again tried to seize southern Lebanon and Haddad's militia, which was attacking the staff.
Operation Litani in 1978
On 11 March 1978, eleven PLO fighters landed in Haifa (Israel), where they seized a bus full of people. At the end of the day, nine kidnappers and 37 Israeli civilians were killed. In response, Israel launched Operation Litani on 14 March and occupied southern Lebanon, with the exception of the city of Tyre. The aim was to displace the PLO away from the border and support the Lebanese militia linked to Israel, called the South Lebanese Army (SLA). The Israeli troops set up the so-called security zone in the occupied part.
Many commentators saw in the creation of the security zone definitive realization of the Dayan plan for Lebanon, which foresaw the occupation of the southern part of the Litani river basin. This area was officially controlled by Sa'ad Haddad, a Christian Lebanese military major who in southern Lebanon in 1979 declared the country under the rule of the Maronites. Haddad led the Lebanese police (later renamed the SLA), which was funded, trained and equipped by Israel. Even today, the SLA and the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) rule the southern Lebanon belt to the west slope of the Litani River.
War in 1982 and the period after
In 1982, the situation again aggravated. The continuing rise in tension reached a peak in June when Israel invaded Lebanon with all its powers. A military operation called Peace in Galilee was intended to displace PLO from bases near the Israeli northern border and establish a government in Beirut, which will allow Israel to exploit the Litani River. The Israeli army sealed off West Beirut, a Muslim part of the city, where PLO had its main residence. Following an international agreement, the PLO agreed to evict. Israel allowed free leave for 6,000 PLO fighters and Arab peacekeepers. Women and children were driven back to the city, in a refugee camp under Israeli control. Following the assassination of Lebanese President Gemayel, a Christian militia led by Sa'ad Haddad has fired into the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila and has killed more than 1,000 Palestinian refugees. There was also about 20,000 Lebanese dead.
In 1982, some Shiite religious dignitaries, who joined several smaller groups into the guerrilla group, founded Hezbollah. Hezbollah is a Lebanese political and paramilitary organization representing mainly the Shiites in the south of Lebanon. In the Arab and Islamic world as well as in some European Union member states, it is considered a legitimate Shiite political party, while in Israel and the majority of Western countries, headed by the United States, considers it an Islamist and terrorist organization. The main goal of the movement was the expulsion of Israeli and Western forces from Lebanon. After the end of the Lebanese Civil War, Hezbollah became the only Lebanese militia that did not disarm. They continued attacks against Israeli forces that remained in the south of the country and against the SLA.
In 1983, the United States mediated a peace agreement between Israel and Lebanon, which dictated the withdrawal of Israel from the territory of southern Lebanon within eight to twelve months, and the creation of a security zone controlled by the Lebanese army. In August 1983, Israel withdrew from areas south-east of Beirut to the Awala River, and the Lebanese factions began to fight for control of the liberated territory. In February 1984, the Lebanese army collapsed and many units formed their own militias. In January 1985, Israel adopted a withdrawal plan and moved away from the Litani River, forming a 4 to 12 kilometer big Israeli security zone and took advantage of the assistance of the Southern Lebanese Army to control it. The final withdrawal of Israeli forces occurred only in 2000 when Israeli soldiers withdrew from the territory south of the Litani River. Nevertheless, Hezbollah has not stopped the attacks in the north of Israel. It claims that Israel has not yet withdrawn from the disputed area near the village of Sheba.