Friday 27 September 2002

Water war looms as Israel tells Lebanon to halt river works

by Robert Fisk

It's not much of a river. It's low enough to walk across, warm from a stone bed that attracts the autumn heat, full of tadpoles and small fish, frothing merrily in a creek below the scruffy village of Ghajar. But take a closer look and you'll see an Israeli soldier standing above the creek, on the opposite side of a maze of barbed wire, watching this little river through his binoculars. For say the word Wazzani right now, and you're talking water war. Even Colin Powell, the American Secretary of State, has become involved.

There's no war yet, just a mass of piping that the Lebanese are laying along the Lebanese side of the Israeli frontier wire to carry the warm waters of the river to another bunch of dirt-poor Shia Muslim villages. The trouble is that the Wazzani flows right out of Lebanon and into Israel, where it feeds the fish-farm lakes of four Jewish kibbutzes.

Lebanon's action is "a violation of every agreement we have signed in the past", says Binyamin Ben Eliezer, Israel's Defence Minister. "Israel cannot tolerate the diversion of the waters of the Wazzani." Israel could solve the problem, said Dan Zazlavsky, the former head of Israel's water commission, with "a few tank shells".

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