Israel Ready to Build Red Sea-Dead Sea Project With Jordan

(Bloomberg) -- Israel’s regional cooperation minister said Israel is ready to move ahead with a multibillion dollar project with Jordan to pipe water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, an idea that’s been on the drawing board for years.

Tzachi Hanegbi said he expects the Israeli cabinet to approve the Red Sea-Dead Sea project, which will bring water from the Red Sea to a desalination center in the Jordanian port of Aqaba. The brine byproduct will be piped 200 kilometers (125 miles) north to the Dead Sea, a salt lake bordered by Jordan to the east and Israel and the West Bank to the west, whose severe shrinkage has created a slew of environmental problems.

Each country will pledge $40 million per year to the project for 25 years, Hanegbi said, which would bring the total to at least $2 billion. Jordan’s Ministry of Water didn’t respond to a request for comment.

The project could help to relieve a dire water shortage in Jordan, and Palestinians will be able to buy the desalinated water at cost, Hanegbi said. It’s also meant to alleviate the evaporation of the Dead Sea, where Jordan and Israel harvest potash and do a brisk tourism business. A hydroelectric plant will provide power to both countries.

Bilateral Tensions

The neighbors agreed to work together on the project in 2013, but implementation has been delayed by political tensions including stalled Israeli-Palestinian peacemaking and the 2017 killing of two Jordanians by an Israeli security guard at the embassy in Amman.

Jordan is expected to exhaust its underground freshwater sources in the next 40 years, according to Mercy Corps, a global humanitarian organization. Israel sees the collaboration as a way to improve ties with Jordan, which have remained frosty despite their 1994 peace agreement.

“This is important for regional cooperation,” Hanegbi said in a phone interview. “Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was convinced that peace has a price, and he agreed to it.”

Early Elections

Hanegbi’s comments come a week after Netanyahu called early elections, moving up the vote from next November to April. The prime minister has made improving ties with the Arab world a priority during his past term.

Hanegbi denied Israel’s decision on the water project was connected to the elections, saying it followed months of behind-the-scenes talks with his Jordanian counterpart. National Security Adviser Meir Ben Shabbat also was involved in the negotiations, Hanegbi said.

“This is the largest joint project in the Middle East between Israel and an Arab state,” Hanegbi said. “Jordan has severe water issues and Israel wants to maintain Jordan’s stability. It’s the country with which we have our longest border.”

A 2014 World Bank feasibility study on the project said that if no action is taken, the area near the Dead Sea will suffer from further sinkholes, mud flats and landslides that will affect terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems, tourism and the chemical industry. The lake’s water level is declining by more than one meter (3.3 feet) a year.

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