Category Archives: Jordan

Jordan’s Disi Aquifer

Disi Aquifer

Disi Aquifer

I have only rarely mentioned Jordan, as it is politically stable, but they are subject to the same water stresses as the rest of the region, and they have taken on half a million refugees due to the Syrian civil war. A few hours after I published Lebanon’s Record Drought someone sent me a link to this presentation on Jordan’s development of the Disi aquifer.

The total available water is about 22 billion cubic meters, or roughly 18 million acre feet. Putting this in perspective for U.S. residents this is equal to the maximum annual flow of the Colorado river. Only 10% of the water is Jordanian. Saudi withdrawal rates are on the order of a billion cubic meters a year(!) and are used primarily for agriculture(!!). Saudi Arabia sought to become independent of wheat imports, they have gone through ten thousand years of fossil water in a few decades, and they have little to show for this. Wheat production is in decline and will be phased out by 2016.

Why Jordan Wants the GCC, and Why the GCC Wants Jordan(2011) over at Peregrinational puts the development of Disi in perspective with Jordan’s desire for membership in the Gulf Cooperation Council. The six member states all suffer from the same curse – oil extraction – and the inability to diversify their economies so long as the oil continues to flow. Jordan is not an oil producer and Dead Sea tourism is a key component of their economy.

The Dead Sea is dying. The Red Sea to Dead Sea Canal is a scheme to reverse the decline brought on by the use of the Jordan River. The use of the Disi can take pressure off the Jordan River and buy time to implement the canal, but these projects have to move if they are going to make a difference.

U.S. grasp is slipping, Israel’s influence is sliding, and Russia vetoed a NATO intervention in Syria. The GCC members are one leg of the tripolar regional powers, all of whom have to cope with too many people and not enough water. Fossil water projects like Disi are only a long term benefit if they are used as stepping stones towards renewable sources, which Jordan is doing, or dramatic improvements in leaky infrastructure, which is what Syria needed before they skidded into outright civil war.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields & Pipelines

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Fields

The eastern Mediterranean has natural gas resources but with the exception of Egyptian production this is rarely mentioned, almost never in the geopolitical press and only rarely in the energy specific trade press. The Oil Drum offers an excellent series of detailed articles tagged with ‘Israel’, but the style is dense and high context – you have to know the business to be able to interpret the content.

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

Eastern Mediterranean Gas Corridor

A third gas corridor: prospects for the East Med offers details on the construction of a pipeline from Israel to the European gas market.

The construction of this ‘East Med Pipeline’, which would connect Israel, Cyprus and Greece to Italy and the rest of Europe, is feasible but it will be costly, and can only be justly assessed when further exploration is concluded and additional gas deposits are confirmed. If, however, the scientifically estimated deposits are proven to exist, it is undoubtedly the best long-term option and solution, not only for the countries involved, but for the EU as well

The red lines in the first map denote the Arab Gas Pipeline. Here’s a more detailed view of it.

Arab Gas Pipeline

Arab Gas Pipeline

We find in the Wikipedia article an example of what The Oil Drum would call “above ground issues”:

The Egyptian pipeline carrying natural gas to Israel and Jordan, has been attacked 15 times since the start of the uprising in early 2011 and 21 July 2012. On November 13, Jordan Prime Minister Abdullah Ensour said that “In the past 18 months of the Arab Spring, Jordan has lost between $4-5 billion at least as a result of oil stoppage, especially the Egyptian gas supplies”.

Turkey Pipeline Network

Turkey Pipeline Network

Russia is currently the dominant natural gas provider to Europe. The network of pipelines from the Caspian basin are theirs or European investments passing through Turkey. The European/Turkish facilities transit the perpetually simmering Caucasus and Kurdish eastern Turkey.

Some months ago I wrote The Only Red Line That Matters, which fitted together thoughts on the Russian naval supply station at the Syrian port of Tartus, the Cypriot bank collapse, the Syrian civil war, and other regional issues. The conclusion was that Russia would not permit another intervention like the one in Libya. Four months later the U.S. and Russia reached an agreement regarding handling of Syria’s chemical weapons.

Today, six months after publication, Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading is a sadly accurate statement about Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle. Turkey, Iran, and Saudi Arabia are the regional powers and it is their opinions and moves that matter.

Where is Israel in all of this? Their most vocal supporters here in the U.S., The Militarist Galaxy, are attempting to stir trouble on the international front by whipping up domestic furor over the Benghazi nontroversy, while simultaneously attempting to crash the entire U.S. government with their ill considered shutdown.

The Groundswell members have been seen for what they are – a disloyal minority with an apocalyptic world view. The Democrats were already opposed and GOP strategists made things painfully clear, indicating they would no longer tolerate ‘stupid candidates’, and this was served up on Christmas day. The message to religiously motivated fringe right actors couldn’t be more clear. Most notable of all is this: Israel approves of this move.

A political splinter group that will risk demolishing the U.S. economy with one hand while promoting some “end times” battle in their backyard with the other isn’t very useful to a pragmatic Israeli administration trying to navigate choppy diplomatic seas. Those people are cut off from their former international support and the effects are visible on the domestic front, too. We’re seeing more talk of the suffering of minority Christian groups in the Mideast, and Egyptian Copts have become the cause of the moment for last year’s Israel Firsters.

This has interesting domestic implications. We already know how adept the Saudi and Qatari money men are at fomenting trouble in an arc from Mali to Pakistan. Given that Citizens United threw open U.S. elections to ‘dark money’, and the FEC already approved bitcoin as a funding method for PACs. Unsophisticated actors here are liable to end up pawns in games that conclude with them in federal custody, offering agents phone numbers that are disconnected, apartment addresses that have been abandoned, and names of individuals that simply don’t exist.

Syrian & Iraqi Conflict Merging, Possibly Spreading

UN envoy: Iraq and Syrian conflicts are merging

That headline appeared in my inbox earlier and I have been dreading it. The Syrian civil war has spilled over into Lebanon, it’s encroaching on Turkey’s territory, and it’s set off troubles in neighboring Iraq, which are now merging into an end to end regional threat.

Let’s take a look at how things got this way. The Ottoman empire laid claim to Syria and Iraq between 1512 and 1566.

Ottoman Empire 1300 1683

And they lost control of the area as a result of picking the wrong side during World War I.

Ottoman Losses 1807-1924

The territory was divided between the English and French via the Sykes-Picot Agreement, with approval from the Russians.

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

Sykes Picot Partition Of The Mideast 1916

The French Syrian Mandate broke up with the loss of the Sanjak of Alexandretta back to Turkey in 1939 and the independence of Lebanon in 1943.

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

French Syrian Mandate Territory Losses

The British Mandate of Mesopotamia became Iraq, an independent monarchy in 1932 and a republic in 1958. Today’s ethnic map is consistent with the boundaries of the original territory. Yellow is for Sunni Arabs, green is Shia Arabs, and the Kurds are in blue.

Iraq Ethnic Groups

Iraq Ethnic Groups

I have written quite a bit about Syria’s patchwork of ethnic and religious groups. Summarizing – yellow are Sunni Arabs in the interior the dun colored areas are Kurds. The coastal region of Syria and Lebanon are very diverse and intermingled.

Syrian Ethnic Groups - Detailed Map

Syrian Ethnic Groups – Detailed Map

The Syrian conflict triggered the troubles in Iraq and the U.N. envoy now reports the two conflicts are merging. I noted that this conflict was also Spilling Into Lebanon. Refugee flows are a big part of that, as they put a support load on their neighbors.

Syrian Refugee Flows

Syrian Refugee Flows

Immediately outside the troubled trio of Syria, Iraq, and Lebanon, are three regional powers vying for influence – Turkey, Iran, and the money men of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. I wrote about the underlying details in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle.

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Perians, Saudis/Qataris & Turks

Beyond the bounds of the regional players there are global concerns which include:

  • Israel’s ill advised obsession with Iran, somewhat backed by the U.S.
  • Russia’s longstanding relationship with Syria
  • Turkey’s membership in both the European Union and NATO
  • China and Russia’s disapproval of extreme sanctions against Iran
Mideast Regional Map

Mideast Regional Map

Let’s take stock of troubles in the region:

  • Egypt – military coup against Muslim Brotherhood, supported by democratic forces
  • Yemen – outright civil war
  • Bahrain – simmering discontent, sometimes violent
  • Syria – outright civil war
  • Lebanon – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Iraq – being sucked into Syria’s civil war
  • Turkey – massive protests
  • Greece – bank crash, economic implosion
  • Cyprus – bank crash, U.N. brokered peace between Greeks & Turks
  • North Caucasus – long running insurgency, Chechen jihadis turning up in Syria
  • Iran – brand new government, same ol’ impossible sanctions

What, if anything, will the United States do about this?

The U.S. left Patriot missile batteries, F-16s, and 700 troops behind in Jordan this year after the annual Eager Lion exercise.

We seem to have just one aircraft carrier with its attendant carrier strike group in the region.

Information on the disposition of Expeditionary Strike Groups, which contain helicopter carriers, amphibious assault craft, and marines are not as readily available. I believe there is one on station at or near the 5th Fleet HQ in Bahrain and another active in the Mediterranean due to threats to diplomatic posts across North Africa.

We already have Bipartisan Opposition To Syrian Intervention. Today I saw further news to the effect that even the belated announcement we were going to arm the rebels faces Congressional disapproval.

President Obama is facing criticism for having an unclear strategy to resolve the Syrian conflict. Having spent the last ten years field testing neoconservative theories in the Mideast rather than applying pragmatic diplomacy, the White House’s apparent lack of strategy may be in and of itself a strategy. That last map and conflict list looks a bit like the Balkans a century ago, right before World War I engulfed Europe. Given our history in the region anything we attempt is liable to backfire badly.

The three regional powers I described in Today’s Tripolar Power Struggle each have a vision of what qualifies as good governance and only Turkey’s thinking would be vaguely familiar to American voters. “Bringing Democracy To Country X” sounds just grand, but in this part of the world we might want to substitute “a majoritarian blood bath” for the word democracy, and then see how palatable our plans sound. It’s time we listened to those who are there regarding what will and will not work.

Jordan’s Eager Lion

I received a link from AGC about the Eager Lion exercises and then I found some others in English. I have thus far completely ignored Jordan, so I thought this would be a good chance to gather some maps to support any writing.

Jordan Ethnic Groups

Jordan Ethnic Groups

Jordan Vegetation & Precipitation

Jordan Vegetation & Precipitation

Jordan Population Density

Jordan Population Density

Jordan is an oil poor monarchy of six and a half million people which shares the Jordan river as a border with Israel, and its other neighbors are Iraq and Saudi Arabia. They and Egypt are the only two Arab countries to have peaceful relations with Israel. The country is pro-western, allied with the U.S. and the U.K., and the economy has been improving due to liberalization measures taking by King Abdullah starting with his ascendance to the throne after his father’s death in 1999.

Last year’s Eager Lion 12 involved the 24th Marine Expeditionary Unit and included a total of 11,000 troops. This year’s exercises were smaller, just 8,000 troops, but particular attention was paid to air defense, and F-16s, Patriot missile batteries, and 700 troops were left behind at the end of the exercise.

Nonetheless, the halfway point of this year’s exercise coincided with President Obama’s June 13 decision to arm Syrian rebels, a reversal of course that has brought renewed attention to Eager Lion. Moreover, rumors that F-16 jets and Patriot missiles employed in the exercise would be left behind in Jordan after Eager Lion were confirmed by Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel on June 17. As of June 22, 700 combat-ready troops remain in Jordan “until the security situation becomes such that they are no longer needed,” according to President Obama.

Various groups within the Syrian rebels have been calling for the U.S. to enforce a no fly zone. When NATO arrived to provide a no fly zone in Libya it included a “rain fire on any armor we see moving” option. Russian president Putin was left feeling misled by how this was handled and this affront, in addition to the Russian long term presence with their naval supply station at Tartus, is part of the reason they have been so aggressive about roadblocking western intervention in Syria.

Jordan is also short on gas reserves and they are considering a deal with Israel for access to their newfound gas reserves.

If the U.S. becomes more deeply involved in Syria, a step which has not been talked about seriously, a buildup of troops and equipment in Jordan would be part of the operation. This could be a first step along that path, but I highly doubt that this is in the works. I will dig deeper on this, just wanted to be clear that based on what I know at this time no such move is planned.

Israel: No Claim On Litani Waters

Jordan & Litani River Basins

Jordan & Litani River Basins

Quality information on the Rivers Of The Fertile Cresent tends to be dense and technical, but there are occasional bits of political dynamite, such as this quote. The Fig. 1 mentioned is the above map of the Jordan & Litani river basins.

On the other hand, it is worthy to note that while analyzing the Lebanese part of the Jordan River Basin, no connection between the Litani River Basin and the Jordan River Basin was found in terms of surface flow, even though both basins lie close to each other (Fig. 1). The Litani basin was found to lie entirely in Lebanon. This result removes any ambiguity pertaining to the inclusion of the waters of the Litani River in any future water allocation scheme for the Jordan River Basin. As it was mentioned in the Johnston Plan and the Israeli “Cotton Plan”, some Israeli negotiators wished to include the Litani River in the Jordan River Basin plan (Amery 1998). Today, the inclusion of the Litani River is still present in the opinion of some politicians but these arguments are not credible since hydrological connections between the Litani and Jordan River Basin have not been proven (Medzini and Wolf 2004; Zeitoun et al. 2012).

Water has been a pressing concern for the region, driving the dispute between Arabs and Jews since Israel’s inception. This quote from a 1982 Christian Science monitor article reveals the entanglement of aquifers and state boundaries.

Two aquifers provide almost all of the groundwater for Northern and Central Israel, both arising in the West Bank. The shallower sandstone aquifer is recharged partly from runoff and percolation of rainwater falling on the former Jordanian lands. The deeper and more copious limestone aquifer is recharged largely or, possibly, entirely by rainwater from the West Bank.

The Litani River of Lebanon from 1993 is the best overview I have found regarding this situation and it notes interest in transferring a portion of the flow of the Litani to the south has existed for over a century. The web page looks to be the sort of thing that might vanish, so I preserved a copy of the content in Scribd.

Prestatehood Jewish interests in the Litani River were made explicit in letters from Chaim Weizmann, head of the World Zionist Organization (wzo), to various British governmental officials in 1919 and 1920 (Weisgal 1977). In a letter to Prime Minister David Lloyd George, Weizmann argued that Lebanon was “well watered” and that the river was “valueless to the territory north of the proposed frontiers. They can be used beneficially in the country much further south.” Weizmann concluded that the WZO considered the Litani valley “for a distance of 25 miles above the bend” of the river essential to the future of the Jewish “national home” (Weisgal 1977, 267). Nevertheless, the British and the French mandate powers retained the Litani basin entirely in Lebanon. David Ben-Gurion, a leading Zionist and the first prime minister of Israel, suggested to a 1941 international commission on the question of Palestine that the Litani be included in the borders of the future Jewish state. The commission recommended that seven-eighths of the river’s waters be leased to Israel (Saleh 1988).

The instability in Syria is already spilling over into its neighbors to the south, as we saw in Monitoring The Golan Heights. Both Israel and Syria have fueled conflict in Lebanon over the last forty years, including a nearly twenty year Israeli occupation of Lebanese territory south of the Litani.

South Lebanon Security Zone

South Lebanon Security Zone

The Syrian civil war is complex and the removal of Assad will change the character of the fighting, rather than eliminating it. Lebanon’s Hezbollah is sending fighters to support the Assad regime and violence has been spilling back into Lebanon for the last year. Israel has no legitimate claim on the waters of the Litani based on current boundaries. If the Syrian civil war triggers serious disorder in Lebanon Israel could obtain de facto control by restoring the South Lebanon Security Zone.

It is not my intent to provide an implicit suggestion that Israel will seek to regain access to the Litani by encroaching on Lebanon. While there is historical precedent for this, the situation is simply too complex from my current level of knowledge for me to make anything other than a haphazard guess.

Monitoring The Golan Heights

The Golan Heights are a volcanic plateau bordered by Israel, Lebanon, Syria, and Jordan. Geologically the territory is about seven hundred square miles, but the term is more often used politically, and in such cases it applies to the western two thirds, which have been occupied by Israel since the Six Day War in 1967.

Golan Heights Topography

Golan Heights Topography

As you can see from the this topographical projection map, the Golan Heights are a natural fortress that provides a commanding view of either Israel’s or Syria’s territory, depending on who holds it. I just finished Golan Heights Security Considerations, a detailed report of Israel’s position on the area, and I found an unusual bright spot. The inhabitants here are not restive like those in Gaza or the West Bank – they are primarily Druze Muslim and Israel occupation may be seen as a safer bet than whatever Sunni dominated government replaces the Assad regime.

Even with this seeming advantage, the U.N. Golan Heights monitoring force that has been present since 1973 is in flux. Austrian soldiers are being pulled out by their government, a hundred Crotians finished their rotation earlier this year, and Sweden may provide replacements but they want overall strength increased from 900 to 1,250.

News sources aren’t clear but it appears that the U.N. force only has small arms and they are missing some RG-31 Nyala MRAP vehicles due to a simultaneous theft of two of them and kidnapping of 21 Filipino troops. U.N. troops would have Egytian built Fahd armored personnel carriers available, which are similar to the U.S. Stryker.

Russia has dispatched naval forces to the region due to concerns over the fate of their supply station at the Syrian port of Tartus and they presumably have some troops on the assault ships that are part of this force, but they were rebuffed. I have seen a number of interpretations of this move on the part of the U.N. but this one is the least reactive:

Russian President Vladimir Putin last week offered to send Russian troops to the Golan Heights to replace the Austrians, but this was quickly shot down by Josephine Guerrero, a spokeswoman for the U.N. peacekeeping department. She said that the disengagement agreement does not allow the participation of troops from a permanent member of the U.N. Security Council.

The strategic importance of the commanding view provided by the Golan Heights is the immediate concern, but longer term this Jordan River Hydrology Report outlines the issues facing this river and its users, which include all four nations that border the Golan Heights.

The Jordan River begins in the Golan Heights and terminates in the Dead Sea. Where it once delivered 1.3 billion cubic meters of water annually flows are now down to 20 to 30 million cubic meters. The river is 90% used by Israel, Syria, and Jordan, and the Dead Sea is losing a meter of depth per year due to reduced inflow.

There are two potential capital investments that can alleviate the water shortages. I have done similar reading on the condition of the nearby Euphrates, in Turkey, Syria, and Iraq. Irrigation systems there are described as being in poor repair and leaking some 40% of the water they carry. I have not yet seen similar data on the Jordan but I suspect infrastructure for it is equally sketchy.

The other is an ambitious game changer – the Dead Sea Power Project. This 72 kilometer long 10 meter in diameter tunnel and associated infrastructure will six billion dollars, will produce $500 million a year in electricity, and a billion cubic meters of desalinated water. Putting that in perspective, Israel’s current desalination is just half the capacity of this system.

This is not just some blogger with a curious idea; there are several professionals involved both here in the U.S. and in the Mideast. The governments of Israel and Jordan are aware of this project. A civil engineering effort like this would create many jobs, address electricity generation in a way that produces rather than consumes water, and it would take pressure off the upstream users of the the Jordan, especially the country which takes its name from this river.

Hydroelectric turbines can last for generations and a conduit such as is envisioned would still be in place a millennium from now. The dollars required are equal to just three weeks of our costs for maintaining forces in Afghanistan and the investment would play a role in defusing a conflict even more grim than our occupation of Iraq or Syria’s civil war.

You are asking yourself the same question I am. Why aren’t we already doing this?

The Only Red Line That Matters

Russian Naval Supply Station At Tartus

Russian Naval Supply Station At Tartus

The (A) on the map is Tartus, the Russian Naval Supply Station on the Alawite dominated Syrian coast. I first reported on this in Russia Preparing To Evacuate Syrian Port Of Tartus on December 19th, 2012. A few days later Russia Signals Assad Regime Not Viable began with a carefully read pronouncement from a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesman and ended with some thoughts on food security if the Alawite do indeed manage to create a rump statelet as part of the ending of hostilities.

The May 17th, 2013 NightWatch brought this interpretation of the situation:

Comment: This week senior Russian officials have made clear that they will not allow NATO to repeat in Syria what occurred in Libya – the expansion of a no-fly zone to an air-supported ground intervention. One analyst judged that President Putin felt deceived by NATO and will not let that happen again. That explains the naval reinforcement and the supply of advanced weapons to the Syrian government forces.

Cyprus& British Overseas Territories

Cyprus& British Overseas Territories

There is a related issue in the region due to the collapse of the banks of Cyprus. This happened due to their exposure to the Greek public debt market. Russians are incensed, as Cyprus served the same role for them as places like the Cayman Islands do here – a banking haven. Also present are British Overseas Territories, two of the sprinkling of outposts left from Britain’s age of empire. The gray line is the UN buffer, the two pink areas are the British holdings. The Russians want to replace the function of Tartus with facilities in Limassol, right next to the western holding.

The island nation has long been quiet, but it is a UN enforced peace between the southern Greek population and the northern Turkish territory, in place since the Turkish Invasion of Cyprus. This ethnic partition left a lot of hard feelings and as it’s just forty years in the past the Cypriot leaders of today were in their teens and twenties when it happened.

Cyprus Ethnic Groups Circa 1960

Cyprus Ethnic Groups Circa 1960

There has been a lot of loose talk among biased and/or low information opinion sources regarding President Obama’s statement that Syrian use of WMD is a red line that could not be crossed. The media lapped up reports of Sarin gas use, regurgitated neo-conservative approved talking points, and the advocacy campaign for another intervention in the Mideast began. The reality of the situation is dramatically more complex than the black & white Christendom vs. Islam chatter heard in the U.S.

Here are what I hope are a fairly complete laundry list of the issues:

  • NATO member Greece has collapsed, triggering regional banking meltdown concerns
  • Banks of Cyprus collapsed, Russian offshore banking haven taken out by Greek troubles
  • Russian ally Assad’s Syria is failing, loss of Tartus would exclude them from the Med
  • Assad regime is the only Iran friendly outpost in the area
  • Syrian revolt is funded in part by Saudi Arabia, Qatar, other Sunni majority regimes
  • KSA & Qatar funds come /w Salafist radicalization built into the deal
  • NATO members Greece & Turkey are at odds over Cyprus partition
  • Syrian instability is spilling into Iraq, fueling Sunni/Shia violence, some refugees
  • Syrian instability is spilling into U.S. ally Jordan, many refugees
  • Syrian instability is spilling into NATO member Turkey, many refugees
  • Israel is concerned over weapons transport to Hezbollah in Lebanon

The Syrian civil war has been metastasizing into all of its immediate neighbors – Iraq, Turkey, and Lebanon have all seen violence precipitated by this festering conflict. Regional powers Iran and Russia have connections to the failing Assad regime and have taken indirect steps to protect the status quo. Regional Salafist funders Saudi Arabia and Qatar are funneling support and pushing ideology on Sunni Syrian rebels. I do not envy Israeli policy makers and the menu of unpleasant options that reality has provided them.

Russia has drawn a red line of their own – no NATO intervention in Syria. They’ve backed it up with a naval presence and the transfer of advance anti-aircraft systems to the Assad regime. The Syrian civil war is a multifaceted, multipolar regional issue and there are no soundbite sized prescriptions that will end it.