Americans and Israelis share an interest in the quality of their environment. And, perhaps even more so than in the United States, environmental issues are tied to Israeli security concerns. In particular, the shortage of water poses a severe threat to Israel's economy and is a factor in peace talks with its neighbors. Dr. Kenneth Foster of the University of Arizona has noted that Israel is not only at the "forefront of water and resource conservation technology," but Israelis are motivated by a social and political consciousness that stresses the importance of conservation and proper utilization of the land (Near East Report, July 8, 1991).
Israel is widely recognized as a leader in environmental protection. A recent analysis of Israel's policy concluded that "Israel has found inventive solutions to age-old problems" (Environmental Science & Technology, July 1993). A year earlier, Newsweek (June 1, 1992) rated 30 countries on three measures that strongly affect the planet's health: population, forests and pollution. Israel was one of only three countries (Costa Rica and France were the others) rated "good" on each environmental problem.
Given the strong environmental awareness in Israel, and the advances made there in certain areas of research, it is logical that the United States should engage in cooperative ventures with the Jewish State.
Exchange of Information
Water Supply, Treatment and Recycling
The Bureau of Reclamation of the Department of the Interior signed an MOU in 1990 with the Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research of Israel (IOLR) "to collaborate in developing a program of scientific and technical cooperation for the exchange of ideas, information, skills and techniques on problems of mutual interest in the field of water resources development."
The particular areas of cooperation highlighted are: limnological and fisheries research as a basis for lake and reservoir management; studies on the response of aquatic ecosystems to environmental perturbations; and studies on the ecological interactions between lakes and their catchment basins.
Discussions have also been held with the Bureau regarding joint projects in desalination technology. Israel has developed several innovative desalination methods and Israeli-manufactured seawater desalination plants represent 20 percent of the world market outside the Middle East.
Technologies for the treatment of industrial and urban wastewater for reuse in agriculture have also been developed in Israel.
Israel pioneered drip irrigation, a process by which the minimum amount of water is delivered directly to a plant's roots. This technique has the added environmental advantage of enabling the irrigation of crops with treated wastewater, and allows farmers to minimize the quantity of fertilizer and pesticides.
Israeli companies have developed systems that detect toxins in water; gas and chemical leaks; and sulphur and phosphorus compounds in the atmosphere.
Beginning in 1987, the U.S. Forestry Service and Jewish National Fund (JNF) have cooperated in firefighting and conservation efforts. JNF personnel have come to the United States for courses in forest management from the Forest Service and American forestry officials have traveled to Israel to observe Israeli methods.
Two Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) have been signed for cooperation between the JNF and the Forest Service. The newest expresses the Forest Service's intention "to improve its management of arid and semi-arid lands and transfer the technology, programs and techniques used in Israel to the U.S., Federal and State land management agencies." An April 1992 agreement calls for an exchange of information on strategic planning processes.
The United States wants Israeli expertise in two areas in particular: water harvesting and soil reclamation. The latter is important to America because 25 percent of the country is arid land that is being lost to desertification. As the only country gaining land, Israel can make a contribution to the global amelioration of this problem. "If every country were doing what Israel is doing," said Dale Robertson, chief of the Forest Service, "we would make significant progress to insure the survival of our environment."
"JNF runs one of the most professional forestry departments I have come across in the world in my 30 years experience," said Robertson. "The successful methods of afforestation developed by the JNF in the Negev places it in a world leadership in this field." Because of the similarity in climate and growing conditions of Israel and parts of the United States, Robertson said, it was possible to learn a great deal, "particularly in the field of land development and soil conservation in arid zones."
Joint research, conducted simultaneously in Israel and the United States, covers such environmental issues--in addition to firefighting--as soil and watershed management, desert afforestation and conservation of water and other natural resources.
Also, the International Arid Land Consortium, an independent nonprofit organization, was formed to explore the problems and solutions of arid and semiarid regions. The Consortium consists of the universities of Arizona, Illinois, New Mexico State, South Dakota and Texas A&I, along with the Forest Service and JNF. According to the director of the Consortium, Dr. Kenneth Foster of the University of Arizona, Israel is "by far the leading country" in the application of various technologies studied by the consortium, and the "hands-on experience that Israel has gained will be of great benefit to the U.S. and other countries around the world" (Near East Report, July 8, 1991).