Climate change to put additional strain on stability in the Middle East, NATO Parliamentarians told

13 July 2022

“The Middle East region is a climate change hotspot. Having air condition can be a matter of life and death”, stressed Alon Tal, Member of the Knesset and Co-chair of the Caucus on Sustainability, Environmental Protection and Resources, in a meeting with a delegation of NATO Parliamentarians travelling to Israel and the Palestinian Territories last week.

Climate change, water security and technologies to help address the challenges of extreme weather were among the topics discussed during the visit of the NATO Parliamentary Assembly’s Sub-Committee on Technology Trends and Security (STCTTS).  Other key issues included regional security challenges, Israeli-Palestinian relations and the regional implications of Russia’s war against Ukraine. The delegation, which was led by Kevan Jones (United Kingdom), Chairperson of the Assembly’s Science and Technology Committee, consisted of 21 national lawmakers representing 12 NATO member countries.

Climate change was seriously affecting the region, the delegation was told. Water security, in particular, had climbed even higher on the agenda of national governments. Water security and a scarcity of energy was particularly acute in Gaza. “97% of the water in Gaza is not drinkable”, according to Najat Alastal, member of the Palestinian National Council (PNC). Despite limited financial resources, there has been some, albeit very limited, progress on the water situation in the Palestinian Territories, as the number of communities without access to water had been reduced from 257 to 6, the delegation was informed. 

Possible technological solutions which can help address the challenges posed by climate change were presented at Haifa University. Briefings from Israeli start-ups included, among others, a briefing on the dual-use High Altitude Pseudo Satellites (HAPS), which can provide imaging on demand at lower cost and much more environmentally friendly than satellites. 

Expanding access to critical weather information and improving the accuracy of weather forecasts will be crucial in many areas, including for businesses and for military operations. Delegates were briefed about plans to build the world’s first space-based weather radar constellation and develop a weather intelligence platform, which will combine multi-sensor observations and artificial intelligence to create high-fidelity precipitation forecasts. A huge step forward towards access to clean drinking water, particularly in remote regions or in natural disaster areas, is the use of integrated atmospheric water generators which can operate with just an electric connection or any alternative energy source. This technology allows access to clean water without generating transportation costs while also avoiding plastic bottle polluting, the delegation learned. 

Regarding regional security, the state of Israeli-Palestinian relations figured prominently on the agenda of the visit. “Israel’s strategic situation has never been so good, but at the same time it has never been so dangerous”, described Ambassador Oded Eron of the Institute for National Security Studies his country’s current strategic outlook. Israel has good or at least stable relations with many countries, partly due to the Abraham accords, which had helped to establish relations with several Arab countries. Moreover, Russia’s war against Ukraine had led to an improvement in Israel’s relations with Europe, as the EU is now looking for alternative energy supplies. While Israel’s gas reserves were limited, Israeli liquid natural gas deliveries could contribute to a tangible alleviation of European gas shortages, the delegation learned.  

On the other hand, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict remains unresolved, and there is no quick or easy solution in sight, the delegation heard. Given the complex domestic political situation in Israel, no government is currently able to take a decision to move on the issue. Amir Ohana, Chairperson of the Knesset delegation to the NATO PA, stressed that the main issue of domestic Israeli politics today is indeed how to address the Israeli-Palestinian question. 

PNC representatives argued that Israel’s policies are aggravating the environmental problems for the Palestinians in the West Bank and in Gaza. PNC Speaker Rawhi Fattouh and other representatives of the PNC said that, because “NATO member nations were looking the other way, Israel was getting away with not implementing the Oslo accords”. PNC representatives also blamed Israel for preventing the election to the Palestinian Legislative Council (PLC) by not allowing Palestinians in Jerusalem to vote.  

Israeli speakers expressed considerable concern about Iran’s activities. Zvi Hauser, Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, stressed that “the West cannot allow that Iran becomes the next North Korea.” The situation is compounded by the fragile international security environment and regional instability. With regard to the latter, both Lebanon and Jordan face massive political, economic, social and environmental problems which could increase regional instability. The food crisis resulting from Russia’s war against Ukraine poses a huge challenge to the region. However, Jordan, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia and other countries can become food suppliers if they have enough water and the energy to desalinate enough sea water.

The Israeli Knesset is a Regional Partner and Mediterranean Associate Member, and the PNC is a Parliamentary Observer in the NATO PA.   

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