Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel, U.S. Still Battle for Lebanon's Litani River Water

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Israel, U.S. Still Battle for Lebanon's Litani River Water

Article excerpt

In 1955 President Dwight D. Eisenhower sent Eric Johnston, president of the Motion Picture Producers' Association, to the Middle East to "divvy up," in the phrase of the day, the water of the Litani River. The Arabs could not make the political decision to divide the Jordan River with Israel, but getting a decision from Israel on the exact amount of water it claimed to have coming was impossible.

Johnston finally realized that Israel was claiming more cubic feet per second (cusecs) than the total flow of the river. Israel buttressed its claim by citing the Cotton Plan, named for a never-quite-identified American hydrologist. It turned out that "Cotton" had combined the flow of the Jordan and the Litani rivers to come up with Israel's share. The Litani of course, flows entirely in Lebanon.

At the 1919 Peace Conference in Paris, ending World War I, Chaim Weizemann and David Ben-Gurion, respectively first president and first prime minister of Israel, presented a proposed map of the Israel that-was-to-be that included the Litani River within Israeli borders. The Litani did not go to Israel, however, because under the terms of the secret Sikes-Picot Treaty it was assigned to what would be the French Mandate of Lebanon.

Iran begins to come into the picture when it changed from a friend to an enemy of Israel. In 1978-1979 Muhammad Reza Shah Pahlavi was overthrown, to be replaced by an Islamic regime under the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini, marking the end of a quiet alliance between Israel and Iran. In 1978 Israel-anticipating a new government in Tehran that would support its fellow Shi'i in southern Lebanon-invaded and occupied its northern neighbor up to the Litani River.

In 1982 Israel again invaded Lebanon to drive out the Palestine Liberation Organization and to establish a government in Beirut that would allow Israel to exploit the Litani. The war, engineered by Israel's then-Minister of Defense Ariel Sharon, resulted in the death of 20,000 Lebanese, 2,000 Palestinians massacred in the Sabra and Shatila refugee camps, and the evacuation from Lebanon of the PLO.

The Israeli army slowly retreated from Lebanon under continued harassment from the country's long-neglected Shi'i-who had originally welcomed them in 1978 as a counter to the Palestinian presence there, but who soon turned against them upon exposure to the occupiers' contempt and hatred for the Lebanese. The resistance organization Hezbollah, in fact, was founded in 1982 under the guidance of Iran's ambassador to Syria Ali Akbar Mohtashemi. Israel did not fully withdraw from Lebanon until 2000, however, having retained a slice of Lebanon up to the Litani for more than two decades. …

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