Militaristic expansion towards the rich gas fields of the Eastern Mediterranean
The USA is practically empty; during my trips there, even what Americans call cities looked to me like a vast emptiness, a long series of large and quite empty parking lots. America is so empty, that Americans consider China a densely populated country. That its true along China’s coast; but take a railway trip from Shanghai to Kashgar—across the country—and most of the time only a vast desert would be seen from the windows. Israel and Palestine are populated beyond Western comprehension; I won’t cite density numbers here because that would imply recognizing Israel’s borders. The point is that there is no space left; it is so crowded, that certain cemeteries bury the dead in multi-level graves.
The Mediterranean Eastern coast from Gaza to Lebanon is home to almost ten million people, many military bases and countless, bulky civilian infrastructures. The main installations are within the Iron Triangle (“Meshulash HaBarzel” in Hebrew), a mocking reference to the area between the HaKirya, Tel Hashomer and Tzrifin IDF bases in the Tel Aviv area. These bases contain the army’s main administrative units. It is called Iron Triangle because it is jokingly said that once a soldier is posted there he—or she—is unlikely to leave it, for his eternal joy. Other prominent structures include the massive Hedera Power Station, the complex of intelligence bases which include the Mossad Headquarters at the Glilot Junction, the Ben Gurion International Airport, and at least one local airport. Desperate to create living space at its economic heart, Israel is trying to move all these facilities elsewhere.
The efforts to clear the center are not new. On June 2010, I reported in IDF on the Run, how the IDF is moving much of its intelligence and training infrastructure to the Negev. The Intelligence Corps would move to the Likit Area, east of Beer Sheva, and west of the Shoket Junction. The Military Intelligence School would be moved to the Negev Junction. Technological intelligence units (mainly the Sigint 8200 base at Glilot) would be relocated near the town of Omer. The last step includes the move of Mamram—the IDF computing unit—to a location adjacent to the Negev University in Beer Sheva. All these would we transferred until 2017. The massive complex of military bases at Tzrifin—a military area dating back to the British Mandate—would be moved to the new City of Training Bases being built south of Beersheba until 2014. Even after this radical change in the IDF deployment, there would be a lot of space controlled by the army within Israel’s largest metropolitan area.
This clog was predicted many years ago. In the early 1990s an artificial islands project was proposed. It included three large islands in front of Tel Aviv—each one a kilometer long—which would double as wave-breakers and exclusive residential areas. The project was dropped due to its environmental consequences. The fact that it was civilian doomed its fate; in order for a project to succeed in Israel, it must belong to the militaristic-expansionistic type. Accordingly, in June 2012, the Cabinet—the Israeli government senior ministers’ committee—approve a feasibility study on the construction of several artificial islands in front of Israel. In contrast to the original project, these islands will contain airports, large industrial facilities, power stations, and military bases. Unsurprisingly, they would ease Israeli military control of the gas fields disputed between this country and Lebanon. It is safe to assume the islands would be also the preferred location for the inevitable desalination plants that Israel will need in the near future. With such a preamble, there is little doubt this project will move forward, changing the shape of the Eastern Mediterranean.
Old Ideas; New Twists
Artificial islands are not a new idea. Probably, the best known one is the international airport of Hong Kong; also the parallel structure in Seoul was built on landfilled sea. Airport islands are rather humble in size; the record in this category belongs to the Dutch, who probably are the world-leaders in land-shaping. They have done that for centuries, and beyond a very impressive network of state-of-the-art dams, they also feature the largest artificial island in the world. Flevopolder is a landfill which was finished in 1968, and has a total area of 970 km2 (375 sq mi). This is one hundred times larger than the mentioned airports.
The Dutch experience is important in two aspects related this article. First, it shows that large islands are feasible. An island the size of Flevopolder in front of Israel will enlarge the country significantly; easily creating space for many military installations and at least an additional one million residents. This is a game changer. Second, the Dutch are construction masters, and they have cozy relations with Israel. The Marganit Building—the Ministry of Defense (see long image in this page)—was built by the Dutch since Israel lacks the required technologies. The Northern Command of the IDF—a bunker reaching a depth of 200m below Tzfat—was also built by a Dutch company. Israel trusted them with its deepest secrets. It is safe to assume that Dutch expertise would be used in the construction of the islands.
Netanyahu allotted one year for the feasibility study. If everything goes as planned, the map of the Middle East may dramatically change by the end of this decade.