Can Jordan ever escape Israel's grip on water resources?

7 min read
13 March, 2024

Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world, with an annual renewable water deficit of around 400 cubic meters (m3) per person.

In 2021, the Kingdom signed a water-for-energy deal with Israel which would have seen Amman build 600 megawatts of solar power capacity to export to Israel in return for 200 million cubic meters of desalinated water.

The deal was due to be ratified in October 2023, but as tensions soared between Amman and Tel Aviv amid Israel’s devastating war on Gaza, the deal was put on hold.

The agreement was itself an extension of the US-sponsored peace deal signed in 1994, which saw occupied land returned to Jordan and an equitable share of water supplied to it - up to 50 million m3 each year.

Now, according to recent Israeli media reports, Jordan has asked Israel to consider extending the water-for-energy deal – due to expire in May - for another year.

"Jordan is one of the most water-scarce countries in the world"

"Israel has not yet responded positively to the request, in light of the existing tensions…due to the war in Gaza," the Israeli Broadcasting Corporation Kan reported.

As part of the request, Israel had reportedly asked Jordan to tone down criticism of Israel and condemnation from Jordanian officials while asking for the return of ambassadors to both countries.

In November 2023, Jordan decided to recall its ambassador to Israel immediately as an expression of Amman’s condemnation of the ongoing Israeli war on Gaza.

Jordan also directed the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs not to send back its ambassador, who had previously left Amman, linking this request to ending the war on Gaza.

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Official Jordanian response

Jordan and Israel share the waters of the Sea of Galilee and the Yarmouk and Jordan rivers, in addition to underground wells.

According to Appendix II of the 1994 peace agreement, Article 6 of the text of the treaty says that Israel will receive 12 million cubic metres of water from the Yarmouk River in the summer period, and 13 million cubic metres in the winter period, while Jordan gets the rest of the flow, amounting to 50 million cubic metres annually.

Responding to Israeli media reports, Jordanian Minister of Government Communications and Cabinet Spokesman Muhannad Mubaideen told the US-funded Al-Hurra TV network that, “We buy a set quantity of water and pay for it”.

He added: “We asked to study the matters related to the details of the agreement, and based on it, either they sell water or they do not sell it”.

Mohammad Momani, a Jordanian member of the Senate and a former Minister of State for Media Affairs, told The New Arab that “Jordan is part of a purchase agreement with Israel, and this deal is subject to technical arrangements and should not be subject to any political dimensions outside the framework of the peace treaty”.

He added that “there should be cooperation between the two countries, and if there are political issues they should be brought to the political table. Israel must first control the statements of its ministers that are devoid of all international and moral standards”.

Ties between Jordan and Israel are at an all-time low due to Tel Aviv's war on Gaza. [Getty]

Water self-reliance

In 2021, Jordan signed an agreement with Israel to purchase an additional 50 million cubic metres of water, in addition to what was stipulated in the peace agreement signed between the two countries in 1994.

“Jordan faces a water deficit in the summer amounting to about 450 million cubic metres annually, while its need is estimated at one and a half billion cubic metres annually, of which one billion and one hundred million are available,” the spokesman for the Ministry of Water and Irrigation, Omar Salama, told The New Arab.

"We are the second poorest country in the world in terms of water. Jordan is working on several sustainable projects, most notably the national carrier for desalinating the Red Sea water and transporting 300 million cubic metres of desalinated water from the Gulf of Aqaba on the Red Sea to all regions of the Kingdom annually,” Salama added.

"This is a threat to Jordanian national security. We should not put ourselves under the blackmail of a country that steals the water of the Yarmouk River"

Projects are also ongoing to reduce water loss from the network due to leakage and theft, which would save two percent annually, while the country plans to expand water harvesting programs and dams.

“We have 16 major dams and 420 earthen desert dams. We also have programs to encourage citizens to build tanks to collect rainwater,” Salama said.

Jordan also treats the water from sewage plants to use for agricultural and industrial purposes with a capacity of 200 million cubic metres annually, he added.

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Bad management

With Tel Aviv exerting significant control over both Jordanian and Palestinian water resources, former Jordanian water minister Hazem Nasser believes that there are alternatives available to buying water from Israel.

“For years, we have been saying that the issue of water provision should be at the top of the national priorities,” he told TNA.

“Until this moment, the Jordanian citizen does not know the status of the national carrier project, which began to be discussed back in 2017. Today the tender for the water carrier has yet to be awarded due to mismanagement.”

The most important alternative source for Jordan is deep groundwater, which is feasible to develop and could provide Jordanians with drinking water for 70 years or more, according to the statistics of the Ministry of Water and Irrigation.

The issue must be dealt with through strategic planning and projects that ensure long-term water security, Nasser added.

There have been mass protests in Jordan over Israel's war on Gaza. [Getty]

Stealing water from the Yarmouk River

Since 1964, Israel has been able, through its national carrier Mekorot, to pump the water of the Yarmouk River to the Sea of Galilee and then south through pipes about 130 kilometres long.

Jordanian environmental expert Professor Sufyan Al-Tall told TNA that he condemned the water agreements signed with Israel, which allowed it to “steal” Jordan’s water rights.

According to the academic, Israel is pumping thousands of cubic metres of water from the Yarmouk River, which is a major source for the Jordan River, through its national carrier, which is impacting the state of the Jordan River and the Dead Sea.

“This caused the Jordan River to die and has hurt the aquatic environment of the Dead Sea. When Jordan protested against settlement operations, the Israeli Minister of Water threatened to starve Jordan,” Al-Tall said.

“This is a threat to Jordanian national security. We should not put ourselves under the blackmail of a country that steals the water of the Yarmouk River.”

"Israel has repeatedly threatened Jordan with vital strategic issues, and the Kingdom should not submit to Israeli blackmail"


Last Friday, Jordanians protested in downtown Amman against Israel’s war on Gaza, a frequent occurrence since the conflict began.

Demonstrators also called on the Jordanian government to terminate all normalisation agreements with Israel, including water and gas imports, emphasising the importance of prioritising national interests over ties with Israel.

A member of the Resistance to Normalisation Coordination, Mohammad al-Absi, told The New Arab that “Israeli threats and blackmails against Jordan” are not new.

“Israel has repeatedly threatened Jordan with vital strategic issues, and the Kingdom should not submit to Israeli blackmail, especially with regard to the waters of the Yarmouk River”.

In April 2020, Jordan painstakingly purchased eight million cubic metres from Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu’s government.

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Years earlier, in 2017, the same government had threatened to shelve a joint agreement for the construction of a pipeline transferring water from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea following Jordan’s closure of the Israeli embassy after an Israeli guard shot dead two Jordanian nationals.

More recently, against the backdrop of the Kingdom’s position on the war on Gaza, the former Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett threatened Jordan after it said that the energy-for-water exchange agreement might not be ratified, writing on X, “If Jordan wants its residents to become thirsty, that is their right”.

With diplomatic relations at an all-time low amid Israel’s ongoing war on Gaza, which has killed 30,000 Palestinians and destroyed most of the besieged territory, it remains to be seen if Jordan will ever escape Israel’s grip on its vital water supplies.

Mohammad Ersan is a freelance journalist and Editor-in-Chief of Radio Al-Balad and His work has been published in Al-Monitor and Middle East Eye.

Follow him on X: @JournalistErsan