Israeli bombing has knocked out irrigation canals supplying Litani River water to more than 10,000 acres of farmland and 23 villages in southern Lebanon and the Bekaa Valley, raising accusations here that Israel is using its war on Hezbollah to lay claim to Lebanon's prime watersheds.
Heavy fighting and a series of targeted strikes on open water channels and underground water diversion pipes has effectively suspended much of Lebanon's agricultural use of the Litani River along the coastal plain and in parts of the Bekaa Valley near Qaraon dam, according to water engineers who have surveyed the south.
The damaged or broken facilities include a pump station on the Wazzani River, whose inauguration by Lebanon in 2002 prompted Israel to threaten military action because it diverted waters only a few hundred meters from the Israeli border, in a watershed that feeds the Jordan River, officials here said. At the time, Hezbollah vowed to defend the facility.
The strikes went largely unnoticed by the outside world in the nearly monthlong air assault on Hezbollah guerrilla strongholds in southern Lebanon. But Lebanese point to the extensive damage to their irrigation and drinking-water system as evidence that border security and water issues remain intertwined in a region short on both.
"Whenever Israel throughout history has thought of its northern border, they don't talk, for example, of the mountains as a border. They always think of the valley of the Litani," said Mohammed Shaya, dean of the college of social sciences at Lebanese University.