Israel Environment Bulletin Winter 1994-5754, Vol. 17, No. 1


Country Description: Israel by Valerie Brachya
Head, Planning Division, Ministry of the Environment
and Dov Rozen
Israel Institute for Oceanographic and Limnological Research

Presented within the framework of the World Coast Conference, Norway, November 1993


Israel has two coastlines of very different physical and cultural characteristics: the Mediterranean Coast and the Red Sea Coast.

The Mediterranean Coast

The Mediterranean coastline of Israel extends along roughly 190 kms from Rosh Hanikra on the Lebanese border to Zikim on the border with Gaza. The coastline can be divided into four morphological sections according to physical characteristics and sedimentological properties:

  • 1) Rosh Hanikra to Acre – a sedimentologically isolated region with abraded rocky platforms and narrow beaches;
  • 2) Haifa Bay – bounded by the Acre promontory on the north and the Carmel mountain range on the south, the region consists of wide sandy beaches;
  • 3) The Carmel coastal plain – between Caesarea and Haifa, the region consists of three low parallel ridges of calcareous sandstone, parts onshore and parts offshore, with relatively narrow sandy beaches;
  • 4) South of Caesarea – sandy beaches are occasionally interrupted by sections of calcareous sandstone cliffs up to 40 m high.

    The major ecological feature of the Mediterranean coast of Israel is that it constitutes the ending northern sector of the Nile littoral cell, which extends from the coastal zone of the Nile Delta to the end of Haifa Bay at Acre. This cell is composed of quartz Nilotic sand which is transported along the coasts of Egypt, Sinai and Israel up until Haifa Bay. The net yearly sand transport within the surf zone decreases from about 1,000,000 cubic meters at the Nile Delta, to about 250,000 m3 at Ashkelon, and to nil somewhere between Hadera and Haifa where the net transport is zero or up to about 100,000 m3 directed southward. The amount of sand disappearing along the coast is assumed to be lost partially to the offshore and partially by winding from the beaches to the coastal dunes of Sinai, southern Israel and Caesarea whenever the sand can escape to the backshore through lows in the relatively high coastal bluff. Beyond the surf zone, the sediment transport is estimated to be about an order of magnitude larger at the Nile Delta, decreasing to about 500,000 m3 at Ashkelon and about 100,000 m3 off Haifa. This transport is performed by the combined action of the general circulation current (which in this coastal sector is directed counterclockwise), and the stirring effect of waves by their orbital velocities at the sea bottom. In the whole cell, the current is directed alongshore with a clear offshore component near the bottom, leading to the effect that most of the fine sand and finer material are transported offshore to the shelf, and only a fraction of the sand is transported alongshore to Haifa Bay. The generally accepted opinion that all the sand sinks in Haifa Bay seems only partially true, as new evidence regarding the net longshore wave energy balance and sand transport at Haifa Carmel Beach in the surf zone indicates that a part of this sand finds its way to the surf zone by a clockwise circulation current in the Bay, eventually feeding Carmel Beach. North of Acre, the sediments are of only local origin, chiefly of carbonate nature, and the coastal shores are mostly depleted of sediments.

    The rivers flowing from the interior hill ranges to the Mediterranean shore are today mainly seasonal, flowing only in winter. They are of no major economic importance, but are features of natural value and, where not polluted, are significant breeding grounds for small-scale local fisheries.

    Human activity along this Mediterranean coastline dates back to prehistory, and has left numerous onshore and offshore archeological remains. Due to the lack of natural bays (except for Haifa Bay), artificial construction was always necessary in this open shoreline to provide shelter against the stormy Mediterranean Sea. At least twelve coastal settlements with harbors are well known from earliest historic times along this intensively used maritime corridor. The modern deep water port of Haifa was constructed during the British Mandate in the 1930s. Tel Aviv and Jaffa have small harbors. The second deep water port along this coastline was constructed at Ashdod in the 1960s.

    Roughly 70% of Israel’s population, which reached five million in 1992, lives within 15 kms of the Mediterranean coastline. Intensive settlement along the coastal strip over the last 50 years now dominates the land use pattern of the area, particularly the two major populations centers of Tel Aviv and Haifa. This narrow coastal strip is the focus of the country’s economic and commercial activity.

    Haifa Bay offers protected water for the development of an international port, and is the primary center of heavy industry including oil refining, petrochemicals and a steel mill.

    Tel Aviv, with an expanding metropolitan area, is the major commercial center of Israel and the focus of the country’s transportation networks. Tel Aviv also leads in tourist development along the coastline, together with tourist resorts at Nahariya, Netanya, Herzliya, Bat Yam and Ashkelon.

    Ashdod, just south of Tel Aviv, now competes with Haifa Port for international shipping. Ashdod Port handles container shipments, citrus exports, phosphates from the Dead Sea and other bulk cargo. The second oil refinery in Israel was constructed at Ashdod, and the town is the second major center of heavy industry along the coast.

    The coastal strip also contains the most fertile agricultural land of Israel, especially for citrus production. There is severe conflict between the expansion of urban settlements along the coastline and the preservation and protection of fertile agricultural land. Mariculture is becoming increasingly important.

    The main transportation arteries run very close to the coastline for much of its length, particularly from Tel Aviv northwards. The coastal highway and the railway run on an almost parallel alignment along the calcareous sandstone ridges in order to avoid encroachment on agriculturally-productive land.

    The Red Sea Coast

    The 10-km Red Sea Coast (Gulf of Eilat) can be divided into three sections:

  • About two and a half kms along the northern shore: a gently sloping sandy shore;
  • Some three kms along the western shore: narrow, coarse sand and pebble beaches where the mountains descend steeply to the sea;
  • The southernmost five kms along the western shore: a narrow shore with coral reefs.

    Eilat (pop. 30,000) is situated on the northern shore, and is intensively developed for tourist and recreational uses. Its wide, fine sandy beaches slope gently underwater to 100-150 m offshore, from where the sea floor abruptly drops to 600 m and to 1500 m. Tourist development includes an artificial lagoon and a marina.

    Most of the northern section of the western shore is occupied by port facilities. Deep water adjacent to the shoreline in the protected waters of the Gulf enables anchorage without the need for offshore breakwaters. The port facilities include the handling of bulk cargo, oil and vehicles. Expansion of the port hinterland is limited by topography.

    The Gulf of Eilat is the world’s northernmost tropical sea ecosystem. Its oxygen-rich water has a constant temperature of 21o-24oC. The Gulf supports a dense population of more than 100 species of corals, 800 species of fish, and hundreds of species of crustaceans and molluscs in a fragile environmental equilibrium. Eilat’s coral reef was designated as a nature reserve in 1965.

    Sea currents in the Gulf run counter-clockwise along the eastern shores of Saudi Arabia and Jordan, turning westward along the northern tip of the Gulf, then southward along the Israeli and Egyptian shores. Prevailing winds are north-northeasterly. The climate is a typical desert one: very low precipitation and over 340 clear, sunny days a year. Winter storms affect the Gulf on rare occasions.

    The Political System

    Israel is a parliamentary democracy which consists of three branches: the legislative (the Knesset); the executive (the government); and the judiciary

    (the court system). The system is based on the principle of separation of powers, with built-in checks and balances. The government is subject to the confidence of the Knesset, and the absolute independence of the judiciary is guaranteed by law. The president is the head of state.

    Local government provides services in the areas of education, culture, health, social welfare, road maintenance, public parks, water, sanitation and fire brigades. Municipal and local councils are elected from party lists on the basis of proportional representation, while mayors and heads of local councils are chosen by direct vote. Financing of local authorities is via municipal taxes, via the government through non-earmarked grants; and through participation in the maintenance of country-wide public services. There are 25 local authorities along the Mediterranean coast. The Red Sea coast falls within the Municipality of Eilat.


    It is not clear whether anticipated climate changes will increase or decrease precipitation over Israel both in total amount and in seasonal distribution. But if temperatures in the region rise, then a decrease in the total quantity of water charging the groundwater aquifers is to be expected despite the possible increase in precipitation. The rise in temperature would increase evaporation and reduce soil moisture, advancing desiccation all over the country. This would affect rain-fed agriculture, afforestation and grazing. Moreover, if climatic zones will move northwards, Israel will experience desertification making the southern part of the country even less appealing for large-scale human settlement.

    Scientists predict that natural flora may not move northward as quickly as climatic zones, thereby endangering many species. Before new species have time to take over, soil erosion may occur. The longitudinal shape of Israel may make the migration of species more difficult, as will the urban zones which cut across the country. Since Israel is characterized by a high biological diversity including some of the wild ancestors of important staples and a relatively large number of endemic species, the preservation of this biological diversity will become a major challenge under conditions of climate change.

    The anticipated major effects of sea-level rise and climate change on the coastal zones of Israel at the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat) and in particular at the Mediterranean Coast are the following:

  • Increased erosion of the coasts, especially in the central sector of Israel between Tel Aviv and Haifa, leading to collapse of the coastal beach cliff, removal of the beach sand and exposure of the underlying clay and cemented sand (kurkar) strata.
  • Increased intrusion of sea water into the coastal aquifer, decreasing the quantities of potable water. Due to the exaggerated use of water from the coastal aquifer in the recent past, significant intrusion has already occurred. Hence, any additional intrusion of sea water would have a very adverse impact on the capability to use that aquifer for long-term storage of potable water. In addition, a deterioration of soil quality by salt in the low lands (1-3 m above present MSL) and in the estuaries is likely to occur.
  • Interference with the flow of groundwater towards sea level. Groundwater level in the aquifer is likely to rise, spring locations might move to higher elevations, and their discharge may undergo a certain decline.
  • Increased damage by floods in low regions, like the Kishon estuary, due to lower discharge capacities under higher sea levels and possibly greater precipitation. In addition to the change in flood magnitude, of which the direction is not yet known, a rise in sea level will interfere with the drainage capacity of rivers. The hydraulic slope of the lower reaches will be milder. This will cause a rise and a widening of the flowing water surface. Should the depth of precipitation be lower and the flood magnitudes higher, the effect of sea-level rise will add to the danger of flooding. However, should the depth of precipitation be higher and flood magnitude lower, the danger to the rise in the drainage base will be lessened.
  • Increased evaporation and decrease of water seepage to the underlying aquifers for long-term storage.



    The major issue in the densely populated Mediterranean coastal strip is the continued spread of urbanization. As the focus of the country’s economic activity, the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, together with the Haifa industrial, commercial and port center, continue to attract urban development with a consequent loss of agricultural land and of open space for recreational activities. In addition, there is a rising demand in these areas for space for transportation facilities (mainly roads), and for urban services (water and electricity supply, solid and liquid waste disposal).

    Policies of restraining development on prime agricultural land on the one hand, and of encouraging development in peripheral areas through financial incentives to industry and settlement on the other hand, have succeeded in establishing urban and rural centers in inland areas, but have not significantly decreased the rate of urban growth of the coastal strip.


    Electricity is largely provided by the coalor oil-fired power stations located on the Mediterranean Coast. Additional coal-fired units are currently being added to existing stations at Hadera and Ashkelon. All depend on a coastal location in order to utilize the sea water for cooling, and for the supply of fuel. Sulphur dioxide emissions are monitored around all stations; when atmospheric conditions indicate dispersion difficulties, the oil-fired stations are required to switch to low-sulphur fuel (1%). Over 50% of electricity is generated by coal-fired units, using coal with a sulphur content not exceeding 1%. Sulphur levels in fuels have been reduced over the years: currently to 2.5% in oil; and from 1.1.94 will be 2%. This has enabled a reduction in SO2 emissions despite the rapid increase in electricity demand and production. Nevertheless, electricity production accounts for some 70% of SO2 emissions in the country. The Israel Electric Corporation has agreed to incorporate desulphurization plants in several production units.

    A major coastal issue of coal-fired power production plants is the disposal of fly ash. Some has been disposed of on land, some is used by the cement industry, but most is disposed of at seasome 80 kms offshoreaccording to permits issued under dumping regulations.

    Recently, the Electric Corporation has increased production from gas turbines. These are located at inland sites and at Eilat. Gas turbines are preferable from the point of view of air quality policy, and also offer an alternative to a coastal location. Further production from gas turbines is anticipated.

    A very small amount of electricity is currently produced by alternative forms of energy: solar, wind, water. Hopefully the future will bring a technological and economic breakthrough for solar energy.

    Port Development

    The two major ports, Haifa and Ashdod, handle international container and general cargo; passenger traffic is relatively small. Both ports have adjacent oil refineries. Ashdod deals with the export of phosphates from the Dead Sea Works. Both ports anticipate expansion in the future, and plan extensions of breakwaters and land reclamation for further quays.

    Eilat has a deepwater port and an oil terminal. Neither are currently very active, although the level of activity may accelerate with changes of markets in the future. There is severe conflict and competition for space between port facilities and tourist development along the very limited coastline. The risk of pollution from port activities to the highly sensitive adjacent coral reef has limited some possible port functions, such as the import of coal through Eilat Port.


    The rapid increase in car ownership (now some six persons per car) has a major impact on the coastal environment, particularly in the rise of carbon monoxide emissions and noise generation in the urban areas. Catalytic converters, presently being required on all new vehicles; reductions in sulphur and lead levels in gasoline; and the introduction of non-leaded gasoline should reduce the rise in pollution levels.

    Low-level ozone generated by traffic creates a pollution problem particularly when trapped in inversion conditions.

    Public bus transportation is relatively high in relation to private car traffic. Plans for light rail public transportation are under consideration, but are unlikely to reduce the continued expected increase in private vehicle traffic.


    The major economic activity of the area immediately adjacent to the coastline is tourism, both on the Mediterranean and on the Red Sea Coasts. Both coastlines offer highly attractive conditions for local and international tourism with sandy beaches, natural and historic features and a well-developed infrastructure offering visitor accommodation and services.

    Policies for coastal development have given preference to tourism, especially in close proximity to the coastline. Current development plans for the coast (see below) emphasize the importance of integrating future tourist development with environmental protection.

    Future policies for tourism could be affected by climate change, where beach capacity may be reduced, and where marine structures, existing or proposed, for recreational purposes, such as marinas and beach protection may require raising.

    Policies in Response to Climate Change

    Policies have not yet been formulated in consideration of the impacts of climate change. Policies will be needed with respect to water management, coastal and cliff erosion, and drainage. Land use plans (see below) already include a 100 m setback.

    An anticipated impact would be the expected damage to coastal structures due to increased wave forces, overtopping and scouring, marine traffic, reduction in the efficiency of power stations due to smaller gradients at the outlets, and necessity to raise existing and future offshore structures to protect them against overtopping and increased maximum wave heights.

         Assessment of Costs of Damage From Climate Change   

    WITHOUT RESPONSE WITH RESPONSE STRATEGIES STRATEGIES ITEM (Millions of $) Millions of $) Rise of port structures (berths, wharves) 40 20 Protection of low coastal areas and beach cliffs by breakwaters and other means ($5,000/m beach x 50 km) 1250 250 Outlets of power stations 40 20 Strengthening and repair of existing breakwaters 100 50 Artificial feeding of beaches as per $200/m beach x 100 km 20 Salt intrusion to coastal aquifer and loss of water 20 20 Future offshore islands by increased design heights and volumes of fill 130 40 TOTAL 1600 400


    The integration of sectorial planning and development policies is carried out within the context of the Planning and Building Law, 1965.

    The land use planning system in Israel consists of a hierarchy of three levels of planning: national, regional and local. Under the Planning and Building Law, the top level of the hierarchy is the National Board for Planning and Building which is composed of representatives of government ministries, of local government, and of public and professional organizations. The Board concentrates on the preparation of national outline schemes and on the review of regional outline schemes.

    The regional level of the hierarchy is the responsibility of six District Planning and Building Commissions. At the local level of the hierarchy are the 65 Local Planning and Building Commissions which are composed of individual or groups of local authorities. There is a special national commission for approving plans and permits for development in territorial waters.

    In 1970, the National Board for Planning and Building recognized that Israel’s coastlines should be treated as resources of national value, and issued an order for the preparation of national plans for all its sea and lake shores: the Mediterranean Sea, the Red Sea (Gulf of Eilat), the Sea of Galilee and the Dead Sea.

    The first stage of the National Outline Scheme for the Mediterranean Coast was prepared by the Ministry of the Interior and approved in 1983. The main objectives of the plan were to prevent development which had no need for a coastal location, to protect large sections of the coastline as nature reserves, national parks and coastal reserves, and to allocate coastal areas for tourism and recreation activities. The masterplan included a highly effective clause prohibiting development within 100 meters of the coastline. Relaxation of this regulation is occasionally permitted only if approved by the National Board.

    To help provide a comprehensive long-term guide to planning policy beyond the guidelines in the approved masterplan, the Board commissioned a more detailed document for the resource management of the Mediterranean coastline for tourist and recreation activities. This resource management plan, which includes the land and marine sides of the coastline, was prepared by the Ministry of the Environment and was recently submitted for approval.

    The plan is based on principles of suitability and sensitivity of coastal resources. The dominant principle adopted for resource management of the coast was the definition of intensity of development. A natural, undeveloped bathing beach offers a totally different experience from an urban beach with multiple visitor facilities. Similarly, overnight accommodation at a village camping site is a different experience from accommodation at a central urban hotel. Five levels of development were therefore defined for beaches and their immediate hinterland, four levels of intensity of accommodation, and three levels of development of hinterland day-visitor areas.

    Each site designated for tourist and recreation use was allocated a level of intensity of development, initially proposed by the planners on the basis of surveys, geological and ecological guidelines, and local site conditions. Alternative proposals were checked to determine whether the level of development proposed would damage sensitive resources on or near the site. Where a conflict was identified, the level of intensity was reduced, the boundaries of the development area changed, or the site cancelled and an alternative selected.

    The overall national policies proposed for resource management of the coast include:

  • Development which is not for recreation or tourism should not be permitted along the coast and its immediate hinterland;
  • Policies for resource protection should range from absolute protection within a designated reserve to the identification of sensitive resources to be considered within the detailed plan for site development;
  • Highly intensive uses should be confined to existing urban centers;
  • Offshore construction for recreation and water sport activities should be restricted to urban centers;
  • A public footpath should be designated along the coastline to ensure public access by foot to and along the coastline.


    Environmental Impact Assessment

    EIA is carried out for all major development proposals in Israel. Regulations requiring the submission of Environmental Impact Statements were promulgated in 1982 under the Planning and Building Law.

    The regulations specify in which cases an EIS is mandatory and in which cases it is optional, upon request by the planning agencies. An EIS is obligatory for four kinds of projects: power stations, airports, ports, and hazardous waste disposal sites. The regulations strongly urge the preparation of an EIS for landing strips, marinas, main water carriers, dams and reservoirs, sewage treatment plants, quarries and waste disposal sites if the planning authority considers that significant environmental impacts may occur beyond the immediate vicinity of the project. In fact, the regional planning authorities regard this recommendation as mandating an EIS, since all such projects must have significant impact beyond the immediate vicinity.

    The regulations also require an EIS if a proposed industrial plant is situated outside a designated industrial area and its location, scale or operation may generate adverse impacts beyond the immediate vicinity. While EISs for major urban and interurban roads are not included in the statutory list, planning authorities nevertheless require the preparation of EISs for these projects.

    In addition, any planning authority (national, district or local) may require an EIS on any plan expected to have environmental implications, and every ministerial representative on the national or district planning levels may require an EIS for any plan under discussion. Since the Ministry of the Environment is represented on the national and regional planning authorities, it can exercise its right to require an EIS if the authorities themselves do not do so.

    The EIA system ensures that all proposals for major development projects in the coastal zone are thoroughly checked before approval.

    Marine Pollution Prevention

    A fund was established to finance the enforcement of marine pollution prevention measures and to finance cleanup operations. Its income is derived from fees imposed on all oil terminals and ships calling at Israeli ports, and from fines on violations.

    Marine pollution control activities are especially important on the Red Sea Coast in order to prevent potential damage to the coral reef.

    The dumping of waste into the sea from a vessel or aircraft is regulated through a strict permit system (e.g., the dumping of coal ash by the Israel Electric Corporation, and of industrial sludge by Haifa Chemicals). Even when permitted, dumping must comply with detailed regulations specifying the maximum level of heavy metals in the residue, the distance from shore, the sea depth and rate of sedimentation at the dumping site, the type of vessel used to transport the waste, as well as the implementation of a monitoring program around the dumping site.

    Tighter control of emissions into the air from sources located near the coast (using emission standards based on TA Luft, 1986) ensure the reduction of marine pollution due to airborne pollutants.

    Major progress has also been made in the prevention of pollution from land-based sources, including domestic and industrial waste, agricultural runoff, and river discharges.

    Regulations came into force in 1990 which prohibit the discharge of any waste or wastewater into the sea without a permit. Previously, wastewater discharge along the coast had been widespread; today, only in one municipality in the north is sewage still discharged into the sea, in accordance with a temporary permit issued pending the construction of a suitable sewage plant. Moreover, much of Israel’s wastewater is now diverted for reuse after treatment.

    Chemical pollutionderiving from industrial effluents, port chemical terminals and ships transporting chemicalsis carefully controlled. There have been significant reductions in the quantities of treated or partially treated industrial effluents reaching the sea. Handling procedures for chemicals shipped to and from Israel are designed to ensure maximum safety to the environment, thus preventing many chemical spill incidents from occurring. Furthermore, all tank washing activities are carried out according to regulations issued by the International Maritime Organization

    (IMO), and no significant pollution from this source is expected.

    International Aspects

    Israel is a signatory to the Barcelona Convention and is currently a member of the Bureau of the Contracting Parties. It is an active member of the Mediterranean Action Plan, established under the auspices of the United National Environment Programme (UNEP).

    Legislation has been enacted to implement the relevant international conventions for the prevention of marine pollution, as well as national legislation governing the protection of on- or offshore sites and areas of natural or cultural value (Nature Reserves and National Parks Law, and Antiquities Law).

    Israel has ratified the Vienna Convention, the Montreal Protocol and the London Amendment, all relating to the protection of the ozone layer.

    Israel participates in the following international activities:

  • UNEP’s IOC Global Sea Level Observing System (GLOSS), by recently installing and operating a "next generation" sea level observing station off-Hadera, recognized as Station No. 80 in the primary network of observing stations;
  • The IOC research program, POEM (Physical Oceanography of the Eastern Mediterranean);
  • The UNESCO research program, CIESM (Committee International pour l’Exploration de la Mediterranee);
  • The IBCM program (International Bathymetric Chart of the Mediterranean);
  • The UNEP research program MEDPOL, Phase 2 of pollution prevention in the Mediterranean; The Mediterranean Action Plan Priority Actions Programme.