Give us a desert, we'll make it bloom: Israel and Nevada



Vast desert expanses; parched earth; minimal precipitation; harsh topography; small population; technological and agro-industrial powerhouse and tourist magnet; Israel? Nevada? Both.

Israel and Nevada share many similarities. Over the past 20 years, both have experienced rapid population growth driven largely by immigration, Nevada’s population increasing by roughly 130 percent and Israel’s by about 65 percent. In both, the bulk of the population is concentrated in a relatively small area, with large swaths of sparsely populated, desert terrain. More than 70 percent of Nevada’s population lives in Clark County, while about 65 percent of Israel’s lives in the central region, including the three largest cities, Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and Haifa.

A quick glance at the key industries listed by the Nevada Governor’s Office of Economic Development reveals some notable similarities to Israel’s fields of specialization and expertise, with aerospace and defense, agriculture, information technology, energy and tourism featuring prominently. Behind only the U.S. and China in terms of NASDAQ listed companies, with the highest number of start-up companies per capita in the world and second only to the US in absolute number of start-ups, consistently leading world innovation and R&D per capita indices, with the largest fleet of F-16s in the world aside from the U.S. and at the global forefront of missile-defense technology, Israel has numerous achievements in many of the fields which Nevada is focused on for development.

Israel can similarly gain much from Nevada’s expertise in numerous domains, such as its vast experience in the tourism industry. Tourism accounts for roughly 12.3 percent of Nevada’s GDP, compared with only 2 percent in Israel.

One of the prominent areas of mutual interest is water management, given the ongoing challenges posed both in Israel and Nevada by drought and potential water shortages. Two thirds of Israel’s annual precipitation falls on only one third of its surface area. Of this, roughly 70 percent is unavailable for consumption, returning to the atmosphere through evaporation.

Public and official scrutiny over the prolonged drop in Lake Mead’s water level, some 100 feet since 2000, and its potential to usher in a water shortage both in Nevada and in neighboring states is strikingly reminiscent of the ongoing concern in Israel regarding the persistently low water level in the Sea of Galilee. Not surprisingly, conservation and water-usage efficiency are prominent considerations both in Nevada and Israel. Indicative of Israel’s achievements in the field, 75 percent — some 105 billion gallons — of the country’s waste water is treated and recycled for use in irrigation, by far the highest recycling rate in the world. By 2018, the figure is estimated to be 95 percent.

Thus, it is no wonder that water management is emerging as a major field for bilateral cooperation. Following its participation in Israel’s centerpiece water technologies conference WATEC in 2011, over the last year the Southern Nevada Water Authority has engaged with Israel’s national water company Mekorot in intensive cooperation between joint working groups in a number of domains, focusing specifically on water quality and water security, waste water and recycled water, hydrology and joint research and technological development. These groups have already set out to implement eight cooperative projects with four more in planning stages, holding promise of setting into motion a long-term, multidimensional collaborative relationship.

The potential for further enhancing and deepening the ties between Nevada and Israel is enormous. Aside from the field of water management, reciprocal business delegations provide an especially propitious platform for creating business relationships, networking and brainstorming which can lead to mutually beneficial partnerships.

High level visits, such as that planned by Gov. Sandoval later this year, serve as an opportunity to foster cooperation across a broad spectrum of domains. Scientific cooperation between universities on both sides can be proactively promoted, particularly in fields of comparative and complementary advantage. Encouraging university students to enjoy foreign studying opportunities, whether in the context of exchange programs or towards full degrees, opens new vistas for inter-cultural immersion and pursuit of academic excellence. Many Israeli students would be glad of the opportunity to study in Nevada and Israel’s world-renowned IT League universities would welcome Nevada students with open arms.

There is something undeniably awe-inspiring in the rugged beauty of the desert. From the Judean hills overlooking the Dead Sea to the rocky outcroppings of the Negev which chasm into the breathtaking vistas of the Ramon Canyon, it is not difficult to understand how such surroundings inspired so many throughout history to embrace faith. Even so, seeing tomatoes, melons, dates, flowers, cutting-edge irrigation systems and state-of-the-art computer processors blossoming amidst these inauspicious surroundings lends new meaning to the word faith.

Anyone who has seen Las Vegas shimmering as an oasis against the backdrop of the Nevada desert has no doubt come away similarly impressed. There is something uniquely exhilarating in the juxtaposition of luxury and excellence with wilderness. It is something which speaks to the human spirit and to the boundless horizons of scientific curiosity and industrial ambition. It is the stuff that great states — and great partnerships — are made of.

Uri Resnick is deputy consul general of Israel to the Southwest United States.