12/13/2010 02:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Swords and Ploughshares

It is well documented that environmental concerns can be a catalyst for armed conflict between nations -- numerous territorial disputes over rights to water, land, and various other natural resources being cases in point. Yet environmental problems can also create conditions in which cooperation becomes feasible, perhaps even imperative, between countries with age-old adversarial relationships.

A unifying influence may be exerted by trans-boundary environmental problems that threaten some degree of survival and thereby necessitate collaboration where none would normally exist. For example, our severance of diplomatic relations with Cuba after Fidel Castro seized power did not curtail our cooperation with the Caribbean dictatorship in sharing data and preparedness strategy associated with Atlantic hurricanes and oil spills.

Even when Great Britain and Argentina were engaged in a brief military face-off over control of the Falkland Islands in the South Atlantic, they continued to cooperate in a program to protect the Antarctic environment. And what of the mother of all environmentally-related détentes, the Nuclear Arms Treaty signed by 180 nations, some of whom you can be sure, were not bosom buddies?

A classic case of environmental concerns eliciting cooperation between feuding nations revolves around the Mediterranean Sea where Israel and her enemies bordering that body of water have long collaborated in combating pollution threats.

And it is Israel which brings us to another form of environmentally-inspired détente, one in which the impetus is a humanitarian impulse rather than mutual survival. Israel was recently overwhelmed by a forest fire that claimed 42 lives, caused the evacuation of over 15,000 people and burned more than 12,000 acres to the ground. Lacking sufficient equipment to cope with the blaze, Israel issued a call for international assistance. Not only did the United States, Russia, and many European nations respond. Countries and people with whom Israel had strained or outright hostile relationships came to the rescue, namely Turkey, Egypt, Jordan, and West Bank Palestinians who have been in conflict with the Jewish state since her inception. Israeli Arabs, who often are regarded with suspicion by their fellow Jewish citizens, stepped forward to help feed and shelter the evacuees.

Will this ease tensions between governments, enmity between Arab and Jew? Trust and friendship do not develop over night, but gratitude and good will frequently set the stage for further dialogue, which if achieved is a darn good start.

[Some of the above material was taken from Edward Flattau's new book, Green Morality, published by The Way Things Are Publications in October, 2010]