Israel shaken by string of minor earthquakes

October 25, 2013
Seismic activity, 1900 to present. (http://earthquake.usgs.gov)
Seismic activity, 1900 to present. (Earthquake.usgs.gov)

JERUSALEM -- As if there weren’t enough seismic shifts and fault lines in Israel and the Palestinian territories, now there’s been a spooky cluster of earthquakes.

This one isn’t a metaphor. The epicenter of the Arab-Israeli conflict is actually a seismic epicenter as well.

There have been five minor earthquakes around the Sea of Galilee in the past week, as well as another temblor near Eilat, on the Red Sea.

The biggest one, measured at magnitude 3.6, hit outside the Galilee town of Tiberius. It was big enough to feel, not big enough to cause damage or injuries.

Still, the cluster of small shakes was enough to nudge the government here to dust off its -- mostly uncoordinated -- earthquake contingency plans.

We telephoned Amotz Agnon, professor of geology at the Institute of Earth Sciences at Hebrew University, who said it was not a sign of the end times.

“This crack in the Earth a really a part of our lives. We tend to forget about it, but every once in a while, there is an event to remind us where we live,” Agnon said.

That crack is the Dead Sea Transform, sometimes called the Dead Sea or Syrian-African Rift. It's a fault line separating the African Plate and the Arabian Plate and it runs from the Red Sea to the Dead Sea, up the Jordan River Valley and on to Syria and Turkey. Both plates are sliding to the north-northwest, but the Arabian Plate is moving a little faster. Hence the temblors.

Agnon said the Dead Sea Transform is like the San Andreas Fault in California, except that the San Andreas is moving more than five times faster, and two plates are grinding against each other as they move in opposite directions.

The last earthquake that really got people’s attention here was a 1927 event in nearby Jericho that leveled new and ancient structures and killed 300 people.

The last Big One was in 1837 -- magnitude 7.0 and with an epicenter in northern Israel's Hula Valley. It devastated the town of Safed, killing some 4,000 people.

Agnon said that seismologists are unsure exactly what the mini-quakes portend, but he said “perhaps it will shake things up" by reminding public officials that it's time to retrofit schools, hospitals and office buildings, which could be a good thing.

The Bible is filled with references to earthquakes, including this one in  Samuel 14:15: "And there was a trembling in the camp, in the field, and among all the people; the garrison, and the spoilers, they also trembled; and the earth quaked; so there was an exceeding great trembling."

So we’ve been warned.

William Booth is The Post’s Jerusalem bureau chief. He was previously bureau chief in Mexico, Los Angeles and Miami.
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