Many places in the world are experiencing a water crisis. This water crisis is attributed to a governance crisis, whereas often fragmented institutional and physical water structures are used to explain a policy of overexploitation. The Israeli water system, which adopted integrated water resource management (IWRM), is often cited as a model for other countries struggling with fragmented water systems. Yet, despite the exceptional degree of integration, Israel in the past two decades has adopted an unsustainable water policy. The aim of this study is to understand this failure and thereby to postulate on the institutional conditions required for successful implementation of IWRM. The study focuses on the politics of water allocation during the drought of 1999 to 2002. It was found that the failure originates in setting administrative divisions in the decision-making process and in differential checks, with no balances implicitly instituted within the integrated water system. These two factors have resulted in a water system that is physically integrated but is not coupled by a balanced institutional structure. This case study teaches us that when reforming the water sector along IWRM lines, measures must be taken to ensure that the physical integration coincides with a balanced institutional integration - otherwise the results may be worse than if there were no integration at all.