New seismic observations from the Dead Sea basin (DSB), a large pull-apart basin along the Dead Sea transform (DST) plate boundary, show a low velocity zone extending to a depth of 18 km under the basin. The lower crust and Moho are not perturbed. These observations are incompatible with the current view of mid-crustal strength at low temperatures and with support of the basin's negative load by a rigid elastic plate. Strain softening in the middle crust is invoked to explain the isostatic compensation and the rapid subsidence of the basin during the Pleistocene. Whether the deformation is influenced by the presence of fluids and by a long history of seismic activity on the DST, and what the exact softening mechanism is, remain open questions. The uplift surrounding the DST also appears to be an upper crustal phenomenon but its relationship to a mid-crustal strength minimum is less clear. The shear deformation associated with the transform plate boundary motion appears, on the other hand, to cut throughout the entire crust. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.