Is southern Israel in for a mini-gold rush? After years of inactivity following several failed explorations, three companies are now vying for the right to drill for gold near Eilat.

In mid-April, Gulliver Energy, a publicly traded company headed by former Mossad chief Meir Dagan, submitted a request to the Ministry of Energy and Water Resources for a license to drill for gold in Nahal Roded, a riverbed just outside the southern sea resort of Eilat. Now two more companies have expressed interest as well, according to a report in Yedioth Ahronoth Thursday, so the ministry has decided to accept bids from all interested companies for the drilling rights and award a single contract.

According to the report, a nationwide geological survey conducted 25 years ago revealed traces of gold in the sand in Nahal Roded. The survey indicated the potential for as much as 10 grams of gold per ton of sand, a return that generated much excitement at the time. Five companies subsequently received licenses to drill, but met with no success.

Israel Hayom reported recently that Gulliver Energy anticipates finding three to four grams of gold per ton of sand.

Should drilling prove potentially commercial, however, any company would have to overcome the fact that much of the land in and around Eilat is designated as nature reserves, where mining is illegal.

The area has long been known as a potential source of precious metals. Timna, just north of Eilat, was renowned in biblical times for its copper mines.

Gold is not the only precious material that Gulliver Energy is hoping to uncover. In December 2011, the company received a permit to search for uranium in a nearly 1,200-acre area between the southern town of Arad and the Dead Sea. The permit has a one-year duration that started on April 1, 2012, and allows only the taking of samples for testing, not extraction. It represents the first time a company has been given governmental permission to search for the radioactive material in Israel.

Gabe Fisher contributed to this report.