Government secretly approves Golan Heights drilling

National Infrastructure minister allows exploration for oil and gas in disputed region

Ilan Ben Zion, a reporter at the Associated Press, is a former news editor at The Times of Israel. He holds a Masters degree in Diplomacy from Tel Aviv University and an Honors Bachelors degree from the University of Toronto in Near and Middle Eastern Civilizations, Jewish Studies, and English.

The Golan Heights with the Sea of Galilee in the background. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)
The Golan Heights with the Sea of Galilee in the background. (photo credit: Abir Sultan/Flash90)

The government has secretly green-lighted exploratory drilling for oil and gas in the Golan Heights, almost 20 years after diplomatic initiatives put operations on hold.

National Infrastructure Minister Uzi Landau (Yisrael Beytenu) approved exploratory drilling in the Golan Heights for petroleum and natural gas a few weeks ago despite the risk of Syrian indignation.

“His view is that the State of Israel must utilize all options for oil exploration across the country in order to break free from dependence on Arab oil,” sources close to the minister told the daily Yedioth Ahronoth on Sunday.

Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and extended Israeli law to the territory in 1981.

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The Energy Ministry granted drilling permits to the Israel Oil Company in the early 1990s, but the prospect of peace negotiations with Syria under the Rabin administration put operations on ice. Rumors of renewed drilling under the first Netanyahu administration in 1996 were met with Syrian objection. Drilling never went forward.

Should drilling in the Golan Heights yield oil or gas, it would likely trigger international uproar, as well as potential conflict between Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, and Israel over rights to the fields.

Israel depends on imported oil for 99 percent of its needs, most of which is supplied by Russia and the former Soviet republics. In recent years, Israeli companies began offshore drilling for oil and natural gas at the Leviathan, Tamar, and Gabriella fields.


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