BY TZVI BEN GEDALYAHU, ISRAEL NATIONAL NEWS—
Israel has decided to search for oil on the Golan Heights after 20 years of delay due to objections from Syria, according to Globes, which quoted the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharanoth.
After Israel formally took sovereignty over the strategic area in 1980, the Petroleum Act was applied to the area, allowing for the search for oil.
If Israel were to discover oil on the Golan Heights, Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad would undoubtedly launch an international crisis. The international community, including the United States, does not recognize Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan, despite the absence of any communities in the area when it was under Syrian occupation.
The exploration licenses were suspended when the government of Prime Minister Yitzchak Rabin tried to further negotiations with Syria for a peace agreement in the 1990s. Talks reached a point that resulted in a successful massive “The People are with the Golan” campaign.
Syria has demanded sovereignty over the water-rich Golan Heights since the 1967 Six Day War. During the first term of Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s government in the late 1990s, Syrian condemned reports, denied by the government, that Israel intended to allow exploration for oil. The government of Ehud Olmert conducted peace negotiations four years ago through a mediator, but no results were achieved.
Assad has occasionally offered to sign a peace treaty and resume diplomatic ties with Israel in return for a total surrender of the area, used by Syria to bombard Jewish communities on the eastern side of Lake Kinneret, known as the Sea of Galilee, before 1967.
The decision to renew oil exploration licenses was made by Infrastructures Minister Uzi Landau, a senior member of the nationalist secular Yisrael Beiteinu party.
Israel has discovered oil near Rosh HaAyin as well as underneath huge gas reserves off the Mediterranean coast, but an estimate of the amount of commercial-grade oil that can be pumped has not been finalized.