Israel has authorized drilling for oil on the disputed Golan Heights, local media report. The first license has been awarded to the US-Israeli energy company Genie (GNE).
The process of granting the license began following geological tests, which indicated a large potential oil discovery in the southern Golan Heights – an area of thousands of hectares. The license covers half the area of the Golan from the latitude of Katzrin in the north to Tzemach in the south.
Media tycoon Rupert Murdoch, former US Vice-President Dick Cheney and banker Jacob Rothschild are among the shareholders of GNE, a New Jersey-based company. It is headed by Effie Eitam, a Golan settler and former hardline rightwing Israeli cabinet minister.
Genie Energy is the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives Ltd. (IEI), which is moving forward on a venture to develop shale oil deposits in the coastal plain.
Another company which took part in the bid for the oil extraction license was local Ultra Equity Investments Ltd. Israel’s Ministry of Energy and Water Resources' Petroleum Council reportedly recommended awarding the license to Genie Energy for professional reasons several days ago.
Israel’s move, reported by Tel-Aviv’s Yediot Aharonot newspaper on Thursday, is likely to draw international protest.
"Awarding a drilling license on the Golan could cause an international fracas, given the Golan's status as occupied Syrian territory under international law," wrote business journal Globes.
Israel captured the Golan Heights from Syria in the 1967 Middle East Six-Day War and annexed it in 1981. The move wasn’t recognized by the international community, but the strategic plateau has been extensively settled by Israelis.
The Golan's status has been at the heart of past Israeli-Syrian
peace talks, with Damascus demanding its full return. Oil
exploration for the area was halted 20 years ago, as Israel hoped
for a peace deal with Syria, but the accord is yet to be
Permission for oil drilling on the Golan Heights was granted a month before US President Barack Obama is due to pay a visit to the Hebrew state. In November 2012, Washington swiftly condemned the move as unhelpful, ahead of a visit by Vice-President Joe Biden.