After Israel complained for years that it was surrounded by oil-rich states but didn’t have a drop within its own borders, it appears there’s a big-time turnaround with the announcement Wednesday that massive oil reserves have been located in the Golan Heights,close to the country’s border with Syria.

Afek Oil and Gas, an Israeli subsidiary of the U.S. company Genie Energy, confirmed the find in an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 TVbut conceded that until the oil is actually extracted, they won’t be sure of the actual amounts and quality of the oil that has been discovered.

“We are talking about a strata which is 350 meters thick and what is important is the thickness and the porosity,” the company’s chief geologist, Yuval Bartov, explained. “On average in the world, strata are 20-30 meters thick, so this is ten times as large as that, so we are talking about significant quantities. The important thing is to know the oil is in the rock and that's what we now know.”

“There is enormous excitement,” Bartov said. “It's a fantastic feeling. We came here thinking maybe yes or maybe no, and now things are really happening.”

According to a September 2014 Times of Israel report on the Golan exploration, Genie Energy is chaired by Howard Jonas and counts among its more notable investors the “former US Vice President Dick Cheney, Michael Steinhardt, Jacob Rothschild, and Rupert Murdoch.”

Experts say actually extracting meaningful quantities of oil from the deposits is likely some time away. Some have suggested that while the find could be very significant, the announcement might have as much to do with the share price of the exploration company as the actual certainty that oil will be produced at the site.

The other key consideration in the development of the potential oil feed is its close proximity to the vicious fighting taking place just over the border in neighboring Syria, where ISIS and other jihadi organizations had been battling the Syrian forces of President Assad and his Iran-backed allies Lebanon-based Hezbollah even before Russia’ recent entry into the regional conflict.

Most recent rocket strikes into Israel’s Golan territory have generally been declared stray fire by the Israel Defense Forces, but regional experts point out that the potential costs and challenges of protecting future oil fields so close to the war zone, as well as the large target it would provide for enemy fire, could prove challenging should the project indeed come to fruition and provide the Jewish state –where a reported 270,000 barrels of oil are consumed daily - with its own source of ‘black gold’.

A license to drill in the area was initially issued in April 2013 within an area of nearly 98,000 acres -approximately a third of the Golan itself - but a series of appeals to the Israeli courts by organizations such as the Society for Protection of Nature in Israel and Greenpeace, put all development of the site on hold until a December 2014 ruling gave the green light for drilling.

The main site is close to the small town of Katzrin, which lies northeast of the northern shore of the fabled Sea of Galilee and is home to a wide range of special plants and wild animals, including major nature reserves such as Gamla, home to Israel’s largest population of Griffon vultures.

The rugged land, captured from Syria during the 1967 Six Day War and still under dispute between the two countries, includes vital underground water sources that feed directly into the Sea of Galilee itself, Israel’s main source of fresh water.

In recent years massive natural gas reserves have been discovered and developed off the Mediterranean coast of Israel, but political wrangling over who gets which piece of the financial pie has caused a delay in benefits from the find.

The long-running saga has proved a major embarrassment to the government of Benjamin Netanyahu, which in August received a further blow to what the Israeli government had anticipated would be its regional dominance in oil in the eastern Mediterranean when Egypt announced than an Italian company had discovered a gas field estimated at 30 trillion cubic feet. However, the Egyptian fields have yet be developed.


Paul Alster is an Israel-based journalist. Follow him on Twitter @paul_alster and visit his website: