Heavily subsidized Israeli settlements, extensive military areas, and tanks dot the rolling green hills of the Golan Heights, Syrian territory occupied by Israel since the 1967 Middle East war.
It is here that Afek Oil and Gas, an Israeli company, has been granted exclusive license to conduct exploratory drilling for oil. Afek is a subsidiary of Genie Energy Ltd., a New Jersey-based company for which former US Vice President Dick Cheney is an adviser. On September 11, Afek won approval to conduct exploratory drilling at ten possible locations throughout the Syrian territory. Shortly thereafter, the Israel’s Supreme Court froze Afek’s efforts due to a petition submitted by environmental activists. The petition remains undecided.
Though the project has been harshly criticized politically by all Hadash MKs, their condemnation has also been voiced on environmental grounds. MK Dov Khenin (Hadash) has, in particular, expressed concerns for the fate of the nearby Sea of Galilee. “There is no need for drilling in the occupied Golan,” he said. “There are other energy sources we can take.”
Golan Heights-based Syrian activists and local human rights groups fear the decision to drill for oil is part of a broader trend of increased Israeli settlement activity in the Golan and the strengthening of Israeli institutions and businesses there. “The ongoing Syrian civil war and the world’s focus on it have provided Israel with an opportunity to expand its presence here [in the Golan] and continue to openly violate international law without much attention from the international community,” such critics have said.