Oil bonanza in Golan may help grease wheels for BRI
Christina LinBy CHRISTINA LIN AUGUST 9, 2017 11:12 AM (UTC+8)
oil bonanza in Golan may help grease wheels for BRI
A burgeoning oil bonanza in the Golan Heights could be paving the way for China to strengthen its role as a peacekeeper in the troubled region, while at the same time smoothing the way for its Belt and Road Initiative.
Since regional stability is key to China’s continued access to Mideast energy sources and to push forward the BRI, Beijing is stepping up efforts to help resolve the Syrian crisis and the Israel-Palestinian conflict. It is becoming more proactive in supporting a negotiated political settlement in Syria, proposing a trilateral dialogue among China, Israel and the Palestinian Authority, and moving ahead with regional infrastructure projects in Syria, Jordan and Israel – where it will be importing 20,000 infrastructure workers.
‘Billions of barrels’
In November 2015, Afek Oil and Gas, a subsidiary of the US company Genie Energy, discovered an oil bonanza in the Golan Heights “with the potential of billions of barrels”. In an interview with Israel’s Channel 2 News, Afek chief geologist Yuval Batov said the layer was 350 meters thick, which is 10 times as large as the average oil find worldwide.
Genie Energy managed to obtain exploratory licenses despite opposition from environmental and local groups. These groups were concerned that drilling could pollute the largely unspoiled Golan countryside and the Sea of Galilee below, the source of most of Israel’s drinking water.
Indeed, there is still an ongoing debate over which is more important to Israel, access to water or energy independence, as spelled out in a recent analysis at the Begin-Sadat Center. Moreover, the quality, quantity and cost-effectiveness of extraction are still unknown, while other legal and planning battles await.
However, the biggest problems revolve around the issue of sovereignty.
Israel annexed much of the Golan in 1981, but the heights are still regarded internationally as illegally occupied Syrian territory. In the past, Israel’s leaders have offered to pull back from the Golan, which was captured in 1967, in return for a comprehensive peace treaty with the Syrian government. However, any such deal has been ruled out since Syria began disintegrating in 2011, and now there are efforts to demand recognition of Israeli control of the 1,200 square kilometers it occupies on the Golan.
Israel’s defense of the Golan intensified in June when it was caught in the crossfire between the Syrian Army and armed opposition forces in that country. After a mortar shell landed in the Golan, the Israeli Air Force attacked Syrian Army positions in the village of Samadanieh al Sharqiyah in Quneitra province. Israel also supports a rebel group called Knights of the Golan as a buffer force to keep the Syrian Army and Iran-backed Hezbollah at bay, adding to the complex and delicate environment in which Genie Energy needs to navigate on the Golan.
Nonetheless, there is another potential oil bounty that is within Israel’s territory and has escaped much media attention – Zion Oil & Gas’s exploration of the Megiddo-Jezreel Valley.
Since 2005 Texas-based Zion Oil has been drilling near Haifa for potential 484 million barrels of oil, which geologists confirmed in 2004 to contain Triassic oil and gas fields.