Following the resolution of a permit issue, Afek Oil & Gas, a subsidiary of American company Genie Energy, has resumed efforts to verify whether or not commercially viable options for oil extraction exist within the Golan Heights region. These drillings are anything but routine, as years of conflict and contestation over the plateau – which was seized by Israel in 1967 – have led to profound disagreement over the territory’s sovereignty.
As Afek works to uncover what could be a step towards energy independence for Israel, the Israeli leadership is lobbying the United States to change its historical position that the region belongs to Syria. They want the U.S. to support Israel’s strategic interests in and claims to the Golan Heights, including the development of its natural resources. With the worsening situation in Syria and the need for Syrian rebel support, the United States and the rest of the international community have a delicate task ahead in dealing with the Golan Heights, however, it is likely that Israel will eventually have its way.
Background to the conflict
Strategically, the Golan Heights region is of vital importance to Israel as it sits directly between Syria and Israel, serving as a critical buffer zone between the rebel-run western border of Syria and Israel’s crucial water resource, the Sea of Galilee.
Throughout much of the twentieth century, the area had been subjected to conflict as both Israel and Syria launched numerous offensives in the territory with Israel ultimately occupying it following the Six-Day War. Later, Israel effectively annexed the Golan Heights from the neighboring country of Syria in 1981 when it extended Israeli law to the area.
The international community did not recognize Israel’s action and the United Nations Security Council put forth Resolution 242 which declared the Golan Heights as occupied territory, a designation that clearly condemned Israel’s actions and left the region’s sovereignty in Syrian hands, a position still held today by the international community, including the United States.
Given the divide that exists between Israeli leadership and the international community over control of the region, an ongoing Syrian civil war next door, and the aforementioned oil efforts, there is an unprecedented level of geopolitical complexity surrounding the Golan Heights and the issue of sovereignty. Russia’s involvement in the war, the ever-present Palestinian tension, and the precarious situation with Hezbollah, only adds to this complexity and affirms that the implications from any action involving the territory will be felt across a broad spectrum of countries and groups with interests in the region.