Oil Is Found in Heletz
Heletz oil field, 1955. Photo: Elazar Beith Yakov

September 26, 1955

Oil is discovered in Heletz, a moshav in southern Israel that becomes the site of the state’s first successful oil well. The Heletz field, containing an estimated 94.4 million barrels of oil, remains the most economically important in Israel.

Exploratory drilling began in 1947 at the site of Heletz, which Yemeni immigrants founded in 1950 in the middle of a triangle formed by Ashkelon, Kiryat Gan and Sderot near the Gaza Strip. After the discovery, 33 wells are completed by the end of 1957, and oil production begins in 1960. Israel spends millions of dollars in the process.

Because Israel faces hostile Arab nations that are major oil producers, a reliable alternative source of energy is vital. One benefit of the June 1967 war is the capture of Sinai oil fields, and, with U.S. guarantees, Egypt promises in its 1979 peace treaty with Israel to supply oil to Israel in exchange for the withdrawal from the Sinai. Egypt thus replaces Iran as Israel’s primary oil supplier after the Islamic revolution in Tehran at the start of 1979.

More than 470 oil wells have been drilled in Israel. In addition, oil is discovered in 2015 in the Golan Heights, whose Israeli annexation the United States recognizes in 2019. Israel also is producing natural gas, much of it for export, from large underwater fields off its Mediterranean coast.