That miracle occurred after the revolt of the Jewish rebel army the Maccabees in the second century BCE. An assertion of orthodox Judaism against the Hellenizing influence of the region's Greek-Macedonian overlords, the revolt culminated in the liberation of Jerusalem. The Maccabees proceeded to cleanse the Temple of pagan desecrations, but found only one jug of holy oil still sealed, and thus uncorrupted, to light the Temple's golden menorah. The oil was only supposed to last for one day. But miraculously, the lights shined for eight days -- just enough time to procure a new supply of properly consecrated holy oil.
Hanukkah, therefore, is about more than miracle oil, and the bigger story of resistance and liberation still resonates with today's Jews -- albeit at different frequencies. As it gets only a brief mention in the Talmud, Hanukkah would have been a minor holiday on the Jewish calendar had it not been promoted by Jewish activists in 19th-century America, eager to instill a sense of pride and unity in the haggard and heterogeneous masses of Jews then migrating from Europe to the United States. For them, Hanukkah could be read as a stance against assimilation into the Hellenism of the day. For today's ultra-Orthodox, it might be a reminder of the overarching primacy of religion. To those given to a more secular take on sacred history, it's a warning that freedom isn't free.
As Israel tries to fit the likely consequences of its newfound supply of miracle oil into the national psyche, it had better consider that there are other parables besides the biblical similes. Here's another one: the Eastern Mediterranean as the new Persian Gulf -- highly flammable, in more than one sense.
All that mineral wealth prompted the U.S. Geological Survey to take a closer look, for the first time ever, at the oil and gas reserves hidden beneath the Eastern Mediterranean, in an area that includes not just Israel's EEZ, but also those of Egypt, Lebanon, Syria, Turkey, Cyprus, and Greece. The staggering conclusion: In a region previously considered devoid of exploitable energy resources, the total estimate equals a staggering 345 trillion cubic feet of gas and 3.4 billion barrels of oil. (That's enough oil to last Israel, at 2011 consumption levels, 35 years. Or roughly 1,597 Hanukkahs.) But as the region's hydrocarbon wealth has become apparent, Israel and its neighbor, Lebanon, have begun sparring over the maritime border between them, with billions of dollars of resource wealth at stake. Israel is not a signatory to the 1982 U.N. Convention on the Law of the Sea, which provides an international framework for the demarcation of economic exclusion zones, opening up its interpretation of its EEZ to disputes. It doesn't help that Lebanon and Israel, which would need to agree on the line, are still technically at war with each other. In 2010 and 2011, respectively, Lebanon and Israel deposed their rival claims with the United Nations. Complicating matters further are additional claims by the militant group Hezbollah, which says the entire Tamar gas field is in Lebanese waters.
Another element of tension comes from the southern edge of Israel's EEZ. The Gaza Strip's 25 miles of Mediterranean coast -- which potentially contains enough gas reserves to satisfy Palestinian demand for 15 years at current consumption levels -- might become Hamas's newest front in its war with Israel. Will coming years see dinghies piloted by suicide bombers slip out of Gaza at night, aiming for Israel's forest of oil and gas rigs? Will the Third Intifada be fought on water?
Israel's precarious geopolitical situation is on the minds of all hydrocarbon companies coming to do business in the Levantine basin. But in a world that has run out of easy reserves, the prospect of terrorist attacks is just one more expensive risk to consider.
Perhaps there is a way of reducing that risk -- and generate a rising tide that lifts all boats, so to speak. Palestine discovered its offshore reserves over a decade ago, but they remain undeveloped as one of the many economy-stunting effects of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Would it not be a great investment in the security of their other rigs if Woodside (or whoever will eventually drill the Israeli gas bonanza) invested in Palestinian oil and gas exploitation too?
Joint Israeli-Palestinian hydrocarbon extraction -- now that would be a miracle even bigger than Hanukkah itself.