Israeli spy satellite launched

Israeli Defence Minister Shaul Mofaz said this week that the nuclear program being pursued by arch-foe Iran was the most serious threat faced by Jews since the Nazi Holocaust.

Mr Mofaz was quoted by Israeli daily Haaretz on the launch as saying: “It will strengthen capabilities to gather quality intelligence far from Israel’s borders.”

Shimon Eckhaus, chief executive of satellite manufacturer ImageSat International, said “everything has gone completely to plan” with the satellite.

“But it will take several more days before the satellite becomes fully operational” he added.

Mr Eckhaus said the Eros B satellite has a camera that can decipher objects on the ground as small as 70 centimetres and differentiate between objects that are at least that distance apart.

All weather version planned

Asked if Iran should be wary of the Eros B, Mr Eckhaus said: “If they are doing only good things, they don’t have to be afraid … but this camera has outstanding capability and can detect and provide a lot of information including (from) Iran.”

Mr Eckhaus said Eros B would join an earlier version of the satellite, Eros A, which was launched in December 2000.

Both are set to augment the work of Israel’s declared military spy satellite, Ofek 5, which regularly passes over Arab territory.

Mr Eckhaus said the Eros B satellite, which was launched in the Russian Far East, orbits the Earth over both poles and can therefore monitor changes on the ground daily.

“The satellite covers every square kilometre worldwide, including Iran … in order to know what countries are doing you can compare the changes on a daily basis so if there is any progress at any site you can easily know about it,” he said.

The Eros satellites are effective only in daylight and in clear visibility, but a report in the Yedioth Ahronoth daily said Israel planned to launch another spy satellite that could view objects in all weather and in darkness.

Nuclear stand-off

Eros B’s launch comes at a time of heightened tension over Iran’s nuclear program.

Iran says its nuclear program is peaceful and aimed at generating electricity. The country’s national security chief and top nuclear negotiator Ali Larijani also refused to rule out using oil as a weapon in the worsening standoff, warning of “important consequences” for energy supplies if Iran was subjected to “radical measures”.

The Eros satellites, which weigh under 350 kilogram are among several small, lightweight satellites that Israel’s space industry has created.

ImageSat International is partly owned by government-held Israel Aircraft Industries, the country’s biggest defence company.

The satellite’s camera was developed and manufactured by El-Op, a subsidiary of Israeli defence contractor Elbit Systems, which also has a stake in ImageSat.

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