learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...


learning with professionals - Higgins Counterterrorism Research ...

sary infrastructure, training [of] hundreds of engineers and technicians, and then designing,

building, testing, and finally launching the satellites.” 359 It goes on to describe very

briefly the characteristics of each of the satellites successfully orbited so far, and accompanying

materials provide an informative overview of the Israeli space program and the

sophisticated products and technologies supporting it.

None of the ISA information, however, addresses the single overriding factor that

drove the Israelis to initiate such a complex and expensive undertaking: their need for

uninterrupted, independent access to satellite imagery for intelligence and early warning.

For Israel, which not only faces hostile neighbors on its borders but is also increasingly at

risk from long-range missile threats from more distant countries, intelligence and early

warning equate directly to the preservation of the state and the survival of the Jewish people.

From the very earliest days of satellite reconnaissance, the Israelis understood and

appreciated its value, and they came to depend on the United States to include information

from overhead imagery in the intelligence data that it provided to Israel.

Immediately prior to and during the October 1973 Yom Kippur War, however, the

United States was incapable of providing the information that Israel considered essential

to its very survival. Just when Israel needed it most desperately, the United States had

demonstrated that it was an unreliable source of satellite intelligence. As a direct result of

that experience, Israeli officials took their first tentative steps toward an indigenous space

program, investigating and confirming their theoretical capability to develop and deploy

their own satellite. However, they balked when confronted with scope and economic realities

of such a venture. The Israelis again turned to the United States for satellite imagery

to satisfy their intelligence requirements.

If the United States had shown that it was unable to provide satellite intelligence information

to the Israelis during the 1973 war, it then proved unwilling to provide all of the

information requested by the Israelis in subsequent years. United States officials considered

some of the data requested by the Israelis to extend beyond the scope of valid warning

requirements. Fearing that the Israelis might use satellite photographs to obtain

targeting information about facilities in Arab nations, the United States limited Israeli

access to the imagery. Whenever the Israelis took actions viewed by the United States as

inimical to stability in the Middle East or to other United States interests, further restrictions

were imposed.

To the Israelis, United States practices with regard to providing satellite intelligence

were at best erratic, appearing to change with each new administration and every fluctuation

in United States policy. The sole constant seemed to be that the situation was never

satisfactory to the Israelis. The information provided by the United States was never

enough, and its continued flow was never assured. The Israelis knew that the only solution

lay in acquiring a satellite reconnaissance capability of their own. Still, they sought the

answer from the United States: a complete system of satellites and a ground station exclu-

359 Israel Space Agency, “The Ofeq Satellites Program,” 16 March 1999. URL: , accessed 18 March 1999.


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