Space Shot Near, but Not for Spying, Israel Says
Israel is close to launching its first space rocket, the head of the Israel Space Agency said Sunday, but the government denied foreign press reports that Israel was on the verge of launching a spy satellite to reduce its dependence on U.S. military intelligence.
If successful, the rocket launch would put the Jewish state in an elite club of space powers that includes the United States, the Soviet Union, France, China, Britain, Brazil and India.
“We are certainly close to that kind of thing, where we would just launch something into space,” said Prof. Yuval Neeman, a nuclear scientist who co-founded the Israel Space Agency. But he said the agency is not working on a reconnaissance satellite.
Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir also denied that Israel is preparing to launch a spy satellite.
“No one is talking about a spy satellite--who said anything about spying?” he told a radio reporter when questioned about an article in the British magazine Flight International that said Israel had developed a reconnaissance satellite and a rocket to place it in low Earth orbit.
The prime minister dismissed suggestions that the United States supplies inadequate satellite information.
“I can only say we have good cooperation with the United States and I cannot say anything about the details of this cooperation,” he said.
The reports were the top story in Israeli newspapers and on state-owned Israel Radio, which routinely quote foreign reports when military censors bar them from publishing what they know from Israeli sources. They quoted unnamed foreign sources as saying the 10-member Inner Cabinet would decide on the launching.
Neeman, who is also leader of the far-right Tehiya political party, said his agency was only working on scientific and telecommunications satellites, some of which might be launched by Israeli rockets.
“We are not working on a reconnaissance satellite,” he said. Asked whether other agencies in Israel might be, he said: “Maybe the army has such schemes in its drawers but we are the only people in the space business.”
Time magazine reported four weeks ago that Israel was on the verge of launching a spy satellite, the Shavit (Hebrew for Comet), into low Earth orbit after secretly firing a medium-range missile into the Mediterranean in May.