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[April 27, 2006]
INTERVIEW WITH YITZHAK BEN YISRAEL, HEAD OF THE ISRAELI SPACE AGENCY, DISCUSSING THE NEW ISRAELI SATELLITE TO SPY ON THE IRANIAN NUCLEAR PROGRAM (IBA RESHET BET RADIO, 07:07 (GMT+3) APRIL 26, 2006)
(Federal News Service (Middle East) Via Thomson Dialog NewsEdge)
(Note - The following was translated from Hebrew)
Q: Good morning Professor Yitzhak Ben Yisrael, Maj.-Gen.
(res.), Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency and former head of
Research and Development in the IDF, and almost a Knesset member of
YITZHAK BEN YISRAEL: Good morning.
Q: What data will this Eros-B provide our defense
MR. BEN YISRAEL: Eros-B carries a camera and it will add
data which can be received by photos.
Not everything, you know, can be got from photos, but since from
such an angle, from above, it is very difficult to conceal things,
there are a lot of things it will be possible to know with the aid of
Q: Such as?
MR. BEN YISRAEL: Such as, if today we take the famous
example of the known centrifuges in Iran, how is the construction
Are they building under the surface? Is it above the surface?
How much have they done already? How much haven't they done?
All these things.
Is there concrete? How thick is it?
It is possible, of course, to know all kinds of things such as
these with such a satellite.
Q: But you are saying, are they building under the surface,
and there is after all news regarding the fact that Iran has a secret
plan, a 'Plan-B' for the building of nuclear power, and that plan is
probably being carried out in underground facilities, and there we
will not be able to photograph. We will not be able to know what is
really happening there.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: That too, is not precise. For even when
you dig a tunnel to the depths, you see it in a photograph. You cannot
know what is happening under the ground, but you can see where the
location is, where it is, and even finer things, according to the dirt
which is being taken out. You can even know how deep it runs. All
kinds of things of this type.
Q: And will this satellite give us pictures which the U.S.
does not have, or which it does not transfer to us?
MR. BEN YISRAEL: No.
The State of Israel is one of seven or eight countries in the
world which launch satellites, and in terms of performance, the
quality and the type of the pictures, it is the only country which is
before us on that list.
The club is small but the U.S. is still before us on the list,
which means that everything which we know how to do, the Americans
know how to do as well. To our joy, our pictures are better than all
the rest (of the members) in the club.
But the Americans of course will also be able to do it with
Q: And are we not sure that they are doing everything for
us? I am referring to the (Jonathan) Pollard case.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: (chuckling) Yes. Pollard probably became
popular again because of the elections.
Q: Well, he transferred materials, at the time, it is
irrelevant, but he transferred materials which the Americans did not
transfer to us, and he was concerned for Israel's future, and for that
he is sitting in jail.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: It is true, in general, that this type of
data, because it is very unique and very difficult to obtain, and like
I said, it is in the possession of a very small number of countries,
countries even if they are allies, do not tend to disclose it to their
allies, and therefore Israel decided to enter that field and develop
an independent capability.
Q: Now, there is always publicity on all kinds of very
sophisticated things, certainly in the U.S. and in Israel too, now
when talking about this satellite Eros-B, we are talking a very high
resolution. I understand that it is said that these cameras, the
Eros-B camera can identify two separate objects on Earth, if they are
only 70 centimeters apart from each other, and the Americans probably
have something even sophisticated and you said that, but for
instance about Iraq, with all the sophisticated equipment they have,
they did not receive correct and true data before they began the war.
Now they admit it.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: Yes, but that is already another matter.
You must know that a satellite can orbit 40 times over your head, and
take a million pictures and still it will not succeed to photograph
what you do not have. Yes? And that is exactly what happened in
In Iraq, because the satellites did not photograph nuclear
weapons, which it turned out later were non-existent, the satellites
did not photograph. There were no photographs.
The intelligence people --
Q: -- Colin Powell did present some pictures in the U.N.--
MR. BEN YISRAEL: -- but not of -- (nuclear weapons), he
presented photographs of trucks which he claimed were suspected to be
biological warfare labs, and the trucks were indeed photographed.
Only afterwards it turned out that there were no biological
weapons, no labs for biological weapons and so on. Meaning there is
always, there is always a need to make a distinction between the
intelligence which the different harvesting means - in this case the
satellite - give you, and between the interpretation that the
intelligence people, the researchers give to the data later on. And
that is usually the weak link, in which the people usually make a
mistake, and it is not only the American intelligence, but also the
British in this case, and the French and the Israeli.
We all fell down on the same mistake.
Q: The reason could also be that if the man at the top
wants a war, then he is provided with the analysis he requests from
photographs of trucks.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: I wish it was like that, by the way.
The reason is much profound. I can tell you, at least about
the state of Israel, in which the intelligence erred because it erred.
The same, by the way, the investigatory committees in the U.S.
and in England found that the intelligence indeed erred. That is, not
because the Prime Minister or the President requested it to provide --
Q: -- of war --
MR. BEN YISRAEL: -- the intelligence people sincerely
believed that Saddam Hussein had, what later on turned out that he did
Q: Now in conclusion, a question by the show's editor,
Eliyahu Ben-On, he is very interested to know why of all places, are
we sending this satellite from Siberia?
MR. BEN YISRAEL: Well, satellites of this Eros type are
launched on an orbit which is called 'polar'. It is an orbit which
moves from one pole to the other.
There is an advantage in an orbit -- from one pole to the other,
for then every day it returns at the same time to the same point.
That is, it circles planet Earth and the ground underneath it is
turning because of it turns around its axis, and therefore the
satellite appears every day at the same time. From that standpoint, it
is very convenient to send it from a very northern place, directly to
The satellite is launched northward. It is not launched like we
usually launch from Israel, westward.
That is, by the way, one of the reasons that such a satellite is
not launched from Israel, for in Israel we are free to launch only in
the direction of the Mediterranean because of our geographic
limitations, and it is impossible to launch a satellite -- orbit which
passes from one pole to another.
Q: And doesn't the fact that the Russians, who are on good
terms with Iran and helped the Iranians build their nuclear
capabilities, complicate things for them when they launch our
satellite, or in their opinion perhaps the satellite doesn't seem so
dangerous to Iran, as we portray it.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: No, today in the world, it is customary to
make a distinction between two types of satellites. There are military
satellites. Israel too has two types of satellites. There are military
satellites which the country launches itself. No country launches a
military satellite for another country.
And there are commercial satellites. Eros-B is a commercial
satellite. That is, anyone can, if you want, order pictures from that
satellite. You can, it will cost you a few thousands dollars per
picture, and you can order pictures.
Except of course, from the pictures in sensitive areas, which
the company will not sell you, because of commitments we gave to the
Americans. The same goes, by the way, -- you talked of before. The
satellite is capable of seeing objects better than 70cm.
The fact that the company announces that the satellite sees
objects which are 70cm apart, that is because this is the commitment
we gave to the Americans, that better than this we will not sell to
So that is a commercial satellite.
Now the Russians have no problem selling commercial satellites
here. It is only a matter of business. This launch cost approximately
$10 million, and for that they utilized a missile which was once a
nuclear ballistic missile and made money.
Q: That is the issue.
I thank you very much for all your explanations Professor
Yitzhak Ben Yisrael.
MR. BEN YISRAEL: Thank you.
Q: Good morning.
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