Israel's Eyes in Space

Published: January 22nd 2011
in Economics » Israel

Ofek Satellite
Pic: WikiMedia Commons

Strangers in the Middle-East


If you look at our globe and focus on the area between Pakistan in the east and Morocco in the west, you’ll see that Israel is sitting smack-in-the-middle of a regions filled with Muslim countries, and excluding Egypt and Jordan, no country in the area has full diplomatic relationship with Israel.


The Jews who returned to the land of Israel by the end of the nineteenth century realized that their "neighborhood" is mostly Muslim and that there is a tremendous gap in sociological  behavior between the European Jews and the Middle-Eastern Arabs. The fact is that Israel, at least for that era, was a "different character" in the Middle East.


Eyes in Space


If Israel had satellites in space before the 1973 war, it would have had a better perspective of the Egyptian and the Syrian armies and could have been better prepared for the surprising two front offense in the afternoon of Yom-Kippur, October 6th, 1973.


Israel realized that it can't be at full alert all the time since its armed forces are mostly reserve (Miluyyim) units. In order to give the country enough time to prepare itself for war, early warning was needed. One of Israel's solutions to its unique strategic problems was to launch self-made independent satellites into space, which would become Israel's eyes around the globe and especially above its neighbors.




It’s the Hebrew word for horizon. The "Ofek" project is one of the most sophisticated technologies Israel has ever developed, comprising of several advanced components needed to deploy a satellite into space; the missile, the engines, the ground control systems and of course the state of the art satellite that can identify tiny objects from hundreds of kilometers above the ground.


The “Ofek” project is a joint venture involving many of Israel’s military industry corporations. Israel is one of the few countries in the world that owns such technology.


Launching west


All "Ofek" satellites were launched west, against the rotational direction of the Earth. It’s not optimal but in case of failure it’s preferred that Israel’s precious secrets would fall to the abyss of the Mediterranean Sea and not to the hands of its enemies in the east. It limits the weight that the missile can carry and also shortens the life of the satellite as the friction is higher even though the atmosphere is very thin.


So far, nine "Ofek" satellites were launched to space. "Ofek 1" was launched to space 1988 as an experimental satellite. "Ofek 9" was launched in 2010 and is considered to have the highest technical capabilities to date. Two satellites, "Ofek 4" and "Ofek 6" fell into the sea due to a failure in the launcher.


The "Ofek" satellites tell the Israelis important stories. According to foreign specialists, the satellites have nearly perfect visibility. They can identify small objects, construction of military compounds, movement of people and actually anything one can see with perfect eye sight.




The SAR (Synthetic Aperture Radar technology) is based on the radar principals. SAR has a significant advantage over camera radars as it can operate in any weather condition and it’s not bothered by clouds, dusk, night or other visibility obstacles.


Unlike the "Ofek" satellites, TecSAR was launched east. It may sound surprising, but the launcher was Indian and it was launched from a base in Southern India.


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