Israel launch a new spy satellite on Wednesday, the first the country has sent to space in nearly three years as it seeks to enhance its defense capabilities and prepare for a possible escalation with Iran.
An Israeli Shavit rocket delivered the Ofek-13 satellite to space, blasting off from the Palmachim Airbase on the Mediterranean coast at 7:10 p.m. ET, according to the Israeli Ministry of Defense. The ministry confirmed that the satellite entered its designated orbit and began transmitting data after completing an initial series of inspections. Ofek-13 still has to undergo a few more inspections before beginning its full operations “in the near future,” the defense ministry wrote.
Israel’s Ofek-13 satellite is the latest to join a series of reconnaissance satellites, the first of which launched in 1988. Its latest predecessor was the Ofek-16, which launched in July 2020. Israel’s defense ministry is claiming that Ofek-13 has the most advanced capabilities of the entire series with “unique radar observation capabilities, and will enable intelligence collection in any weather and conditions of visibility thus enhancing strategic intelligence,” Boaz Levy, CEO of state-owned Israel Aerospace Industries, said in the ministry statement.
Aside from the new spy satellite in orbit, Israel’s Air Force also announced plans that it was creating its own space defense unit called the “Space Administration,” according to the Jewish News Syndicate.
Israel seeks to ramp up its space defense capabilities amidst increasing geopolitical tensions, and it’s doing so as widespread anti-government protests rock the country. The satellite’s launch took place just weeks after Iran and Saudi Arabia restored relations with each other, with Israel already feeling threatened by Iran’s nuclear ambitions. At the same time, thousands of protestors took to the streets in Tel Aviv and Jerusalem against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to overhaul the country’s judiciary system. In doing so, a Supreme Court ruled by Netanyahu could allow more construction in Israeli settlements in the West Bank, putting Palestinians at more risk of violence and eviction.
Netanyahu’s efforts to weaken the Israeli supreme court even caused an unusual fallout with U.S. President Joe Biden, who urged the Israeli prime minister to “work out some genuine compromise,” while adding that he won’t be inviting Netanyahu to the White House anytime soon.
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