The IAI and the Israeli Defence Ministry have unveiled the first images taken by Israel’s new Ofek-16 satellite, with the snaps showing Palmyra, Syria, the UNESCO World Heritage Site which came to international prominence in 2015 during its partial destruction by Daesh (ISIS)* terrorists.
The highly-detailed black-and-white photographs show Palmyra’s ancient Roman amphitheatre, and the remnants of the Temple of Bel, the holy site consecrated to the ancient Mesopotamian god Baal.
A Defence Ministry spokesman told Israeli media there was no special or hidden significance to the choice of location to photograph and release publicly.
In a statement praising the Israeli defence industry’s capabilities, Defence Minister Benny Gantz said the Ofek-16 was one of the tools enabling Tel Aviv to take action against its “enemies”.
“Israel knows how to act against its enemies from up close and from afar and to defend its citizens anywhere and from anywhere,” Gantz said. “The technological means we develop in the Defence Ministry, together with our industries, are effective and significant tools in maintaining Israel’s security,” he added.
The Ofek-16 is not yet fully operational, and IAI says it will be handed over to the military’s secretive Unit 9900 geo- and special intelligence force in the near future for “in-orbit testing”.
The advanced satellite is said to carry a specially-created high-resolution electro-optical space camera by Elbit Systems, an Israeli defence electronics contractor. The camera is said to have the ability to photograph 15 square km of territory at a resolution of 50 centimetres with a single shot from an altitude of 600 km. The Defence Ministry says “hundreds of millions of shekels” have been invested in the project.
Ofek-16 was launched into orbit on July 6 from the Palmachim Air Base in central Israel, which doubles as a spaceport for Israel’s space-based activities. The Israeli military has a minimum of two other military satellites in orbit engaged in intelligence-gathering.
In April, Syrian air defences reported thwarting an Israeli missile attack outside Palmyra. Israeli media said the airstrike targeted the Syrian Arab Air Force’s Tyas Military Base, a facility repeatedly attacked in recent years amid allegations by Tel Aviv that it is used by Iranian forces in Syria. Damascus says it has the sovereign right to host whatever forces it wants to on its own territory, and has repeatedly criticised Israel at international venues over its campaign of airstrikes.
* A terrorist group outlawed in Russia and many other countries.