April 25, 2006
Russia Launches Israeli Satellite to Spy on Iran
MOSCOW -- Russia on Tuesday launched a satellite for Israel that the Israelis say will be used to spy on Iran's nuclear program.
The Eros B satellite was launched from a mobile pad at the Svobodny cosmodrome in the Far East, said Alexei Kuznetsov, a spokesman for the Russian military space forces.
About 20 minutes later, the satellite successfully reached orbit, Russian news agencies reported, citing the space forces' press service.
"The Israeli satellite reached its target orbit and has been transferred to the client's control," Kuznetsov was quoted as saying by the ITAR-Tass news agency.
Israel's Channel 10 TV reported that the launch was successful, but the satellite would not deploy its power panels for another day and a half.
The satellite is designed to spot images on the ground as small as 27 1/2 inches, an Israeli defense official said. That level of resolution would allow Israel to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and its long-range missiles, which are capable of striking Israel, he said.
The satellite, which can remain in orbit for six years, can photograph the same spot on the Earth once every four days, according to ITAR-Tass.
"The most important thing in a satellite is its ability to photograph and its resolution," the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter. "This satellite has very high resolution, and (state-run) Israel Aircraft Industries has a great ability to process information that is relayed."
It could take up to 10 days to see whether the images that are transmitted are sharp and clear, he said.
Israel has for years regarded Iran as the primary threat to its survival, disputing Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is peaceful. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made this threat more tangible by repeatedly questioning Israel's right to exist, most recently on Monday, when he said Israel was a "fake regime" that "cannot logically continue to live."
Interim Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert said Tuesday that he takes threats by Ahmadinejad to wipe Israel off the map "very seriously."
"We do not take it lightly," Olmert said, speaking from Jerusalem by satellite relay to an Anti-Defamation League meeting in Washington. "We are powerful and able to defend ourselves."
An attempt to launch a military spy satellite, Amos 6, failed last year. Amos 5 is still in orbit, and Channel 10 reported Israel plans to launch another spy satellite next year.
Iran's threatening comments about Israel had special resonance on Tuesday, which Israel marked as Holocaust remembrance day. Israeli Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, in Poland for observances, drew a parallel between Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
"We will haven't recovered from this (the Holocaust) and I still hear these calls from Iran to destroy Israel," Peres said.
Ahmadinejad's words, he added, "are enough to put us all on alert."