On September 19, 1988, Israel placed its first artificial satellite Ofeq 1 into orbit using its national launcher Shavit, becoming a space force. Other satellites in the Ofeq (“Horizon”) series were launched in the following years. The goal is then to acquire space technologies, then reinvested in civilian applications (Eros), but also and above all military (Ofeq).
A complicated geopolitics
Since its independence in 1948, Israel has had to face a persistently threatening geopolitical situation: Given that Palestine must belong to the Arabs, the border states directly or indirectly generated several wars (1948-49, 1956, 1967, 1973). , which even though they won every time by the Israelis, emphasize the uncertain future of the Jewish state. In late 1979, a new enemy was added to the region, Iran, which did not hesitate to support the Palestinian cause and refused to recognize the state of Israel. For the latter, its future and its security depend on the essential mastery of intelligence, as demonstrated by the events of the Gulf War. Yes, in January and February 1991, Israel of Iraq suffered a bombardment of Scud-type missiles, resulting in the deaths and destruction of more than 70 civilians. When he complained about not having received enough information from the US ally, Secretary of Defense Moshe Arens then decided to speed up the Ofeq program.
Towards independent military and civilian spatial information
On April 5, 1995, with the launch of Ofeq 3, the Israelis acquired their first military intelligence satellite. With a total weight of 225 kg, it is then placed in a retrograde elliptical orbit (366 km x 694 km). It is equipped with an optical instrument that provides images with a resolution of about one meter. This allows Israel to enter the limited club of states with imaging satellites and, above all, not to be dependent on foreign sources, especially Americans. Ofeq 3, of course, does not leave certain neighboring countries (Iran, Syria, Iraq, etc.) indifferent to the fact that it will regularly pass over their territory.
In order to ensure the continuity of the military intelligence service, Ofeq 4 followed in January 1998, but it did not reach its orbit. Note that from their Ofeq, the Israelis also imagine Eros (Earth resources satellite observation), a commercial civilian Earth observation satellite, the first of which was launched on December 5, 2000 (by a Russian Start 1 rocket).
Using a Shavit deployed from Palmachim Air Base, on May 28, 2002, the Israelis launched Ofeq 5, the first of an improved generation of intelligence satellites. It is also located in an elliptical orbit of 369 km perigee, 771 km apogee for an inclination of 143.5 °. 2.3 m high, 1.2 m in diameter and a total weight of about 300 kg, Ofeq 5 is like its predecessors produced by the MBT division Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI). As for the optical system, it is designed by El-Op (Electro-optical industries), a subsidiary of Elbit systemsan Israeli defense company.
Thanks to Ofeq 5, the space intelligence system has been strengthened and enriched with the deployment of Ofek 7 and 9, which were launched in June 2007 and June 2010, respectively. time, optimized optical systems (going from 80 cm to probably less than 50 cm for the last satellite).
Hold the edge
In addition to optical imaging satellites, Israelis are also acquiring radar imaging satellites (Ofeq 8 in 2008, Ofeq 10 in 2014) capable of clearing clouds, observing at night, and so on.
The success of the Ofeq satellites is thus the result of a political and military will to ensure mastery of cutting-edge technologies in order, on the one hand, to strengthen Israeli industrial capacity and, on the other hand, to keep one step ahead of the threatening states in the Middle East. The issue is all the more acute as Iran has also been acquiring space launch and observation resources for several years.
– A general work : Spy satellites. World military space historyJacques Villain, Vuibert, 2009
– An article : “Proliferation of spy satellites”, Christian Lardier, Air and Cosmos, June 7, 2002
– A communication : “Launch of Ofek 5”Oiknine Claude and Bergman David, i Acta Astronautica, flight. 56, January 2005.
Philippe Varnoteaux is a doctor of history, specialist in the beginnings of space research in France and author of several reference works