The press has noted that Israel launched a new generation of “communications” satellite into orbit this week: the Amos-4. Built by Israel Aerospace Industries at a cost of $365-million, it was successfully launched in Kazakhstan.
What is less known is that the Amos-4 has an important military payload aboard. In fact, the Ministry of Defense is one of the most important customers for this project. The defense minister watched the launch from a live feed in Israel. The satellite contains advanced spy gear allowing Israel to surveill military and/or nuclear facilities in Iran and Syria.
If the IDF is to operate far outside Israel’s borders (places like Iran, for example) it needs the military capabilities offered by Amos-4, which will provide reliable and encrypted command and control for advanced weapons systems. IAI’s CEO even eerily characterized such systems as the “eyes of the State.” Somehow in Hebrew, this phrase sounds warm and patriotic, while in English it sounds like it comes right out of Orwell (or Snowden).
Two months before the IAF strike that destroyed a reputed Syrian nuclear reactor, Israel launched Ofek 7, which spent much of its time monitoring the site. One may presume that Amos-4 will similarly patrol extremely sensitive operations by the Iranian and Syrian authorities including chemical weapons and nuclear installations like Arak and Fordo. If history is a guide, this launch may presage another Israeli attack, this one on Iran. Israeli political-intelligence circles expect Bibi to decide on whether to attack Iran sometime in 2014. My source says the launch “is thought to be connected to the possible attack.“ That being said, I wouldn’t use this development alone as evidence proving one is imminent.
Though I’ve heard no other media site suggest this, Israel is deeply anxious about the security of the off-shore gas projects it is developing in the Mediterranean. It faces competing claims from Lebanon, Gaza and Turkish Cyprus about infringment of territorial sovereignty. I’d certainly see the satellite offering defensive monitoring of the exploration sites and any military preparations or similar threats to them.
Though the news report again doesn’t state this, following from Edward Snowden’s revelations about the NSA’s ability to intercept and monitor much of the e-mail and telephone traffic in the U.S., we may presume that projects like Amos-4 could enable Israel to do the same to virtually all its enemies, including some countries like Russia which are nominally not enemies.
A confidential Israeli source also told me that all the Amos-series satellites are devoted to SIGINT-gathering and are affiliated with the ECHELON network, which:
…Is capable of interception and content inspection of telephone calls, fax, e-mail and other data traffic globally through the interception of…satellite transmission, public switched telephone networks (which once carried most Internet traffic) and microwave links…
My source added that Israel is the 6th – unofficial and undeclared – member of Five Eyes. This means that the original trusted members of the intelligence alliance–the U.S., Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the UK–decided to open their ranks to Israel, a nation not known particularly to play by the rules when it comes to intelligence matters.
Amos-4 follows from Israel’s pioneering series of space satellites, called Ofek. First launched 25 years ago, they offered the IDF its first capability to begin spying on Iran and the military activities of other hostile nations (like Syria’s nuclear reactor in its eastern desert). The news report notes that Israel’s satellites travel in a westerly orbit that counters that of the earth, which would diminish the likelihood that it would fall on the territory of a hostile state.
So if you’re an Israeli reading about the impressive commercial communications achievements expected from this piece of hardware, you’ll know what Israel’s intelligence apparatus is hiding from your countrymen (and women).