Israel’s Approach Towards Space Security and Sustainability
In the last 30 years, Israel developed an indigenous space capability to launch, develop, operate, and maintain satellites in two main niche areas: Earth observation and communications, including the ground segment of communications satellites. Israel’s space program was born out of national security needs. However, it has led to the growth of a commercial space sector. Recent years have seen Israel expand its cooperation with international partners as well as establish a civilian space policy backed with modest government funding. Space-related academia has begun partnering more with government and businesses, and space start-ups have sprouted, a notable though noncommercial example being SpaceIL. What began as a purpose-focused defense necessity has blossomed into a diversified amalgam of enterprises, academia, and government dealing in a broad spectrum of space endeavors. Space activities are seen as contributing significant and cross-cutting benefits to Israeli society from early education to an advanced economy and all points in between. Within the context of protecting and encouraging this nationally important ecosystem, Israel considers international space security, safety, and sustainability to be of importance. As such Israel actively promotes this position through its own space activities and increasingly in international forums.
Since its establishment, Israel has suffered from acute security threats beyond its immediate borders. Israel’s needs to relate to a broad circle of states which surround it demand an orientation towards space. As a result, Israel’s space program was developed to fulfill acute national security needs. This mainly involves early warning, intelligence, deterrence, and self-reliance in advanced technologies. As a small country, which suffers from limited resources, the country adopted a pragmatic approach to space.
Israel’s pragmatic approach contends that Israel’s space program includes the capability to build, operate, and launch remote sensing satellites into space, as well as develop and operate communication satellites. Israel does not undertake to build all systems entirely on its own. It has, for example, no navigation or weather satellites, and has no indigenous human spaceflight missions. However, Israel increasingly cooperates with international partners on projects of this nature, as well as scientific projects.
It is important to note that the overall space activity of Israel is much broader than national security activity. Almost a decade ago, the Israeli government adopted an official civil space policy and began modestly funding civilian space activities. Israel also has a strong scientific sector as well as commercial space activity. In this regard, Israel has long-established space industries but also start-ups and innovative space initiatives, including educational initiatives. For example, numerous nano-satellites designed and built by high school students. Some have already been launched and successfully operated, while many others are in development.
Israel’s long legacy as a spacefaring nation, and the development of its space ecosystem, demands an orientation towards space security and sustainability. Therefore, Israel attributes great importance to securing the space environment for peaceful uses for all nations. This interest extends beyond security needs; should outer space become inaccessible and unsafe, this will negatively impact Israel’s overall space activities.
This chapter analyzes Israel’s overall approach to space security and posits that Israel’s approach to space security may be described as threefold: (1) promoting a robust and diversified space sector that provides for Israel’s national security needs and protecting and safeguarding Israel’s space assets, systems, and capabilities; (2) competing in the global space market and encouraging new space capabilities and activities; and (3) maintaining a safe and sustainable space environment for all users.
This chapter contains two primary sections. The first section provides a detailed overview of Israel’s space activity. The second section provides an analysis of the Israeli perspective related to space security.
An Overview of Israel’s Space Activities
Israel first built its presence and strength in space in accordance with priorities that correspond to its national and security needs. Therefore, understanding Israel’s perception of space and of space security demands an analysis of Israel’s strategic conception in relation to space (Ben Israel and Paikowsky 2017).
Israel’s security conception is based on the profound understanding that it suffers from a significant quantitative inferiority against its rivals. To overcome this numeric disadvantage, Israel’s leadership has chosen to focus its efforts on the development of a qualitative edge. In this perspective, Israel’s space program plays a significant role in the country’s overall answer to its strategic challenges. First, Israel’s space program provides significant tangible capabilities to deal with the threats imposed by Israel’s enemies. Second, and equally important, a national space program, which includes the ability to develop and to launch satellites into space, indicates very advanced national capabilities. Israel’s achievements in space, whether civilian or military, project a clear message of national might. They emphasize the qualitative gap between Israel and its neighbors; they contribute to the country’s accumulated achievements, aimed at deterrence; and philosophically, they reinforce the image of the “Iron Wall” in the eyes of its enemies, i.e., a power which cannot be overcome easily. All of that is accomplished without articulating an explicit military threat, which could provoke an unwanted and dangerous chain reaction in the region (Ben Israel and Paikowsky 2017).
More specific and tangible is the role the space program fulfills in mitigating the challenge of Israel’s lack of strategic depth and acute need of early warning caused by Israel’s narrow borders. Under these geopolitical circumstances, it was necessary to avoid the elements of strategic surprise and sudden attack. For these reasons, Israel’s security doctrine demands advanced intelligence capabilities for early warning, as well as combat capabilities for a rapid transfer of battle away from Israel’s population centers. The orientation towards space assists Israel in coping with the challenges presented by the lack of strategic depth and need to provide early warning.
With this in mind, the major impetus leading to the decision to embark on an independent Israeli space program was the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, and the perceived need to protect Israel, including through the need to verify Egypt’s compliance with the treaty. The treaty did not neutralize Israel’s concerns of hostile Egyptian aspirations. Moreover, Israel was to withdraw from the Sinai Peninsula. The greater distance from Egyptian territory meant that the Israeli military lost much of its early-warning intelligence-collection capabilities, including the ability to carry out manned reconnaissance flights over the Sinai Peninsula, now part of the Egyptian sovereign state. (Such flights were considered a violation of Egyptian sovereignty and were a very sensitive issue in the embryonic relations between the two countries.) Therefore, there was a clear need for intelligence on what was happening in Egypt without violating its sovereignty. One of the potential solutions to the early-warning problems was using reconnaissance satellites. (For a review of the history of Israel’s space effort, see: Paikowsky, D., “From the Shavit-2 to Ofeq-1- A History of the Israeli Space Effort”, Quest, Vol. 18, No. 4, Fall 2011, pp. 4–12.) In 1981, the Israeli space program was established out of a pragmatic approach aimed to satisfy national security needs of early warning, deterrence, and self-reliance in advanced technologies. In 1988, Israel successfully launched its first satellite – Ofeq-1. “Ofeq” would become a very successful line of increasingly advanced earth observation capabilities.
The opportunity to observe Earth from space is a technological solution which enables Israel to cope with threats from hostile countries directly bordering the country, as well as those that threaten Israel but are located farther away geographically. At the 2013 Ilan Ramon Space Conference, the then Israeli Air Force Commander, Major General Amir Eshel, clearly stated the value of Israel’s space capabilities as relates to strategic depth. “The threats we must deal with come from the border fence and from far away. Today, space is our strategic depth and it is what allows us to maintain our qualitative advantage. Thanks to our indigenous satellites, our ability to operate at any distance increases tremendously.” (Chanel and Michael 2013).
The Israeli space program is recognized as a critical component of its independent intelligence capability. However, the issue of Israel’s self-sufficiency is a complex one, and as a small country, Israel cannot be completely self-reliant. Nevertheless, in the field of intelligence, Israel has a great deal of autonomy.
Possession of independent intelligence capabilities has many implications for Israel beyond the field of intelligence. It enhances the power of the state and the image of Israel in the eyes of its opponents as well as its allies. It provides flexibility, both in its ability to collect information and the resulting autonomy in decision-making. Independent capabilities also permit the country to conceal its operational plans and areas of interest and to collect information unhindered. The space program is an important building block of this capability. To achieve this independence, Israel has continued to build its space program, especially the capability to develop and launch reconnaissance satellites.
The perception of one’s capabilities and one’s willingness to use those capabilities are important components of deterrence. The perception of space capabilities is one of the primary components in Israel’s future deterrence. Therefore, Ofeq 1, 2, and 3 contributed far more than anyone estimated. Imaging resolution is not the strategic measurement. Rather, the strategic measurement is the perception of capabilities that the State of Israel displays. Not what we possess, but rather what the enemy estimates that we possess. The gaps in capabilities and information, in the tactical field, miniaturization field, and others are an immeasurably important component in the dimension of our strategic deterrence. (Ivry 2006)
Despite the obvious attention that national defense reconnaissance satellites receive, the fact that Israel was able to attain independent launch capacity is justifiably considered a significant achievement. Israel remains one of very few countries in the world with this capability. This is despite the fact that Israel is the only country which launches its’ rockets to the west, against the rotation of the earth, to avoid launching eastward over neighbors with which it has strained relations. Launching to the west incurs a “cost” of approximately one-third of boost efficiency which leads to significant constraints on payload weight. Israel overcame this disadvantage by developing expertise in miniaturization of components. This expertise is one of many which eventually were able to serve the development of commercial space presence.
In the 1990s, Israel’s space industry followed in the footsteps of many other technological sectors that were originally related to defense and began commercial spin-offs. As such, Israel developed commercial platforms such the Amos communication satellite series, EROS remote-sensing electro optical series, sub-systems, and other equipment.
In the last decade, the national space activity of Israel underwent a comprehensive process of re-evaluating its goals, objectives, and policies. In November 2009, a national task force was appointed to reexamine the Israeli space program and recommend a new framework. (The task force was headed by Mr. Menachem Greenblum, Director General Ministry of Science and Technology and Prof. Isaac Ben Israel, Chairman of the Israeli Space Agency.) The main objective of the task force was to focus on civilian applications and scientific activity that would allow Israel greater industrial scale and competitiveness in the growing world space market. The task force submitted its report and recommendations in June 2010 (Paikowsky and Levi 2010). The report outlines Israel’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and challenges for achieving its goals in space. Scrutinizing all of these parameters, the task force argued that Israel has great potential to lead in space technology in specific areas, but because of insufficient investments, Israel is in danger of gradually losing its competitive edge. In order to upgrade the scale of the local space industry, it was suggested that the Israeli government prioritize a national civilian space program focused on developing and renewing infrastructures, supporting academic research, and promoting international collaborations with other spacefaring nations, as well as with developing nations. In 2011, the Israeli Parliament established a subcommittee dedicated to space matters. In December 2012, after careful review by the treasury officials, the Finance Ministry approved an investment of $50 million for Israel’s new civil space program (The Marker 2012).
On the basis of this new funding, the space agency began implementing a new space program, geared towards R&D and modernization of its civilian space activities. Among the program’s objectives are advancing the local space industry, strengthening academic research, and raising the Israeli public’s awareness of space activities and research, as well as reinforcing and expanding international cooperation. For example, in 2017, Israel and France launched Venus, a jointly developed and run environmental satellite. Following the success of Venus, the Israeli and French space agencies signed a statement of intent in 2018 to develop a new environmental project called C3IEL, which will involve a constellation of three nano-satellites focusing on climate research (CNES 2018). Among its efforts in these directions is also hosting of prestigious international conferences. In 2015, Israel hosted the annual International Aeronautical Congress and in 2016 hosted the Space Studies Program of the International Space University.
In September 2016, the communication satellite Amos-6 was lost on SpaceX launch-pad. Consequently, the Ministry of Science and Technology initiated a national task force to review the state of Israel’s communication satellites. The report was submitted in December 2016 pointing to the need for a comprehensive and long-term program to upgrade capabilities to develop the new generation of Israeli made communication satellites. (For a detailed overview of Israel’s Communication satellites, as well as the report of the 2016 Task-force, please see National Report by the state comptroller number 69A published in October 2018. Available at: https://www.mevaker.gov.il/he/Reports/Report_642/5caecf12-5145-4007-a355-83731735b0c1/2018-69a-304-Lavyanim.pdf. Accessed on April 14, 2019.) Two years later, in September 2018, Israel’s government approved the development of Amos-8. The development of future satellites is yet to be decided. (For additional information about the decision, see: https://www.space.gov.il/news-space/131329. https://www.space.gov.il/news-space/131329. Accessed April 14, 2019.)
Israel is often referred to as the Start-Up Nation, and this is true as well for the space field. Following the impressive defense-related space advances and subsequent commercial space enterprises, a vibrant community of space start-ups has sprung up in Israel. The activities of a number of start-up companies, like SpacePharma and Effective Space Solutions, are noteworthy. (For additional information about these companies, see: http://www.effective-space.com and http://www.space4p.com/) Effective Space Solutions, in particular, is proposing solutions that are directly linked to increasing the safe extension of lifespan for satellites.
Aside from these initiatives, various educational projects have evolved as well, such as the Herzliya Science Center Space Lab, which is located in a high school. In 2014, this project launched its first nano-satellite, Duchifat-1, which was built by high school students (Winer 2017). Duchifat-2 was launched 3 years later in 2017. A year later in 2018, the Israel Space Agency initiated a new project dedicated for high schools in which seven high schools around the country will be able to plan and build their own innovative nano-satellites. The project will enable students to participate in the design and construction of these satellites. All seven satellites will be launched at the end of the process as one constellation that will serve as a communications network for transmitting information from space. (More information is available on the Israel Space Agency website: https://www.space.gov.il/news-space/131327. Accessed on April 15, 2019.) Recently, this initiative evolved into an even larger project and to an establishment of a dedicated research center for small satellites at Tel Aviv University.
Another particularly profound educational initiative is SpaceIL. This project began as a competitor in the GoogleX Prize to land a spacecraft on the moon. Despite the later cancellation of the GoogleX Prize, SpaceIL continued and in February 2019 launched its spacecraft aboard a SpaceX Falcon-9 launcher. Several weeks later, it succeeded putting its spacecraft “Beresheet” into lunar orbit, making Israel only the seventh country to achieve this feat. Unfortunately, the landing was not successful and the craft crash-landed on the lunar surface on April 11, 2019. Not to be deterred, SpaceIL has already begun working on a follow-up mission. In addition to the mission goal of landing on the moon, the SpaceIL team sees their mission also as educational and cultural. SpaceIL team and volunteers consistently lecture at schools and other public events to encourage youth involvement in STEM subjects in order to advance “a Beresheet Effect” in the Israeli society. It is important to note that SpaceIL is a private-commercial initiative and not governmental. (According to GoogleX Prize, governmental funding had to be very limited.)
There are also a number of more “formal” educational initiatives aiming to provide special space-oriented programs to schools around Israel from elementary school up through high school. The Ministry of Science and the Israeli Space Agency collaborates with the Ministry of Education to encourage interest in STEM subjects based on the understanding that space serves to inspire youth (and young professionals).
The increasing place of commercial and civil space activities is also noticeable in recent conferences and forums taken place in Israel. The Ilan Ramon International Space Conference has developed into an important date on the international space community’s calendar, consistently attracting the attendance of many heads of space agencies, industry leaders, and decision-makers. Its most recent annual meeting (14th meeting), which took place in January 2019, focused on commercial space (Ramon14.forms-wizard.net 2019). In addition, for the first time, the conference was preceded by a special workshop dedicated to space entrepreneurship.
On top of that, the Ramon Foundation, which is a nonprofit organization set up in memory of Israel’s first astronaut Ilan Ramon and his son Asaf Ramon, has set as one of its main objectives “to help engineers and entrepreneurs in their first steps in the space industry.” To this end, the Foundation assists in networking, knowledge sharing, hackathons, and conferences (Ramon Foundation 2019).
To conclude this part, the rational for Israel’s engagement in space activities described above reveals that Israel, which operates a successful space program on a modest budget, views space as a significant opportunity, especially as a force multiplier projecting the quality of force over its quantity in the most broadly manner. Retired Brig. General Amnon Harari, Head of Space Programs in the Israeli Ministry of Defense, stated clearly “Beyond the defense needs for which our satellites provide solutions, the Israeli space industry represents an important component [for Israel] in terms of the economy, education, advancing technology, science, small businesses, start-ups and more.” (Shoval 2018).
This opportunity is accompanied by significant challenges, especially in maintaining its’ qualitative advantage and preserving Israel’s position at the forefront of technology. The significance of space in Israel’s strategic conception and its long term and growing space capabilities in the defense, civilian, and commercial fields leads Israel to look for ways to protect its satellites, as well as shape its perspective on space security. The next section provides an overview and an analysis of Israel’s perspectives and activities regarding space security and sustainability.
Israel’s Perspectives on Space Security and Sustainability
Israel attributes great importance to space security and sustainability. This interest extends beyond security needs and derives also from the interest to compete in the global space market and encouraging new space capabilities and activities, as well as maintaining a safe and sustainable space environment for all users. Should outer space become inaccessible and unsafe, this will negatively impact Israel’s overall space activities.
At the heart of Israel’s approach to advancing space security and sustainability is promoting a robust and diversified space sector that provides for Israel’s national security needs and protecting and safeguarding Israel’s space assets, systems, and capabilities. For example, the following statement was made by Commander of the Israeli Air Force, Eliezer Shkedy, at the 2007 Ilan Ramon Annual Space Conference: “the operational importance of space is increasing constantly. Why is this field critical? There exists a concern that others who recognize its importance will try to attack space assets. We must consider defense measures, against physical harm, jamming, blinding, or any other technique. One of the greatest surprises that can happen in the modern world, in advanced countries with space assets, is a situation in which a country is surprised to find its space assets damaged.” (Shkedy 2007). Shkedy’s statement is an example of the growing recognition in Israel of the importance of the need to protect space systems. In this regard, one direction recognized by many in Israel is the likelihood of soft interference in space systems, especially the ground segment, through cyberattacks and therefore the need to protect space systems against this threat. (For more information on Israel’s cyber policies, see: Tabansky and Ben Israel (2015).)
Another effort on this regard is in the field of Space Situational Awareness (SSA). SSA is one of the fields in which Israel looks for international cooperation. In 2015, Israel signed a data-sharing agreement with the US STRATCOMM for Space Situational Awareness. This agreement enables Israel to benefit from the collective data of dozens of countries and many commercial entities to avoid collisions with satellites and space debris (Pomerleau 2019).
Due to this kind of collaborations, Israel’s perspective on space security and sustainability is broad and includes concern for the continued smooth operation of those other parties’ capacities as well as cooperation and collaboration with some of those partners. Therefore, maintaining a safe and sustainable space environment for all users is also an important objective of Israel’s perspective regarding space security. In order to achieve this goal of greater space security and sustainability for all users, Israel is actively looking to contribute to a sustainable space environment. In this capacity, Israel shares the idea that achieving the goal of space security and sustainability requires international collaboration and development of best practices for responsible behavior. In this regard, Israel recognizes the significance of contributing to multinational efforts. Joining the US efforts to improve Space Situational Awareness for debris tracking serves as an example of Israel’s general perspective that international efforts by responsible players will have positive effect on the sustainability of outer space (Azoulay 2019). By taking this step, Israel not only improves the protection of its own satellites but demonstrates that it sees itself as a party to the international effort of sustaining the space environment for global stability and security.
Another example to Israel’s efforts to promote responsible, peaceful, and safe use of space is its greater involvement in UN-COPUOS. In 2015, Israel was voted in as a regular member of the UN Committee on the Peaceful Uses of Outer Space [COPUOS] (United Nations 2015). By 2017, Israel was voted to serve on the six-member Steering Bureau of COPUOS (Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2017). These developments speak not only to Israel’s decision to increase its international cooperation but also the positive feedback and support Israel is receiving from the international space community. In this capacity, Israel is contributing to diverse activities of COPUOS. One such activity is Planetary Defense. “Israel Space Agency is making efforts to find unique ways to contribute to planetary defense efforts. Specifically, Israeli researchers are conducting studies in order to contribute the world’s effort.” (Statement to UN-COPUOS by Israel’s Space Agency delegate at the STSC 2019.)
Last but not least, due to the understanding in Israel of the need for international cooperation to ensure that space remains accessible and sustainable for the future, Israel favorably views legally nonbinding efforts towards space sustainability. For example, The European Union proposed an Outer Space Code of Conduct. (For the updated version of the European initiative of the Outer Space Code of Conduct dated June 2012, please see: http://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/1696642/12_06_05_coc_space_eu_revised_draft_working__document.pdf.) In 2012, an interministerial team of space experts was put together to discuss the code and its implications for Israel. An Israeli delegation actively participated in the open-ended consultation, which took place in Luxembourg in May 2014, as well as at the negotiations which took place in New York in July 2015.
Israel was also favorable towards more recent efforts to advance space as a secure and sustainable environment taken by UN-COPUOS. The following Israeli statement reflects on its overall approach: “Israel perceives space as a global commons and therefore aspires to contribute to a secure and sustainable space environment. Our small country acknowledges the worldwide use of space for supporting sustainable activity for development, as well as to promote contribution to UN system and its Sustainable Development Goals. Israel, through the Israel Space Agency, seeks greater international collaboration and cooperation, especially among democratic spacefaring nations, in maintaining space as a peaceful environment for the benefit of all.” (UN-COPUOS 2018 General exchange of views, Israel delegation.)
In conclusion, Israel’s space program was launched in response to national security needs. Over the years, with Israel’s development and evolution as a country, its needs and capabilities have also evolved. Today, Israel has commercial, scientific, and civilian space assets and is expanding its involvement in international space cooperation. These developments, combined with increasing reliance on space for day-to-day activities and the nation’s continuing security issues, make space security a concern for Israel and demand orientation to space sustainability on a diverse range of perspectives and activities. For example, as the local civil and commercial space activity of Israel grows and flourishes, there will be a greater need to update national regulations regarding space security and sustainability. On the international level, as these global trends of advancing space technologies and reliance on space systems and capabilities continue to grow, the need of maintaining the space environment safe and secured will only rise. Hence, Israel will continue to support global efforts to promote responsible behavior and pursue partnerships of this kind.
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