On March 26, 1979, the historic peace treaty between Israel and Egypt was signed in Washington, DC. This peace treaty is considered as a watershed event in the geopolitics of West Asia. Interestingly, this peace treaty was indirectly instrumental towards founding of Israel’s space programme. After agreeing to abide by the provisions of the treaty, the Israel’s government realised that they do not have adequate technological capability to verify Egyptian compliance with the treaty regulations on the aspects like demilitarisation of the Sinai Peninsula. Israel was politically constrained to use reconnaissance aircraft or unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) because as per the accord, they were not in a position to violate the territorial sovereignty of a now friendly neighbour. To overcome this difficulty, Israeli government approved the development of information gathering satellites and thus the space programme began.
However, this does not mean that the thinking and the experimentation in the arena of space only started then. The Israeli Academy of Sciences and Humanities had established National Committee of Space Research (NCSR) during 1960s. Interestingly, even then Egypt was one of the reasons for Israel thinking ‘space’. On July 5, 1961, a solid two-stage sounding rocket was tested with metrological payload. One of the purposes behind this launch was to demonstrate to superiority of Israeli rocketry to the Egyptian rocketry [3, pp. 386-87]. Subsequently, almost after three decades, Israel became spacefaring nation during 1988 with the launch of Ofeq-1, a reconnaissance satellite using own launcher called Shavit. This was preceded by the formation of Israel Space Agency (ISA) in 1983 in affiliation to the Ministry of Science, Culture and Sport. Presently, the emphasis continues on building a broad space infrastructure. The space programme caters for both military
and civilian requirements. Israel’s growing space industry could be viewed as a natural outgrowth of the defence industrial infrastructure . Strategic implications of the Israeli space agenda is evident from the fact that many scientists employed with the civilian space infrastructure and space industry have military sector background [5, pp. 90-6].12
Israel compared to its neighbouring Arab countries has a very small geographical extent. Israel’s relationship with most of their neighbours is not harmonious. Because of such geopolitical and geographical concerns and also because of other safety concerns, Israel can launch satellites only westwards, over the Mediterranean
 . For any westward launch, significant amount of energy is lost (eastward launch—the launch in the direction of the rotation of the earth is always the best option) which forces the launcher-state for various fuel and weight compromises. This puts Israel’s space programme into a huge disadvantage and severely limits potential operational trajectories, such as polar and equatorial orbits [3, p. 386]. Since westward launch demands production of satellites less in weight, compromises with number of sensors and life of a satellite are required to be made. Such limitations indicate that Israel has no option but to invest in small satellites.
Probably, Israel ranks fourth in the world in scientific activity. It puts Israel behind Switzerland, Sweden and Denmark in terms of the number of scientific publications per million citizens. One report mentions that Israel’s role in global scientific activity is ten times larger than its percentage of the world’s population
 . On the whole, Israel’s investments and achievements in science and technology have been noteworthy for many years. Various research and academic institutions in Israel has been undertaking research into space activities and related issues since the 1960s. The Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities formally established the National Committee for Space Research in 1963. The Academy has observer status at the European Science Foundation. The decision to establish a separate space agency for the purposes of satellite manufacture came much later. The Israel Space Agency (ISA) was established in 1983 with a wider mandate of inclusive of the initiation of international space projects to projects of the UV telescope for astronomical observations to support various private space activities.
Israel formally pierced into the Space Age with the launch of its first satellite, Ofeq-1, from the locally built Shavit launch vehicle on September 19, 1988. Subsequently, during last two decades, Israel has since made significant contributions in a number of areas in space area. They have handled multiple areas including laser communication, study into embryo development and osteoporosis, monitoring pollution and mapping geology, soil and vegetation in semi-arid environments .
Ofeq series is a reconnaissance satellite series, and till date the last satellite launched in this series is Ofeq-9 which was launched on June 22, 2010. First three launches of this series (till Ofeq-3) were successful. Ofeq-3 was launched with an advanced electro-optical payload. This system more than doubled its expected lifespan and successfully sent images of superior quality. However, Ofeq-4 was a not
success story. This satellite encountered problems in the second stage of its January 1998 launch. It burned up, affecting Israel’s satellite reconnaissance programme significantly. Ofeq-6, launched September 6, 2004, was also a failure. The launch failed due to the launcher failure: the third stage of the Shavit launcher failed.
Subsequently, Israel had asked India to launch Ofeq-8 under commercial commitment. This satellite was launched by the India’s PSLV launcher on January 21, 2008. This satellite called TecSAR is synthetic aperture radar satellite fitted with a large dishlike antenna to transmit and receive radar signals capable of penetrating darkness and thick clouds . Israel had multiple reasons for asking India to launch this satellite. In case of the launch from the Israeli soil, the required orbit could not have been reached because of the geographical location of the Israel and their political compulsions to undertake the launch from a particular direction. Also, they were not very comfortable to use a vehicle like Shavit because of its partial success rate. Probably, the cost of launch charged by the Indian space agency is lesser than Israeli launching systems. Iran had criticised India for undertaking this commitment because Iran is convinced that this is a spy satellite directed against them.
Apart from reconnaissance satellites programme and communication satellite programme, Israel has also made investments in few other space endeavours. In early 2003, the US flight-space shuttle Columbia carried the first Israeli astronaut to the international space station where he lived for 16 days along with six other crewmembers but unfortunately could not get back to the earth because of the Columbia shuttle disaster.
Amos or AMOS is the Israeli communications satellites series developed by the Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) and operated by Spacecom. The latest in the series called Amos-5 was launched on December 11, 2011, by a Russian rocket. This satellite has joined the satellites Amos-2 and Amos-3 which are already operational. It is the first Israeli satellite not produced by IAI. The communications services offered by Spacecom till now were covering West Asia, Europe and the USA; however, with Amos-5 now Africa has also been covered. This is one region where largest communications market exists. Amos-5 has significant commercial utility. Over 55% of Amos-5 capacity was sold before the launch to a variety of customers, including broadcasters, telecom providers, communications companies and government agencies. By 2014, one to two more satellites in this series are expected to be launched. The first satellite in this series Amos-1 was launched on May 16, 1996.
EROSs (Earth Resources Observation Satellite) are the Israeli commercial earth observation satellites, designed and manufactured by the IAI, with optical payload
provided by El-Op. These satellites are owned and operated by an Israeli company, ImageSat International. The first in the series, EROS-A, launched on December 5, 2000, is the lightest commercial high-resolution imaging satellite weighing only 250 kg providing high-quality digital imaging for a wide range of commercial applications. EROS-B was launched on April 25, 2006. Work on Eros-C system has probably began in 2011 [9, 10].
It is important to note that Israel is not forwarding its space agenda by isolating itself from others and working alone. Understanding the need to have country’s stakes in an international navigation constellation, Israel has signed an agreement with the EU during July 2004 to become a partner in the Galileo project. The investments for the Israeli side are expected to be to the tune of US$30-$50 million. It has also undertaken few bilateral agreements and is participating in few new multilateral initiatives. In June 1999, NASA and ISA signed an agreement to share information through NASA’s Earth Observation System Data Information System (EOSDIS). Here, ISA gets information from EOSDIS useful for weather prediction, agriculture and meteorology. From its side, Israeli universities and research institutes contribute their own Earth observation data. Israel is also making attempts to expand its space development and space industry base and has signed a cooperation agreement with ESA on January 30,2011. The objective of this agreement is to allow Israel and ESA to create the framework for more intensive cooperation in ESA projects in the future. Israel has also established scientific research collaboration with the Indian space agency. One on the satellite launched by India to cater for their security needs in 2008 called RISAT-2 is built by the Israel Aerospace Industries.
Israel’s space programme is also suffering from various limitations too. Some projects are found lagging behind the schedule. Projects like French-Israeli microsatellite VENUS (based on the Israeli satellite design-proposed launch was to take place in 2008) are still incomplete. It has been reported that this project is experiencing certain difficulties because of the problems in cooperation between Rafael and Israel Aerospace Industries. However, the basic reason for the slowdown of the overall space programme appears to be financial. The ISA is a very small and poor institution and has limited budgetary support. This organisation has signed various pacts with other agencies, but their future solely depends on the Israeli government’s financial backing . Various Israeli officials directly or indirectly related to the space programme are of the opinion that there is a requirement to do more in this field and formulate a clear-cut policy and establish a well thought off-road map.
In sum, Israel’s space programme is a story of small but proficient programme basically an offshoot of a military initiative. The main investment in this field has been from the point view of intelligence gathering and surveillance. The state has succeeded in establishing few important international collaborators to achieve quicker progress and is also found exploiting the commercial angle of this technology. The country has concentrated more towards developing microsatellites weighing 300-400 kg and is expected to concentrate in this field in future too.