In stark contrast to former launchings of spy satellites, Israel official spokesmen were exceptionally forthcoming about the Ofek-10 after it was sent into earth orbit on Thursday April 10 from the Palmachim Air Base. The last in the series, it is a remote-sensing earth satellite, which employs synthetic aperture radar (SAR) technology and advanced "high-resolution" imagery and is capable of functioning day or night in all weather conditions.
By the next day, the $175-million Ofek-10 was cruising 400-600 kilometers above earth and completing an elliptical orbital cycle every 90 minutes. It weighs 380 kilograms and is relatively small, considering the very high-quality images and elevated level of intelligence it is capable of providing.
The new satellite’s extreme maneuverability is one of its great assets. It can focus simultaneously on multiple targets after a complex process of collecting and sorting information by traveling rapidly from one point to the next. Ofek-10 can therefore send a continuous stream of 3-D images rather than the 'flat' pictures broadcast by other satellites.
But there was one point which the talkative Israeli spokesmen held back. It is the reason why Israel closed its air and sea space in central and southern Israel for the satellite’s launch at 22:15 hours Israel time Wednesday night. This was not done for the launches of Ofek-5, Ofek-7 or Ofek-9.
A new Shavit launcher for shooting a missile eastward
DEBKA Weekly's sources have discovered that when Ofek-10 soared into space, so too did a new ballistic missile, fired secretly by an improved version of the Shavit launcher shooting a missile in an eastern direction, instead of westward like all other previous launches.
In the last DEBKA Weekly Issue 630 of April 4 (in the item US-Israel Dispute Flares Up Again-Dempsey's Mission: Squash Israel's Return to Military Option for Iran), our military sources reported that Israel had gone back to its military option against Iran and placed its armed forces on operational preparedness.
The placing of a new surveillance satellite in orbit and the entry into service with the Israeli Air Force of the Samson, the new giant Lockheed-Martin Super Hercules C-130J cargo plane – both on the same day – carried a message to the US and Iran that Israel commands a viable military option and is ready to use it.
The Samson’s attributes were also released in unusual detail: a range of 4,000-kilometer, covering a return trip to Iran; room for 4 SUVs; 128 combat personnel – or 92 paratroopers with full combat gear – and 97 stretchers for evacuating casualties.
Not just an air-cum-missile strike, but also special ground forces
The Israel Air Force habitually installs original advanced systems in the new aircraft it acquires to improve efficiency of performance and maintenance.
Mention of the number of paratroops the Samson can carry was a warning that the operation the Israel Defense Forces is preparing for Iran will not just entail air and missile strikes, but also dropping special forces deep inside the country and a readiness to take casualties.
Our military sources report that signals of military readiness are also coming in from the US and Saudi Arabia.
On Saturday April 5, the US and Saudi embarked on two broad exercises, Friendship 3 and Desert Hawk 3. Taking part were the US Central Command-CENTCOM and the Saudi military at the King Faisal Air Base in the northern town of Tabuk near the Jordanian border, as well as French and British forces.
They also include the USS George H. W. Bush Carrier Strike group and the French carrier Charles de Gaulle.
During combined operations, US F/A Hornets and Super Hornets landed and took off from the French carrier, while French Rafale fighters performed the same exercise from the Bush.
Timeline: Late May to early June
DEBKA Weekly's military sources say these drills are taking place in preparation for an estimated timeline from late May to early June, during which US and Israel intelligence experts believe Iran may start building its first nuclear weapons.
US and Israeli assessments differ radically in one respect: The Obama administration is aiming for a comprehensive nuclear accord between the six powers and Iran that will beat that timeline and render the Israeli military option superfluous.
Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya'alon don’t believe a credible deal is feasible for halting Tehran’s march toward a nuclear weapon’s capability.
This provides the background to the next article.