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Another Possible U.s.-israel Rift Launched with Joint Space Research

Another area of dispute between the United States and Israel surfaced this week when U.S. Ambassador William Harrop complained at a space research symposium here Wednesday that Israel was not sufficiently sharing information with Washington about its space program.

“I urge Israeli space officials and space scientists to increase the dialogue with their American counterparts. I have the impression that this exchange has been too much in one direction till now,” the envoy told members of Tel Aviv University’s Board of Governors.

“Only after there is a free flow of information back and forth can an intelligent decision be made,” he said.

His charge was promptly denied by the head of Israel’s space research activities, Professor Yuval Ne’eman. “Everything is in the open,” declared Ne’eman, who is minister of science and energy.

Ne’eman, who heads Tel Aviv University’s physics department and is leader of the right-wing Tehiya party, said Israel maintains no secrecy with regard to its space program and indeed “a great deal is done in collaboration with NASA.”

But foreign reports say the conviction has grown in Israel since the Persian Gulf War that it needs to have its own spy satellite in space because of the paucity of data it received from the United States about Iraq’s capabilities during the war.

Israeli and U.S. soldiers manning the Patriot anti-missile batteries relied on American satellite information about Scud launchings from U.S. spy satellites orbiting the Earth.

NASA SCIENTIST IN ISRAEL

Israel in recent years launched two missile-borne space satellites, the Ofek-1 and Ofek-2, designed and built here. Although the successful launchings were publicized, Israel has refused to disclose the purpose of the satellites.

Other Israeli officials declined to comment on the envoy’s remarks.

The ambassador’s allegations come at a time of increased strain in relations between the two countries, exemplified by the Bush administration’s refusal to grant Israel guarantees for $10 billion in loans to help absorb immigrants because Israel refused to freeze its accelerated settlement-building in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Most recently, Israel clashed with Washington over the administration’s statement that it supports U.N. General Assembly Resolution 194 of 1948, which recognizes the right of return or compensation for Palestinians who fled Israel.

The new controversy came with the arrival in Israel of NASA scientist-astronaut William Thornton, a specialist in space medicine, who came here to be briefed by Israeli scientists on Israel’s latest space project.

Professor Thornton, who is based at the Johnson Space Center outside Houston, will tour an Israeli air force base and Israel Space Industries, where he will examine an ultraviolet space telescope, known as the TAUVEY, which will be lifted into space from a Russian launch.

A former U.S. Air. Force medical officer, Thornton joined NASA in 1967 to study the effects of space travel on the human cardiovascular, musculo-skeletal and neurological systems. He was a member of the Orbiter space mission in 1983.

AN EXPERIMENT WITH INSECTS

A highlight of his visit will be a briefing by Professor Ya’akov Yishai of Tel Aviv University’s Sackler School of Medicine on Israel’s plans to send a nest of wasps and hornets into space aboard the U.S. space shuttle, to study the insects’ behavior in a non-gravitational environment and its effect on their natural navigation systems and bloodstreams.

The Israeli scientists are hoping this study will yield insight on how humans might be affected by very long space journeys, Yishai explained.

In addition to his briefings, Thornton is scheduled to lecture at Tel Aviv University and at the Haifa Institute of Technology-Technion.

The Board of Governors symposium was shown models of the TAUVEY, which was designed at Tel Aviv University’s Space Astrophysics Department and is being built by the El-Op company in Ness Ziona.

The TAUVEY is intended to be lifted into space in 1994 from a Russian platform, explained Professor Noah Brosh, coordinator of the space telescope project.

It is to operate in tandem with two European telescopes for X-ray and gamma ray observations to further map the heavens, including quasars, celestial objects which are 4 billion to 10 billion light years away.

The two programs will cost some $10.5 million, said Tel Aviv University Professor Akiva Bar-Nun, head of the Israeli Space Agency.

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