Israel Launches Satellite Whose Purpose is a Mystery

Israeli scientists successfully launched a satellite into orbit this week, though its exact purpose is not known.

Although some news reports said the ofek3 , launched Wednesday south of Tel Aviv, is a spy satellite, Israel Aircraft Industries, which built the orbiter, said in a statement that the satellite would be used to test various technologies for scientific and commercial purposes.

Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, who would not elaborate on the purpose of the satellite, congratulated IAI on the successful launch.

“Today the Ofek 3 satellite was sent into space,” he told Army Radio. “It successfully completed its first revolution around the Earth and will certainly continue, as we all hope, its missions.”

He added that the successful launching represented “another enormous technological achievement of the State of Israel.”

Israel previously launched two experimental prototypes of the Ofek in 1988 and 1990.

Ofek 2 was launched in April 1990, one day after Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein threatened to destroy “half of Israel” with chemical weapons if Israel participated in an attack on Baghdad.

In March 1991, after the end of the Gulf War, then Defense Minister Moshe Arens said israel may eventually launch its own spy satellite. He said Israel could not depend on Washington for satellite intelligence data because the United States had not shared with israel all its satellite photos of Iraq.

The Ofek 3 weighs 495 pounds and will circle the globe from east to west every 90 minutes. Syria, Iran and Iraq are reportedly in the path of the satellite.

The successful deployment of ofek 3 took place a week after the failed launching of an Israeli communications satellite aboard a Russian rocket.

The $3.5 million Gurwin-1 communications satellite, which was built by scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa, crashed into the sea in a far eastern region of Russia shortly after its March 28 takeoff.

That failure prompted some observers to predict that Israeli scientists, fearful of confronting back-to back launch failures, would not attempt to send the Ofek 3 into space anytime soon.

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