Israeli official sounds alarm over sharper satellite imaging of country

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Screen capture of the Knesset building in Jerusalem as seen on Google Earth. (Google Earth)

New rules would allow US companies to offer high-resolution satellite images of Israel, West Bank, Gaza. The Head of Defense Ministry’s space program says Israel apparently not consulted before US agency granted permission for commercial companies to provide higher resolution photos.

An Israeli official warned that a change in the US rules on the resolution of commercial satellite images could be a potential security risk for Israel, Reuters reported Monday.

Amnon Harari, head of the Defense Ministry’s space arm, said during an interview with Israel’s Kan Bet public broadcaster that the change was rolled out without consulting Israeli officials and that Jerusalem was still assessing what to expect from it.

On June 25, the US Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office announced it would allow companies providing satellite imagery of Israel, as well as the West Bank and Gaza, to increase the resolution of their product.

Under a regulation approved in 1997, the satellite images of these areas are limited to a Ground Sample Distance (GSD) of two meters.

GSD is a parameter covering the distance on the ground, in the physical world, between the centers of two pixels (smallest building blocks of a digital image) on the picture. A GSD of two meters means that this distance, linearly, stands at two meters, with each of the pixels effectively representing four square meters on the ground.

However, the upcoming change will allow US companies to roll out satellite images with a GSD of 0.4 meters, resulting in a much clearer picture, where a single pixel would be equal to 0.16 square meters on the ground — which, as Israel reportedly fears, could make it easier for terrorist groups like Hezbollah and Hamas to snoop on its infrastructure using commercial satellite image services.

The terrorist groups could also use these images for targeting when planning their rocket attacks on military and civilian facilities.

The US officials explained the change by saying that high-resolution imagery of the territories covered by the 1997 provision were already available from foreign companies, and the move would make US providers more competitive in the global market.

(i24News / Times of Israel)

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