Thursday, November 17, 2005

Iran Now Says Satellite Can Spy on Israel

Iran Now Says Satellite Can Spy on Israel

Iran said the satellite would be purely scientific. But a month after its launch - and only weeks after the president said Israel should be wiped off the map - the head of Tehran's space program now says the Sina-1 is capable of spying on the Jewish state. The launch of the Russian-made satellite into orbit aboard a Russian rocket last month marked the beginning of Iran's space program. Officials say a second satellite - this one Iranian-built - will be launched in about two months, heightening Israeli concerns. The Sina-1's stated purpose is to take pictures of Iran and to monitor natural disasters in the earthquake-prone nation. Sina-1, with a three-year lifetime, has a resolution precision of about 50 yards. But as it orbits the Earth some 14 times a day from an altitude around 600 miles, with controllers able to point its cameras as they wish, Sina-1 gives Iran a limited space reconnaissance capability over the entire Middle East, including Israel. "Sina-1 is a research satellite. It's not possible to use it for military purposes," said Deputy Telecom Minister Ahmad Talebzadeh, who heads the space program. But he agreed it could spy on Israel. The satellites could be a response to Israel's Ofek-5 spy satellite. Israel, a world leader in satellite technology, relies heavily on space-based cameras to monitor activities in Arab countries and Iran. The Ofek-5, launched in 2002, overflies Iran, Iraq and Syria. Israel hoped a more sophisticated Ofek-6 satellite would enhance its coverage of Iran, but in 2004 the satellite plummeted into the Mediterranean Sea shortly after launch, dealing a blow to Israeli efforts to keep an eye on Iran's controversial nuclear program. Iran has already upgraded its Shahab-3 missile, which now has a range of more than 1,240 miles. Authorities have not given details on when the Shahab-4 will be ready. In January, Iran signed a $132 million deal with a Russian firm to build and launch a telecommunications satellite called Zohreh, or Venus. Its launch is planned within the next two years.


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