High-resolution satellite photos of Israel and Gaza not yet on Google
A Google Maps search will produce high-resolution images of some of the world’s most secret and guarded places, including the Pentagon, the headquarters of the Russian military intelligence agency GRU, Westminster in London and even Pyongyang in North Korea. . But someone looking for such detailed images of Israel, Gaza, and the West Bank will only find blurry, low-resolution images – and it’s no accident.
According to the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, which published an in-depth study explanatory A decades-old amendment to a U.S. defense law on Thursday kept high-resolution images of the region out of public view.
The restriction dates back to 1997, when the Kyl-Bingaman (KBA) Amendment to the US National Defense Authorization Act was enacted. It has blocked American companies, including Apple and Google, from providing and distributing high-resolution satellite photos of Israel.
“The amendment was put in place after years of tension between Israel and the United States over restrictions and regulations on satellite imagery and technology,” Haaretz said in his report. This tension then included the president Bill clintonthe decision to declassify more than 800,000 satellite images dating from the Cold War. Numerous media reports followed the release of the images, including one in an Israeli daily that published a decades-old aerial shot of an Israeli nuclear reactor taken by a US spy satellite.
According to Haaretz, citing a peer-reviewed article study in the journal Space Policy, “a day after the Israeli report, Republican Sen. Jon kyl Presented it as a reaction to Clinton’s declassification of spy satellite photographs. “Kyl said Clinton’s order” could unintentionally have a deleterious impact on the national security of the State of Israel. ” The KBA, co-sponsored by Democratic Sen. Jeff bingaman, was adopted and interpreted to cover the West Bank and Gaza Strip as well as Israel.
It’s not like high-res images of the area aren’t available at all, Haaretz Explain. The amendment simply limited what American companies could do. European companies, not bound by US law, were able to provide high-resolution images to those who were willing to pay for it.
But now, following a June 2020 decision by the United States to ease restrictions and allow American companies to sell high-resolution images, those images may soon become more readily available. (At least one Israeli official pointed to the move as a possible security risk: “I don’t think [the U.S.] asked us in advance before relaxing the restriction, an Israeli Defense Ministry official said. Haaretz at the time – an interesting statement considering the close relationship between Israel and the administration of the former president Donald trump.)
Indeed, as Haaretz reports, some high-resolution images taken by US-based companies have already started to make their way into the public. The Associated Press released high-resolution images of an Israeli nuclear center, which were purchased from Planet Labs, a private Earth imaging company based in San Francisco. Haaretz reported. Planet Labs is also said to have taken photographs of “another secret site in central Israel which, according to foreign sources, houses an air base.” Haaretz mentionned.
Haaretz said that a potential impact of the KBA’s easing of restrictions is that “Israel is now at greater risk of losing its information advantage on the ground.”
“From a defense standpoint, this can, at least in theory, provide better and more accurate information to those seeking to harm Israel,” said Dr. Shira efron, said an Israeli national security expert Haaretz, adding that Israel is concerned that Hamas and Hezbollah could use the footage to plan more precise strikes on civilian and military targets.
While Efron said it’s not clear whether the high-resolution photos would make a difference, as “most enemies nearby don’t target Israel at a specific person’s level … nonetheless, from the point of view of defense, for Israel – the fuzzier the better. “
On the other hand, as Haaretz stressed, high-resolution satellite imagery could “help bridge the gap” in understanding the impact of the recent Israeli crisis deadly and destructive military strikes on Gaza, where access is either limited or impractical.
For lay people and non-governmental organizations interested in keeping an eye on the region – such as those who have been tracking human rights violations and violence in China, Syria, Yemen and Ukraine – the information that high-resolution satellite images could provide are just not easily available from free commercial sources, such as Google, Haaretz mentionned. According to an Israeli expert quoted by Haaretz, the reason is “technical and bureaucratic”, although a Google spokesperson said Haaretz that the company “considers[s] opportunities to update our satellite images as higher resolution images become available and we do not intend to share them at this time.
While high-res images may start to appear slowly, it’s not unreasonable to expect them to end up turning into a constant stream. As the interactive images accompanying the Haaretz history show, the difference between high resolution and low resolution images is dramatic and undeniable. High-resolution satellite imagery of the region could eventually become the norm (as it already is in the rest of the world), even though Israel has spent decades hiding part of its defense strategy behind blurry satellite imagery and a legislative amendment aimed specifically at limiting a president’s power to broadcast Cold War-era footage.
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