Israel releases spy satellite images of Syria’s Palmyra

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Israel on Tuesday released some of the first photographs taken by its newest spy satellite, showing ancient ruins in the Roman ruins of Palmyra in neighbouring Syria.

On July 6, Israel Defense Ministry launched Ofek 16 into orbit and a week later activated its powerful camera arrays, though it did not immediately release the images taken by the satellite.

Syria is an Iranian ally regularly targeted by Israeli air strikes. Also, when the new satellite was launched last month, Israeli public radio reported it would be used to monitor the nuclear activities of country’s arch-enemy Iran.

The satellite is an “electro-optical reconnaissance satellite with advanced capabilities”, according to the Israel defense ministry, which said it is testing the device to ascertain its “performance level”.

Israel has carried out numerous raids against Syria since the latter’s civil war broke out in 2011, mainly against the Tehran-aligned Lebanese Shiite group Hezbollah and Iranian forces supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.

Recent months have seen a surge in air raids against Syrian or pro-Iranian forces, attributed to or claimed by the Jewish state.

“Israel knows how to defend itself against enemies near and far,” said Benny Gantz, the Jewish state’s defense minister and alternate prime minister, during the unveiling of the satellite images on Tuesday.

The technology developed by the government and military industry is vital to “maintain Israel’s security”, said Gantz, noting that hundreds of millions of shekels had been invested in the space cameras.

In 2018, shortly after Israel launched the satellite’s predecessor, Ofek 11, the Defense Ministry released its first images, showing Syrian President Bashar Assad’s palace, in what was seen as a tacit threat against the strongman, who is closely allied with Iran and Hezbollah.

Israel Defense Ministry in its statement said the camera on Ofek 16 that took the photos was developed in a hitherto-classified joint project by the ministry’s research and development department, known by the Hebrew acronym MAFAT, and the Elbit Systems defense contractor.

According to it, the camera “is of a much higher quality, with capability-to-weight ratios that are better than anything on the market.”

Israel is one of a small group of countries that operate reconnaissance satellites. That cadre also includes Iran, which successfully launched a spy satellite into orbit after years of failed attempts.