Satellite Images of Sensitive Israeli Sites Just Became More Detailed

High resolution images of Israel’s Dimona reactor, air force bases, petrochemical facilities and more can be freely accessed online.

By David Hellerman, World Israel News

U.S. firms selling satellite images began providing more detailed photographs of Israel following a change in American regulations.

Israel has always pressed hard to keep American satellite imagery firms from releasing high resolution photos of the Jewish state. The fear is that more detailed images could be used by terror groups to better target critical Israeli infrastructure, such as the Dimona nuclear reactor, Haifa’s petrochemical facilities, air force bases, or other sensitive sites.

Satellite imagery of Israel is regulated by the Kyl-Bingaman Amendment. Till now, detailed images of Israel required federal authorization. The resolution specified that only objects two meters or larger could be seen. But in July, 2020, the U.S. Commercial Remote Sensing Regulatory Affairs Office changed the regulations to allow clear photos of images as small as 0.4 meters.

Speaking to Israel’s Reshet Bet radio, Amnon Harari, head of the Defense Ministry’s Space and Satellite Administration said he believed the regulations were changed because of pressure on the Donald Trump’s administration from the satellite imagery industry. Harari added that he “didn’t think” U.S. officials notified Israeli authorities of the change.

“Of course we would have preferred a situation in which the resolution which satellites of foreign nations see would be such that would protect us. It’s always better that they see you blurred than see you clearly,” Harari said. “We always prefer to be photographed at the lowest resolution possible.”

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Although satellite imagery firms have had permission for more than a year, the San Francisco-based Mapbox announced on Tuesday it had quadrupled the resolution of its photos “for Israel and Palestine,” the first private company to do so.

The higher detail, Mapbox’s website said, will allow people to “plan a hike, check a delivery, or navigate between cities.” The site featured  photos of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, the Tel Aviv beach, Ben Gurion International Airport, the Caesarea archaeological park and more.

The higher resolutions can be used for myriad of civilian purposes, such as ecological conservation, agriculture, the effects of climate change, and more.

But Harel Dan, an expert in satellite mapping told Haaretz that the wider availability of the images didn’t significantly raise the risk of attacks.

“This change has no significance in terms of security,” Dan said. “All this information was available to anyone who really needed it and was willing to pay for it. The real story is that a private technology company is finally showing very high-resolution information of Israel.”

Haaretz also reported that Google has no plans to upgrade the resolution of its satellite images of Israel for features such as Google Maps and Google Earth.