Former military space head: Israel is losing its edge

Exclusive: Haim Eshed, newly retired chief of Defense Ministry Space Division says Israel must increase funding for research.

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September 2, 2011 00:51
2 minute read.
Retired Space Division head Haim Eshed

haim eshed 311. (photo credit: Marc Israel Sellem)

 
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Israel stands to lose its qualitative military edge in space as the government refuses to increase financial support for research and development, and Iran and other countries in the region work to improve their capabilities, Brig.-Gen (res.) Haim Eshed, who stepped down this week as head of the Defense Ministry’s Space Division, told The Jerusalem Post on Thursday.

Eshed, 73, founded the Space Division more than 30 years ago and led it until Wednesday.

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During that time he promoted Israel’s space capabilities, which today consist of 10 satellites in space. He will now serve as a director at the Israel Space Agency, which is part of the Ministry of Science and Technology.

“Today we have a relative edge over the rest of the region and parts of the world in certain space capabilities, some of which other countries are trying to copy,” Eshed told the Post in an exclusive interview marking his retirement from the Space Division. “If, however, we do not increase our investments in the next two years, we stand the risk of losing our edge.”

Behind Eshed’s warning is the government’s refusal to release funds that it had pledged last year as part of an ambitious plan to turn Israel into a space superpower. If the money is not allocated, Eshed warned he and other senior Israel Space Agency officials would resign.

The plan was approved by Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and was supposed to lead to the allocation of NIS 1.5 billion over five years as an investment in space research and development that would lead to an increase in sales.

Despite Israel’s advanced technology, sales of its space platforms over the past 20 years have totaled less than $2.5b. Yet the international space market, Eshed stressed, is worth $250b. a year, and Israel could carve out at least 5 percent for itself.

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Israel’s specialty, he said, is in the development and production of “mini satellites” like the Ofek 9 reconnaissance satellite that was launched in June 2010.

These weigh just a few hundred kilograms, in contrast to the mammoth satellites of several tons operated by the United States and Russia.

“The money was supposed to be put into the budget reserves, but it is still not being released,” Eshed said, warning that due to the low demand, Israeli defense industries would begin to neglect space programs and to fire workers or move them to nonrelated work.

“The industries currently do not have projects, and if the money does not come in, as a result more projects will collapse and we could lose the qualitative edge we currently have in the world,” he said.

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