Israel successfully launched test satellite Horizon-I over the Mediterranean Monday. It reportedly carried surveillance equipment to monitor Israel's Arab enemies.
The silver craft was set aloft south of Tel Aviv, where witnesses saw it arch and watched as booster rockets disengaged and fell to the sea. The launching made Israel the eighth country known to possess a rocket powerful enough to put a satellite into space. The others are the United States, the Soviet Union, China, Japan, France, Britain and India.A spokesman for Jane's Defense Weekly, the London-based defense magazine, said the Israeli satellite was believed to be "carrying a 3-kilogram (1.2-pound) payload for surveillance purposes."
Foreign Minister Shimon Peres discounted fears that the launching would spur an arms race with its Arab enemies.
"It's not an arms race," Peres said on Israeli radio. "The Arabs bought missiles and produce missiles and will do anything they can anyway."
Foreign reports said earlier that the satellite was a test craft that would precede the launching of a spy satellite.
Yuval Neeman, head of Israel's space agency, described the launching as "all in all, very clean work."
He called the craft a "technological satellite" but acknowledged: "There's military potential in all this activity."
Meir Amit, former head of Israel's Mossad secret service and current chief of Israel's General Satellite Corp., said the launching could give Israel independent access to satellite pictures currently provided by the U.S. government.
"If you are fed the crumbs of others according to their moods, this is very inconvenient," Amit told Israeli radio. "If you have your own capability, you climb one level higher."
Neeman said the satellite, launched shortly before noon, "rose to a height of about 250 kilometers (155 miles). That will be its closest point to Earth. It will reach a distance of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles)."
"It will revolve around the Earth in about an hour and a half," Neeman said on Israel radio. "The satellite will fly for about a month. Afterward, it will burn up."
The launching came a day after Israel's 10-member inner Cabinet approved the mission, according to Israeli media reports.