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US firm photographed another highly sensitive nuclear site

The American company that provided satellite photos of the Dimona nuclear reactor last week has also photographed another classified security facility.

Last week, Planet Labs provided satellite photos of construction at the Shimon Peres Negev Nuclear Research Center to The Associated Press.

It now turns out that it took high-resolution photos of another secretive Israeli military facility at the same time.

The area it photographed, located west of Beit Shemesh, appears on ordinary Israeli maps as open space and on civilian flight maps as an off-limits area. But according to numerous foreign reports, this area is home to the Kanaf 2 Israel Air Force base.

The website of GlobalSecurity.org says that three squadrons of Jericho surface-to-surface missiles are stationed at this base.

It’s not clear who commissioned the photographs of this area or whether they are a prelude to another report about military activities attributed to Israel.

Disclosures about Israel’s nuclear and ballistic missile capabilities have appeared in foreign media on various occasions in the past, often against the background of American-Israeli tensions over arms control and supervision of nuclear activities. The new pictures of the Dimona reactor were published at a time when U.S. President Joe Biden seeks to reenter the nuclear agreement with Iran, over the opposition of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

The satellite photos that AP published last Thursday show the construction of a spacious new complex at Dimona.

According to the agency’s report, it is one of the most extensive construction projects to be documented at the site in recent decades.

The construction site, located a few meters from the existing reactor, is about the size of a soccer field and several stories deep, the report said.

The purpose of the construction isn’t clear, the report continued, and Israel declined to respond to questions on the issue. But experts consulted by AP said the construction is probably connected to fears of nuclear radiation leaking from the reactor.

Just two kilometers from this site, the agency said, two concrete buildings that could be used to store nuclear waste were photographed.

Publication of these photos was made possible by a presidential order signed by Biden’s predecessor, Donald Trump, that allowed American companies to take high-resolution satellite pictures of Israel.

In 1997, Congress had passed a law barring American companies from taking satellite photos of Israel at a higher resolution than those available from foreign commercial sources.

The law, enacted at Israel’s request, is specific to Israel and is meant to protect its defense facilities. It is the reason why photos of Israel from Google Earth and similar commercial databases are at a lower resolution than those of other countries.

Back in 2012, the U.S. Commerce Department’s National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration allowed the resolution of satellite photos of Israel to be increased to 2.0, meaning every pixel represents two square meters.

But five years later, researchers asked the agency to increase the resolution again, saying a South Korean company was already taking higher-resolution photos.

Last summer, Trump signed the order allowing photos at a resolution of 0.4, meaning each pixel represents just 40 square centimeters. The photos taken by Planet Labs are at a resolution of 0.5, slightly below the maximum permitted level.

Header: A screenshot of the ‘Planet Labs’ website – the two red circles represent the areas photographed by the companyCredit: Planet labs

Source: Chaim Levinson – HAARETZ