Israel launches satellite to provide internet to Middle East, Africa

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Israel has successfully launched a satellite which will provide internet, TV and mobile services to the Middle East and Africa.

The Amos-17 satellite was launched at 19:23 local time [23:23 GMT] yesterday from Cape Canaveral in Florida, USA. The satellite was carried into space by a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket and separated successfully, despite the launch being delayed for several days after a suspected faulty valve was discovered during testing.

It will now spend the next two weeks travelling gradually to 36,000 kilometres above the earth, at which height it will orbit the planet.

The satellite was built by aerospace giant Boeing and designed by Israel-based company Spacecom. Amos-17 will now provide services to TV operators, internet and telephone providers in the Middle East and North Africa, as well as governments and private data companies, the Times of Israel reported today.

The $250 million project is expected to operate for the next 20 years, with Spacecom claiming to have already received orders for services worth $58 million, including a contract with Nigeria-based broadcaster IDS Africa.

Spacecom’s CEO, David Pollack, said following the launch that “AMOS-17 places us directly into the exciting growth of Africa’s Sub-Saharan vibrant markets”.

“As a leading multi-regional satellite operator, Spacecom is introducing the most technologically advanced satellite with HTS beams [High-throughput satellite beams, which allow greater service availability] to service Africa, where AMOS-17 will deliver a large selection of services to a variety of broadcast, broadband and telecom clients,” Pollack added.

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The launch of the satellite will likely be seen as yet another example of Israel’s “pivot to Africa”, which has seen it normalise relations with a number of states on the continent in a bid to boost economic and diplomatic ties.

In January, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visited Chad to restore diplomatic relations between the two countries, which were severed in 1972. Speaking at a press conference before his departure, Netanyahu said that the visit was “part of the revolution we are doing in the Arab and Muslim world”, claiming that such an initiative “greatly worries, even greatly angers” Palestinians and the wider Arab world.

Israel’s Africa normalisation drive has many material benefits, often including lucrative arms deals, memorandums for economic cooperation and the use of airspace which will significantly shorten flight paths for commercial Israeli airlines.

However, the initiative is also pursued for its propaganda value; Netanyahu has long been keen to emphasise these diplomatic successes, particularly in the run up to Israel’s general election which will take place next month.

The fact that the satellite will provide internet and TV services could also raise concerns about the reach of Israel’s often-controversial intelligence-gathering and disinformation operations.

In May, it was revealed that Archimedes Group – a private company based near Tel Aviv – had run a campaign to meddle in the elections of Nigeria, Senegal, Togo, Angola, Niger and Tunisia, as well as a handful of Asian and Latin American countries.

The campaign was uncovered by social media giant Facebook, which said it had deactivated dozens of accounts found to be spreading disinformation by posing as local journalists and influencers. This campaign extended to 65 Facebook accounts, 161 pages and dozens of groups, which together had garnered 2.8 million followers and hundreds of thousands of views.

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