"The Future for Space is in Nanosatellites"

Yaakov Peri, the former Head of ISA who recently stepped down as Minister of Science, Technology & Space, in a special interview on the eve of 2015 

I entered politics after various positions I had held in the defense establishment and the business world," says Yaakov Peri in an interview upon his stepping down as Minister of Science, Technology & Space in the government recently demobilized pursuant to the announcement of the early elections.

Peri is one of the most prominent security and business figures in Israel: having served as Head of ISA until the 1990s, he headed several leading corporations in the communications and financial sectors. Then, he entered politics as a member of the "Yesh Atid" party.

"I decided to enter politics because I found the human and political assemblage that suited me," says Peri. "I felt it was time that from the vantage point of my age and experience, I could attempt to contribute and change some priorities. When they suggested I accept the Ministry of Science, Technology & Space I thought it was a worthy mission. I found a ministry that until then had not received the attention and resources Israeli science, technology and space are worthy of.

"In the last eighteen months we managed to significantly improve the Ministry's connections with the entire international research system and promote a long list of subjects".

Including cyberspace?

"In the field of cyberspace we cooperated closely with the National Cyber Bureau at the Prime Minister's Office and with various research institutions and also financed infrastructure research projects – we issued many appeals regarding cyberspace. We financed the projects directly by the Ministry as well as through the Bureau. This is definitely one of the highest priority issues.

"The State of Israel is one of the global leaders as far as understanding all of the aspects of cyberspace is concerned."

What is Israel's international status in the space field?

"Israel is one of the world's eight most advanced countries in the space field. We are one of the leaders in satellite manufacturing, and we also possess launching capabilities, although we sometimes enlist the help of other countries in order to launch. We have some of the world's best capabilities in satellite control and monitoring. We are world leaders in the field of space-borne electro-optical surveillance systems not only with regard to military applications but also for other uses."

Do you think the future for space is in nanosatellites?

"Absolutely. Israel is a world leader in the field of nanotechnology. In the coming years we will launch numerous miniature nanosatellites possessing some amazing capabilities. We have academic and industrial institutions (IAI and Rafael, for example) that are highly advanced in this field. The State of Israel has budgeted the civilian space agency relatively generously. The agency maintains cooperative alliances with most of the world's space agencies. We are involved in joint projects with some European space agencies, for example Italy and France. In the context of some of these projects, I hope that in the coming years we will launch satellites."

What applications were the nanosatellites intended for?

"Mainly for communication and for uses that I call civilian in such fields as agriculture, earthquakes, spotting of sinkholes in the ground, water issues and many other issues."

Miniature satellites are also used for military applications…

"Indeed, but that is the responsibility of the Ministry of Defense. IMOD cooperates with the Ministry of Science, too, but that particular subject is confidential."

Regional Settlement

With regard to the political issue, Peri argues that the major changes that have taken place in the Middle East have led to a situation where the resolution of the issue between Israel and the Palestinians must be a part of a regional settlement that would include Jordan, Saudi Arabia and possibly the Gulf countries as well.

"In my opinion, Israel should initiate or join a regional diplomatic initiative that would include Israel, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, most of the Gulf countries (even before the new alliance formed between Qatar and Egypt) and Jordan. The initiative will be based on a formula that would eventually accomplish several goals – notably the restoration and demilitarization of the Gaza Strip and an end to the Arab-Israeli conflict – and in that regional initiative, we should incorporate the negotiations with the Palestinians. This will make it easier for them to sit down and talk to us, as it would provide them with political and economic backing. Today, the State of Israel carries the Gaza Strip on its back more than any Arab country, excluding Qatar."

Is Israel's position at the outset of 2015, compared to previous years, more difficult? 

"Time is running out. As the months and years go by, the diplomatic space of the State of Israel is shrinking with regard to two aspects – the Palestinians and some of the Arab countries attack us on the international arena – the UN institutions, the International Court of Justice in The Hague, and win a lot of sympathy while Israel's image and international status are deteriorating. At the same time, studies by haters of Israel indicate that Israel is among the most hated countries in the world, along with North Korea and Iran.

"Admittedly, we are a 'nation dwelling alone', but we are dependent on the world and must improve our international status, as otherwise foreign investments will stop. The technological locomotive of Israel would encounter difficulties as no one will want to do business with us. In my view, pursuant to Operation Protective Edge an opportunity emerged to break out of the diplomatic siege, an opportunity emerged for regional alliances, but Israel failed to exploit it.

"I also know for certain that there is willingness for a regional alliance on the part of the Egyptians, the Saudis and the Jordanians, and Israel should take the first few steps. We will be forced to pay for it by compromising on the Palestinian issue – but a regional settlement will be able to accommodate that issue, too".

Do you regard the fighting in the context of Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014 as a formative regional event?

"Very much so. The fact that the State of Israel was under a missile attack for two months is highly significant. Admittedly, thanks to the Iron Dome system we succeeded in preventing destruction and loss of life – but that would not last forever. Hamas in the south and Hezbollah in the north are strengthening – technologically, in terms of their procurement and the amount and performance of their missiles. We have a deterrence problem of the first magnitude.

"They deter us and we deter them. Dealing with the military power of Hamas was not a simple undertaking. Our ability to subdue a non-regular military organization is problematic. The defense concept of the State of Israel should be revised in a direction where we will no longer witness wars between states. Instead, it will be a war between the State of Israel and such terrorist organizations as Hezbollah and ISIS."