JERUSALEM – Israel was launching a satellite Tuesday to spy on Iran's nuclear program, an Israeli defense official said, as Iran's leader persisted with his calls for the Jewish state's destruction. A TV report said the launch was successful, but it would be some time before it could be derermined if the satellite was operational.
Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, meanwhile, said Iran has already funneled $10 million to Palestinian militant groups since the start of the year, according to a newspaper report Tuesday.
Israel has for years regarded Iran as the primary threat to its survival, disputing Tehran's claims that its nuclear program is peaceful. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad has made this threat more tangible by repeatedly questioning Israel's right to exist, most recently on Monday, when he said Israel was a "fake regime" that "cannot logically continue to live."
Later Tuesday, Israel planned to launch from Siberia its Eros B satellite, designed to spot images on the ground as small as 27.5 inches, the defense official said. That level of resolution would allow Israel to gather information on Iran's nuclear program and its long-range missiles, which are capable of striking Israel, he said.
Israel's Channel 10 TV reported that the launch was successful, but the satellite would not deploy its power panels for another day and a half.
"The most important thing in a satellite is its ability to photograph and its resolution," he said, speaking on condition of anonymity because of the sensitive subject matter. "This satellite has very high resolution, and (state-run) Israel Aircraft Industries has a great ability to process information that is relayed."
If the launch is successful, it will take seven to 10 days to see whether the images that are transmitted are sharp and clear, he said.
Tehran has helped to finance Palestinian militant groups as part of its campaign against the Jewish state, and appears to have stepped up funding since the Hamas militant group swept Palestinian elections in January.
At the inauguration of an Iranian studies department at Tel Aviv University, Mofaz said Iran had sent $10 million to militant groups in the first four months of the year.
"The money transferred by Iran serves as fuel for the terror groups," The Jerusalem Post quoted Mofaz as saying.
"Hamas' rise to power, coupled with Iran's efforts to obtain nuclear weapons, demonstrates the growing motivation to perpetrate anti-Israel terror attacks."
He did not say how the money was funneled to the militants.
Iran has pledged to give the cash-strapped Hamas government money, but it has yet to deliver on its promise. Israeli experts have said that in the past, Iran had primarily funded other Palestinian militant groups, to the tune of about $10 million a year.
Iran's threatening comments about Israel had special resonance on Tuesday, which Israel marked as Holocaust remembrance day. Israeli Nobel peace laureate Shimon Peres, in Poland for Holocaust observances, drew a parallel between Ahmadinejad and Adolf Hitler.
"We will haven't recovered from this (the Holocaust) and I still hear these calls from Iran to destroy Israel," Peres said.
Ahmadinejad's words, he added, "are enough to put us all on alert."