Tel Aviv: Media reports suggest that Israel may have secured tacit US government approval for a remote sensing deal with China, based on the Eros B, a commercial, high-resolution satellite almost similarly configured as Israeli military's Ofeq-5.
According to reports, Washington may have approved Beijing's participation in a unique operational programme run by Imagesat International (ISI), a Dutch Antilles-incorporated firm based here that owns and manages Eros-series spacecraft.
Reports suggest that customers such as India, operating under the firm's Satellite Operating Partner (SOP) programme, enjoy complete autonomy and discretion in the way they choose to operate the satellite. Partner customers select Eros B targets and stream imagery directly to ground stations with a 2,000-kilometre radius of coverage.
In Beijing's case, however, Washington appears to be insisting on the right to impose so-called 'shutter control' in times of tension or national emergency. It is also suggested that China may be required to provide 24-hour notice of its satellite-targeting plans, conditions that might not be very palatable to Beijing.
A bilateral agreement signed in 2005 by US and Israel obliges prior and close consultation on Israeli exports to countries that could threaten US national security. The agreement is meant to avoid any disputes over Israeli exports to countries deemed problematic by Washington.
Observers point out that two such disputes, both of which involved Israeli deals with the People's Liberation Army Air Force (PLAAF), developed into full-blown crises for the Israeli defence establishment from which it is yet to recover, both in Washington as well as Beijing. One of these disputes was the export of the Phalcon AWACS system to the PLAAF, shot down by the US.
The Israeli attempt to allow the Chinese access to the Eros B system is another attempt by them to make amends for these disasters in the past. Reports quote Israeli officials as saying that in case the US clears the deal, and if it is acceptable to the Chinese, then it could likely mark the beginning of improved relations between Jerusalem and Beijing.
It matters to Israel that they are missing out on developing ties with China, a member of the UN Security Council, and also a country with significant influence on events in the Middle East region.