BSNOn Our Own BehalfIsrael

We almost got Gaza photos from the spy satellite

Since October 7, 2023, our world has been different. Gaza's elected government had kept one of its promises and killed or abducted as many Jews as possible in one day. Israel launched the hostage rescue operation, which is still ongoing. Access is difficult for Western journalists. Egypt and Hamas are no help. Israel rarely allows journalists to come along. Although some western ones were able to Journalists from Gaza report however, it is very difficult. Also our colleague on site can only provide us with limited information. What to do?

Symbolic image: Satellite image of Fortaleza, Brazil. NASA Johnson Space Center

Our idea in March 2024 was to have satellites photograph the entire south of Gaza up to beyond the Egyptian border in high resolution. Emerging on the Egyptian side of the border well-secured refugee camps. We wanted to take a closer look at these.

It's actually simple these days: you contact one of the brokers who inquires about all the connected satellite operators and makes you an offer. Archive images are immediately available. New ones have to be shot first. We sent the coordinates of the corner points, the desired resolution of a maximum of 50 cm. Within a day the offer was made and we paid. And then… Nothing happened. 

No civilian satellite images

“Unfortunately, our partners are currently unable to fulfill the order for optical photos. We will be happy to refund the amount that has already been transferred immediately” – was the broker’s succinct statement. But we didn't want to admit defeat and continued to drill. 

The answer explicitly referred to optical photos. But what about SAR (radar) recordings? We transmitted the desired area as well as the altitude and angle for the radar images. Most civilian providers declined. It said they have to do so much photography in the area for other customers that they can't take our photos. That's like saying "I have to photograph the Brandenburg Gate for someone tomorrow - I can't photograph it for you." We would simply need the same data. 

A glimmer of hope

But then something interesting happened. A broker stated that they had an operator who could help. However, he wants to know exactly who we are and what we do. We outlined the project and explained what exactly we see and what exactly we want the analysts to evaluate. After some negotiation, they agreed to help. However, we would have to agree to a comprehensive contract that includes confidentiality about details of the deal as well as a ban on publishing and passing on the data. Especially not being able to show the photos is stupid. But okay under the circumstances. Further details followed: I had to prove that I represented my company and completely identify myself personally with an ID card. This is not unusual in this area either. This all took place over a month.

The military could help

After the middleman had clarified everything in advance, the contract came. And the surprise. It was not a private provider, but a military spy satellite. The contract would therefore be concluded with the Ministry of Defense of a friendly nation, which would photograph an active war zone for us in high resolution. Pecunia non olet (Money doesn't stink). 

This also explicitly confirmed which satellite and which resolution should be used to take which images and when. And we waited... And waited... And waited...

On Monday morning after the big one Iran's attack on Israel However, we received a message saying that we were no longer able to execute the order. We asked if it would be later or in a different way. Unfortunately no. No way to get any footage in the area. Neither from private nor from military providers. This is the end of this attempt to shed light on the matter. On the other hand, it was an insight into a very interesting world that we almost immersed ourselves in.