Israel okays use of Elon Musk’s Starlink, including at Gaza medical facilities

Internet service will allow links between hospitals; communications minister hails move after previously opposing it, fearing exploitation by Hamas

Illustrative: A Starlink dish and router are displayed on February 12, 2024 in San Anselmo, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via AFP)
Illustrative: A Starlink dish and router are displayed on February 12, 2024 in San Anselmo, California. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images via AFP)

Israel said on Wednesday it has approved the use of Starlink services in a field hospital in the Gaza Strip, and in Israel for the first time.

“Israeli security authorities approved the provision of Starlink services at the UAE’s field hospital operating in Rafah. Starlink’s low-latency, high-speed connections will enable video conferencing with other hospitals and real-time remote diagnostics,” the Communications Ministry said in a statement.

Starlink will also be enabled in Israel, it said, and will be able to be used by “local authorities and governmental bodies.”

“The use of the company’s services will be limited at first, with broader use expected in the future.”

Starlink is a network of satellites operated by Musk’s SpaceX in low Earth orbit that can provide internet to remote locations, or areas that have had normal communications infrastructure disabled.

The approval came after Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi said in October the country would cut ties with Starlink after billionaire Elon Musk offered his service to the Gaza Strip, over concerns that it could be used by the Hamas terror group. The company appeared to have addressed the Israeli concerns.

In the statement Wednesday, Karhi said: “We will soon be receiving satellite communication lines from all over the world. This is great and exciting news. I wish to thank Starlink for the pertinent discussion and foremost agreements and understandings vis-à-vis Gaza,” he said.

“Starlink’s entry into Israel will enable advanced satellite communications in routine times and during times of emergency. Units to support humanitarian causes in the Gaza Strip will be approved individually, only after Israeli security forces have confirmed them to be an authorized entity with no concern of risk or possibility of endangering national security,” Karhi added.

Musk wrote on X: “It is our hope to help both the people of Israel and, with all due care, innocent civilians in Gaza. This approval by Israel is greatly appreciated. In such a terrible situation, we should strive for conspicuous acts of kindness whenever possible.”

In October, the tech mogul offered Starlink “to internationally recognized aid organizations in Gaza,” responding to an X post by Democratic congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in which she called a communications blackout amid the Israeli war effort in Gaza “unacceptable.”

Karhi then threatened to cut off contact with Starlink if Musk went ahead. On X, he tweeted: “Israel will use all means at its disposal to fight this.”

“HAMAS will use it for terrorist activities. There is no doubt about it, we know it, and Musk knows it. HAMAS is ISIS. Perhaps Musk would be willing to condition it with the release of our abducted babies, sons, daughters, elderly people. All of them!”

“Until then, my office will cut any ties with Starlink,” he said.

AFP contributed to this report.

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