Israel and UAE flags on Moon? Nations said poised to pen space cooperation deal

Report says allies will cooperate on Israel’s Beresheet 2 mission, with students from two nations to build satellite that will also determine precise time of new moon for calendar

The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)
The last shot Beresheet sent of landing before crashing onto the moon's surface, April 11, 2019. (YouTube screenshot)

Israel and the United Arab Emirates are set to sign an agreement on space collaboration that could see the two nations’ flags jointly planted on the moon by 2024, the Ynet news site reported Tuesday.

The agreement, expected to be signed Wednesday, would be the latest step forward in the burgeoning relationship between Jerusalem and Abu Dhabi since the signing of the Abraham Accords normalizing ties between the two countries.

According to the report, the agreement will cover several space projects including collaboration on Israel’s “Beresheet 2” mission to the moon, currently set to launch in 2024.

The spacecraft will carry a satellite jointly designed by students from both countries that would help determine the precise time of the new moon.

Both the Jewish and Muslim calendars are governed by the lunar calendars, with the dates of major holidays being determined by the moon’s cycle.

Israel has so far raised $70 million from investors for the mission to the lunar surface, its second, which is expected to cost some $100 million. The first mission crashed into the moon’s surface in April 2019 during its attempt to land, dashing the hopes of hundreds of engineers who had worked on the project for years.

A conceptual schematic for the Beresheet 2 lander, released to the media on December 9, 2020. (Haim Zach/GPO)

The “Beresheet 2” mission plans to break several records in global space history, including a double landing on the moon in a single mission by two of the smallest landing craft ever launched into space, each weighing 120 kilograms (265 pounds), half of which is fuel.

As part of the mission, a mothership will be launched into space, from which the two landers will detach. One of them aims to land on the far side of the moon, a feat only China has accomplished to date, project organizers have said. The second craft is scheduled to land at an as-yet-undetermined site on the moon.

The mothership, meanwhile, will remain in space for five years and serve as a platform for educational science activities in Israel and worldwide via a remote connection that will enable students in multiple countries to take part in deep-space scientific research.

Israel and the UAE would also conduct joint research based on information from the “VENµS” microsatellite launched in 2017, a collaboration between Israel and France, Ynet reported.

The UAE has its own successful space program, launching the “Amal,” or “Hope,” space probe to Mars earlier this year.

Emirati men watch the launch of the “Amal” or “Hope” space probe at the Mohammed bin Rashid Space Center in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, Monday, July 20, 2020. (AP Photo/Jon Gambrell)

The report came a day after UAE Ambassador to Israel Muhammad Mahmoud Al Khajah invited Prime Minister Naftali Bennett to Abu Dhabi for an official state visit, on behalf of UAE Crown Prince Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan.

The invitation was extended during a lunch meeting Bennett held with Khajah and Bahrain Ambassador to Israel Khaled Yousif al-Jalahma.

The three discussed expanding ties between the nations and further strengthening the Abraham Accords.

Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Yair Lapid held a Zoom meeting late Monday with UAE Foreign Minister Abdullah bin Zayed, US Secretary of State State Antony Blinken, and Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar.

The four top diplomats discussed “expanding economic and political cooperation in the Middle East and Asia, including through trade, combating climate change, energy cooperation, and increasing maritime security,” said State Department spokesman Ned Price, adding that they also discussed expanding scientific cooperation and combating COVID.

Israeli and United Arab Emirates flags line a road in the coastal city of Netanya on August 16, 2020. (Jack Guez/AFP)

The Abraham Accords, signed in 2020, normalized relations between Israel and the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain. Since then, Morocco and Sudan have also signed normalization agreements with the Jewish state.

While relations with the UAE, Bahrain and Morocco have progressed rapidly, ties with Sudan have moved ahead haltingly.

Lapid visited the UAE in June, officially opening Israel’s embassy in Abu Dhabi, the first official visit by an Israeli minister to the Gulf state. In September, Lapid opened Israel’s embassy in Manama, Bahrain, and signed a series of agreements. Israel’s top diplomat opened a mission in Morocco in August.

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