Report: Elon Musk speaks to Shin Bet chief on supplying internet to Gaza

X owner reportedly tells Ronen Bar he would only grant Starlink access to recognized aid organizations; Palestinian media: Telephone and internet connectivity gradually returning

Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition, March 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)
Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk speaks at the SATELLITE Conference and Exhibition, March 9, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Susan Walsh, File)

X owner Elon Musk has spoken to Israel’s Shin Bet head Ronen Bar after saying he would enable some internet access in Gaza through his Starlink satellite network, Hebrew media outlets reported Monday.

According to the reports, Musk told Bar he would only grant access to recognized aid organizations.

Israel is believed to have cut off much of the Strip’s internet and phone access, starting Friday, to limit Hamas’s communications capabilities as it expands its ground operations in the territory, in a war launched after Hamas terrorists massacred 1,400 people in southern Israel on October 7. Israel says its offensive is aimed at destroying Hamas’s military and governance capabilities, and has vowed to eliminate the entire terror group, which rules the Strip. It says it is targeting all areas where Hamas operates while seeking to minimize civilian casualties.

According to Channel 12, Musk said he would double-check with Israeli and US security officials before enabling any connections.

On Sunday, Reuters cited Palestinian media reports that telephone and internet connectivity were gradually returning to the Strip. The global network monitor Netblocks also said that internet connectivity was being restored.

“Real-time network data show that internet connectivity is being restored in the #Gaza Strip,” the company posted on X, formerly Twitter.

The reports came two days after the billionaire said that Starlink would support internet access for “internationally recognized aid organizations in Gaza.”

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

Ronen Bar, head of the Shin Bet security services, speaks during a conference at Reichman University in Herzliya, September 11, 2022. (Avshalom Sassoni/Flash90)

Musk, who owns Starlink operator SpaceX, was responding to a post by US Democrat congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in which she called the communications blackout in Gaza “unacceptable.”

“Starlink will support connectivity to internationally recognized aid organizations in Gaza,” Musk wrote on X, formerly Twitter, which he also owns.

Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi threatened to cut off contact with Starlink if Musk went ahead. On X, Karhi 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!”

In response to Musk’s offer, the head of the World Health Organization, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said: “We could really benefit from Starlink to try getting in touch with our staff and health facilities in Gaza. How can we make it happen?”

UN agencies and NGOs had on Saturday reported that they lost contact with their teams in the Gaza Strip.

“Hospitals and humanitarian operations can’t continue without communications,” Lynn Hastings, UN resident and humanitarian coordinator, wrote on X.

The Starlink satellite internet service was deployed in Ukraine shortly after the Russian invasion in February 2022. The network, which helps increasingly high-tech soldiers to operate in areas where other means of communication are down, is a key battlefield tool for Kyiv.

In September, Musk said he had prevented Ukraine from wiping out Russia’s Black Sea navy fleet last year by denying Starlink internet access.

“There was an emergency request from government authorities to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol. The obvious intent being to sink most of the Russian fleet at anchor,” Musk wrote on X.

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