Israel Reached for the Moon

April 16 2019

Last Thursday night, the lunar module designed by the private Israeli company SpaceIL and given the name Beresheet (Genesis) was expected to land on the moon. The unit had been successfully launched into lunar orbit, but the delicate piece of technology with which it measured the distance between itself and the moon’s surface malfunctioned, leading to a crash landing. Armin Rosen, who was present at the SpaceIL headquarters, reports:

The span between the first loss of telemetry and word that the landing failed was maybe three minutes tops, and probably much less. A cosmic drama quickly and unexpectedly became a human one. How do you make sense of getting so close and losing the mission? One could soon attain some purely descriptive understanding of what occurred: as Ofer Doron, [one of the mission’s overseers], told the media afterwards, a malfunction in the inertial measurement system led to a cascade of events that resulted in an accidental full-engine cutoff.

Beresheet was built with almost no redundancies, so there wasn’t a second computer to take over at the first sign of real trouble. The mission depended on a thin margin for error during the final 450 feet of its interplanetary journey (although it later turned out that the problems started fourteen kilometers from the surface). . . .

[O]ne of the funders of the mission likened the endeavor to the Passover song Dayeinu, [“it would have been enough for us”]: if the probe had merely succeeded in reaching its correct altitude after launch, dayeinu. If all of the maneuvers had merely gone successfully, dayeinu. If Beresheet had merely entered lunar orbit, dayeinu. There were countless dayeinus. One of the most audacious private space ventures ever attempted had been, at worst, a 95-percent success. “We got Israel to places we didn’t imagine before,” Kfir Damari, [one of the founders of SpaceIL], said. “The Israeli flag is still on the surface, on an Israeli-made spacecraft,” said [his cofounder] Yonatan Weintraub.

On Saturday, it was announced that work had commenced on Beresheet 2.

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More about: Israeli technology, Space exploration

At the UN, Nikki Haley Told the Truth about Israel—and the World Didn’t Burn Down

April 22 2019

Although Nikki Haley had never been to Israel when she took the position of American ambassador to the UN, and had no prior foreign-policy experience, she distinguished herself as one of the most capable and vigorous defenders of the Jewish state ever to hold the position. Jon Lerner, who served as Haley’s deputy during her ambassadorship, sees the key to her success—regarding both Israel and many other matters—in her refusal to abide by the polite fictions that the institution holds sacred:

Myths are sometimes assets in international relations. The fiction that Taiwan is not an independent country, for example, allows [the U.S.] to sustain [its] relationship with China. In other cases, however, myths can create serious problems. On Israel–Palestinian issues, the Trump administration was determined to test some mythical propositions that many had come to take for granted, and, in some cases, to refute them. Haley’s prominence at the UN arose in large part from a conscious choice to reject myths that had pervaded diplomacy on Israel–Palestinian issues for decades. . . .

[For instance], U.S. presidents were intimidated by the argument that recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital would trigger violent explosions throughout the Muslim world. President Trump and key colleagues doubted this, and they turned out to be right. Violent reaction in the Palestinian territories was limited, and there was virtually none elsewhere in Arab and Islamic countries. . . .

It turns out that the United States can support Israel strongly and still work closely with Arab states to promote common interests like opposing Iranian threats. The Arab street is not narrowly Israel-minded and is not as volatile as long believed. The sky won’t fall if the U.S. stops funding UN sacred cows like the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine (UNRWA). Even if future U.S. administrations revert to the policies of the past, these old assumptions will remain disproved. That is a valuable accomplishment that will last long after Nikki Haley’s UN tenure.

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More about: Donald Trump, Nikki Haley, United Nations, US-Israel relations