April 15, 2024

Can Elon Musk’s Starlink Provide Internet Service to Gaza? | Israel’s war against Gaza News

As Gaza experienced a near-total communications blackout on Friday, a campaign began trending on social media platforms, calling on billionaire tycoon Elon Musk to power the bombed-out enclave with Starlink internet.

The satellite internet company operated by SpaceX is made up of a “constellation of thousands of satellites” that orbit very close to Earth about 550 kilometers (340 miles) from the surface, facilitating the provision of internet services in rural regions and isolated from the world. where Internet terminals and cables are not strong.

SpaceX CEO Musk initially responded to a post calling for Starlink support for Gaza, saying it was unclear who had authority for ground links in the besieged enclave and that “no Gaza terminal has attempted to contact our constellation”.

After calls for Musk to support communication in Gaza through Starlink gained momentum, the billionaire businessman announced that “Starlink will support connectivity with internationally recognized aid organizations in Gaza.”

While Starlink’s tagline is the promise of “connectivity where you least expect it,” Marc Owen Jones, associate professor of Middle Eastern Studies at Doha-based Hamad Bin Khalifa University, is unsure if it can work in Gaza. .

“We have seen 500,000 posts on X saying Starlink should power Gaza. But people don’t really realize that ‘Starlink for Gaza’ is impossible,” he told Al Jazeera.

“It would be difficult to smuggle and distribute Starlink terminals or satellite dishes on a large scale into Gaza. It is unlikely that the Israeli government will allow legal imports of it,” Owen Jones told Al Jazeera.

“But let’s say Starlink came in. How will she feed herself? There is no fuel in Gaza at the moment.”

The Gaza Strip has been under an Israeli blockade since 2007. Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and territorial waters, and regulates all goods and services entering and leaving through two of Gaza’s three border points. The third crossing is controlled by Egypt.

Owen Jones also noted that the Starlink network relies on ground stations that would need approval inside Gaza, which he said is unlikely to be obtained in the current situation.

“Owning a Starlink terminal with two-way transmission could endanger Gazans if detected by Israeli authorities,” he said, adding that the Internet provision would likely be opposed by the US and Israeli administrations.

(Al Jazeera)

On Saturday, Israel’s Communications Minister Shlomo Karhi lashed out at Musk on social media platform X for considering supplying Starlink to aid organizations in Gaza. Karhi said Israel will cut any ties with Starlink.

“HAMAS will use it for terrorist activities. There is no doubt about it, we know it and Musk knows it,” Karhi said.

Musk responded by saying his company is “not that naive” and would do “a security check with the US and Israeli governments before turning on even a single terminal.”

Has Starlink been used in other war zones?

This is not the first time Musk has been asked to provide Starlink Internet services in war zones.

In February 2022, after Russia invaded Ukraine, Musk instantly ensured that Starlink terminals were available to help people and the military in Ukraine after internet services were disrupted due to the war.

But a year into the conflict, concerns have been raised about Starlink’s aid to the Russian military.

In September, Musk faced criticism from Ukraine’s leaders for refusing to have Starlink services in Russia-annexed Crimea.

On social media platform X, Ukrainian presidential advisor Mykhailo Podolyak also claimed that Starlink allowed Russian drones to attack Ukrainian cities.

“Sometimes a mistake is much more than a simple mistake. By not allowing Ukrainian drones to destroy part of the Russian military fleet (!) through Starlink interference, Elon Musk allowed this fleet to fire Kalibr missiles at Ukrainian cities,” Podolyak said in X.

Musk responded by saying he had no choice but to reject an emergency request from Ukraine “to activate Starlink all the way to Sevastopol,” a response that has been praised by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Meanwhile, despite issues over its use in Crimea, Starlink is still used on all other fronts in Ukraine.

What are the other means of communication?

After a communications blackout that lasted almost 36 hours, the Paltel Group, which provides communications services in Gaza, said that telecommunications services are “gradually being restored” in the Gaza Strip.

But since Musk’s Starlink proposal for Gaza only seeks to serve international aid organizations, efforts continue around the world to ensure that ordinary civilians in Gaza can continue to communicate with each other should telecom services return. to be interrupted.

Egypt-based journalist and writer Mirna El Helbawi started a social media campaign to collect eSIMS from around the world to help the people of Gaza.

An eSim card allows users to activate a mobile network’s cellular plans without using a physical SIM card.

“Until we solve the Starlink problem with the Egyptian and Palestinian Red Crescent; If anyone in Gaza needs a European E-sim to activate their internet connection, please let me know,” Helbawi said.

Since then, El Helbawi expressed in X that he had managed to send free eSIMS to several journalists, people and some doctors in Gaza.

He added that he has now partnered with telecom startup Simly to ensure that “everyone has access to stable and consistent Internet there.” [in Gaza]”.

Some social media users who sent eSIMS to help people in Gaza suggested using apps like Nomad to purchase eSim cards.

After choosing the “Middle East” mobile data plan in the app and paying the service provider of their choice, people receive a QR code.

SIM
The Nomad app has been used to send eSIMS to people in Gaza. People can choose the network of the SIM card they want to send [Courtesy of someone who sent a SIM card to people in Gaza]

This code can then be sent to needy civilians in Gaza through organizations or people on the ground helping to distribute eSIMS.

In addition to efforts with eSIMS and SIM cards, Qatari telecommunications company Ooredoo Group has also been helping people in the Gaza Strip communicate since 2017 with the launch of Wataniya Mobile.

Can Egypt play a bigger role?

Since the Palestinian armed group Hamas launched an attack on Israel on October 7, Egypt’s role in Gaza has grown in importance.

Cairo controls the Rafah border crossing, which has proven to be a lifeline for Gazans since last week, when aid trucks were allowed to enter the territory through the crossing. More than 8,000 Palestinians, mostly women and children, have been killed in Israeli bombings while a total siege means there is not enough food, fuel or water to meet basic needs.

Some on social media have also questioned whether Musk’s Starlink could install terminals at the Rafah crossing to support internet services in Gaza.

But Owen Jones told Al Jazeera that even if [Egypt] allowed it or were allowed to configure Starlink terminals, “it would have limited effectiveness.”

Meanwhile, according to local Egyptian media reports, Vodafone Egypt has announced that mobile communications stations have been prepared to be sent to the Egypt-Gaza border in order to boost internet and mobile phone networks in Gaza.

A PR stunt from Musk?

While international aid organizations have welcomed Musk’s proposal to help them with Starlink, questions remain about how it will be set up in an enclave that continues to be relentlessly bombed and remains under lockdown.

“We could really benefit from Starlink to try to get in touch with our staff and our health centers in Gaza. How can we achieve this?” World Health Organization Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus asked Musk about X.

SpaceX and Musk have not yet responded to how the facilities for aid organizations will begin operating.

According to Owen Jones, Musk is entering uncharted territory.

“I don’t think you get the dominance of Israel’s control over the area, the dangers that Starlink could put Gazans in,” Owen Jones said. “He is doing this simply to look good in light of the campaign to have Starlink handed over to the people of Gaza.”


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