Tel Aviv: After months of consultations with Israeli security officials, Google has launched its popular Street View service in the country`s three largest cities.
The new Street View provides images of ordinary life, contested areas and religious sites in the Holy Land. Due to security issues, areas around several sensitive sites, such as the military headquarters in Tel Aviv and the prime minister`s residence in Jerusalem, are blurred out.
Google Street View is available in more than 30 countries. It was held up in Israel by concerns that images of its streets could be used by terrorists. The Islamic Jihad militant group in Gaza, for instance, has boasted that it used Google Earth, which gives birds-eye views and some street-level pictures of sites around the world, to aim rockets at Israel.
Last August, after a panel of government ministers met for six months to draft security guidelines, Israel announced it had reached an agreement with Google.
The service was quietly launched late last week and officially unveiled Sunday. The images are obtained by specialized cameras mounted on vehicles.
Israel is the first Middle Eastern nation to display its cities and streets online. Iraq`s National Museum is also available on Street View.
Pictures online Sunday showed typical street scenes - bicycles chained to the gates of apartment gardens in Tel Aviv, tourists sunbathing on Haifa`s beaches, and the crowded cobblestone Via Dolorosa, the path that Jesus is said to have walked before his crucifixion in Jerusalem`s Old City.
Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai brushed off security concerns about Tel Aviv, a city that was hit hard by suicide bombings on buses and in restaurants during the Palestinian uprising a decade ago.
He said militants know the city well enough without the Google service. "Tel Aviv-Jaffa is a target anyway," Huldai said Sunday.
He noted that other urban military installations, like the Pentagon outside Washington, also was left off Street View.
Despite Google`s enthusiasm, not all Israelis were happy.
Retired Lt Col Mordechai Kedar, who served for 25 years in Israeli intelligence, said the service would be a boon to militants seeking to attack Israel.
"They will use it daily," Kedar said. "Every day Street View is online, it`s causing damage."
Google Israel`s country manager, Meir Brand, said additional cities will soon join the first three, including Beersheba, Nazareth and Eilat.