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April 14, 2013

Israel in the News for the Week of April 14th

by City of Ariel
Tamar’s gas rig

Israel upcoming energy superpower

The impact of Israel as the regional energy superpower heralds imminent & significant changes in the Middle East & signals a very real change in the geopolitics of the region.

( – Israel’s transformation from a land of milk and honey into a land awash with oil and gas money is under way. When the country’s offshore Tamar field finally started pumping domestic natural gas direct to Haifa on the last day of March 2013, it meant that Israel was no longer in the thrall of its Arab neighbours for gas imports. And it also signalled the beginning of Israel’s rise to energy superpower status.

527206_423452034355439_1132818825_nBut don’t take my word for it. Take the words of Russia’s Vladimir Putin or, much more significant, his recent actions. Shaken by the success of the US shale gas revolution and the threat to Russia’s stranglehold on European gas supplies that a prospective eastern Mediterranean supply carries, Putin’s Kremlin has, in recent months, feted Israel as never before.

In February this culminated in Russia’s Gazprom signing a landmark deal giving Russia a major stake in the future distribution of massive Israeli gas resources. It is also likely to be just an entree deal now that Moscow has a place at the Israeli energy table.

In early 2012, Noble Energy, the US partner of the major Israeli energy companies, announced a new find of 1.2 to 1.3 trillion cubic feet of gas in the Tamar prospect. Noble is confident that there may be up to a dozen more such gas discoveries to be made in the Tamar field. Yet the Tamar and Dalit offshore Israeli gas fields are just the beginning.

Others are showing signs of significant quantities of gas, including the Aphrodite 2 field, 100 miles from Haifa. But the enormous Leviathan gas field overshadows them all. Leviathan is estimated to have twice the amount of gas of Tamar and should come online between 2016 and 2018. But Leviathan and Tamar also hold out the further tantalizing prospect of significant amounts of oil.

Then there is Israel’s eastern Mediterranean partner, Cyprus. In February 2013, the Israeli energy companies Delek and Avner signed an agreement to acquire a 30 percent stake in exploration rights off the southern coast of Cyprus. With equally large gas prospects around Cyprus, the eastern Mediterranean basin is on the path to becoming a major player in global energy production, and soon.

All this has not been lost of the energy giants as the Russia Gazprom deal, which includes a commitment to build a floating LNG terminal off Cyprus, makes clear. That hub will convert Israeli and Cypriot gas for onward transmission to Europe or Asia.

For all its mounting gas and oil discoveries, Israel has been having trouble in attracting the investment of the energy majors who fear the threat of their energy investments in Arab states. But that is changing.

Recently the French energy major Total signed an exploration contract to explore two blocks of southern Cyprus. In February, Woodside Petroleum, Australia’s second largest oil and gas producer announced it would pay as much as $2.3 billion for a stake in Israel’s giant Leviathan field. All of this is highly significant as it signals a very real change in the geopolitics of the region.

content_isBut it’s not just enormous reserves of natural gas that is set to see the Star of David rising to global energy prominence offshore. Israel has oil too – and a world class amount of it. Most importantly, as well as the great potential for oil finds in its deep offshore reservoirs, Israel is set to develop a major shale oil prospect the Shefla Basin, south-east of Jerusalem.

’s where David slew Goliath. The Valley of Elah lies thirty miles to the south-west of Jerusalem. The World Energy Council estimates that Israel’s Shefla Basin shale oil deposits could yield a cool 250 billion barrels. To put that in perspective, it’s a figure that would catapult Israel into the elite with the world’s third-largest proven oil reserves, just behind Saudi Arabia and Venezuela.

Such is the significance of the amount of oil in the Shefla Basin that it didn’t take long for big hitting private investors, including Jacob Rothschild and Rupert Murdoch, to take a major stake in Genie Oil and Gas, the parent company of Israel Energy Initiatives who are running the project.

In February, the state owned Israel Natural Gas Lines announced that it was seeking $1 billion to fund new pipelines. Whilst developing a vital energy infrastructure has become a priority for Israel, the security implications are only too well understood.

But if OPEC’s members, already feeling the heat of the US shale gas and oil revolution, feel inclined to consider military action, it could only be in the form of utilizing proxy terrorist groups. Anything else would mean taking on a possible grand alliance of Israel, Russia, Greece and Cyprus. Equally, the rise of an energy-driven non-Muslim alternative powerbase in the Middle East offers a serious counterpoint to help offset the growing Islamist threat posed by the growing instability in North Africa.

Neither do the ramifications of the Israeli-led energy developments end there. Some Arab states are already breaking ranks. The fledgling Arab state of South Sudan, which sits on top of around 80 percent of Sudan’s oil reserves, signed a new deal in January to keep Israel supplied with oil while developing its own reserves. Jordan too is reportedly in secret talks to buy some of Israel’s Tamar gas to power a potash plant on the Jordanian side of the Dead Sea. The State Oil Company of Azerbijan (SOCAR) has also turned to Israel as a “proving ground” to help its own development as a major energy producer.

Last Autumn, the Caspian Drilling Company, a subsidiary of SOCAR, bought a five percent stake in Israel’s small Med Ashdod oil field. It proposes to utilize the deal to draw on growing Israeli technical expertise.

Israeli’s reputation for high-tech expertise is already a recognized phenomenon. As one of Israel’s oil pioneers, Tovia Luskin, has pointed out, Israeli tech could “solve the world’s energy crisis if red tape doesn’t tie it up”. Luskin wants to use some of the revenue to fund a university as a global centre of excellence able to train engineers in oil exploration and energy management. Until the bureaucratic issues – how much does the Government take in revenues – are resolved in Israel that vision remains on hold however. But the point is nevertheless well made: Israel is in prime position to give a lead in a new era of Middle East energy developments.

Even so, the impact of the coming rise of Israel as a regional energy superpower plainly heralds significant and imminent changes in the Middle East, and beyond. First, for the fast-diminishing tyranny that is OPEC. Second, in the geopolitical re-alignment the new eastern Mediterranean energy alliance represents. Third, the literal shift of power away from the world’s oil and gas ‘tyrannies’ that the new energy realities – including Israel’s rise to energy superpower status – represent for the democratic world.


PM, President express condolences over Thatcher’s death

Official Israel reacted with sadness Monday to news of the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher.

(Arutz Sheva) – Official Israel reacted with sadness Monday to news of the death of former British Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher. “Today I mourn the passing of Prime Minister Baroness Margaret Thatcher,” Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said. “She was truly a great leader, a woman of principle, of determination, of conviction, of strength; a woman of greatness. She was a staunch friend of Israel and the Jewish people. She inspired a generation of political leaders. I send my most sincere condolences to her family and to the government and people of Great Britain.”

President Shimon Peres also expressed his sorrow at the passing of Thatcher, known as “the Iron Lady. “There are people, there are ideas. Occasionally those two come together to create vision,” Peres said. “Lady Thatcher was an exceptional leader, a colleague in the international arena and a friend for me personally. She served as an inspiration for other leaders, as the first female Prime Minister of Great Britain she broke new ground. She showed how far a person can go with strength of character, determination and a clear vision.

She was a true and dedicated friend of Israel, who stood with us in times of crisis and used her influence to help us in trying to make peace,” Peres continued. “During our negotiations with Jordan in the late 1980s, she stood as a mediator and a source of wisdom for me and the King of Jordan. I send my sincere condolences to her family, to her friends and to the people of Great Britain,” he added.


‘Big Data’ a little less big, thanks to SiSense

Low-cost, super-fast analysis of today’s huge reams of information is the goal of an Israeli start-up

SiSense in action

SiSense in action

(Times of Israel) – There’s data, and then there’s Big Data — the reams of information that are generated every second on the Internet, social media sites, database entries, and the plethora of information sources that find their way to servers and clouds, both public and private.

While the clouds in the sky may have silver linings, these tech clouds are paved with gold. The information they contain regarding spending habits, customer behavior, business inefficiencies, and loads of other stuff hidden in the reams of bits and bytes could mean big profits for those who can unlock their secrets. Most companies have to deal with between ½ and 100 terabytes of data, according to experts; making sense of that information is a major priority for businesses of all sizes today. And Israel’s SiSense is one of the more successful companies in the big data analytics business.

The reason for that success is the company’s commitment to “democratizing big data analytics” — making it possible for businesses of any size to take advantage of SiSense’s capabilities, according to SiSense CEO Amit Bendov. “By utilizing state-of-the-art technology and a unique business model, we aim to completely change the current reality in which only Fortune 500 companies can benefit from high-quality, scalable business intelligence solutions,” according to Bendov. “The time has come for every company to have access to full-fledged business information capabilities without compromising on functionality, scalability, manageability, flexibility, governance, collaboration or ease-of-use.”

SiSense’s secret sauce is its Prism software, a drag-and-drop system that lets users take bits of information (sales numbers, costs, etc.) and formulate complicated queries (number of sales per zip code, neighborhood, and income level, etc.) without requiring programming or database querying. The system can plug into databases of all types (SQL Server, Oracle, MySQL, etc.), run reports and analytics on very large data sets, on local computers, servers, or on-line, export information into reports, manage rights to data by user, customize displays/results, and so on. In short, according to Bendov, SiSense gives that average user the tools to analyze huge reams of data without having to mortgage their businesses to hire a team of database specialists.

And SiSense does its work quickly. At a recent demonstration in Silicon Valley, SiSense demonstrated that its system could zip through a huge 10 terabytes of data (that’s 10,240 gigabytes, or 10,485,760 megabytes) on a single off-the-shelf Dell server in just 10 seconds, and come up with answers to business intelligence problems posed to it. The demonstration, at the Strata Big Data Conference held in Silicon Valley last month, merited SiSense the Audience Choice Award at the event.

In another demonstration, Prism was able to produce super-fast results using a Dell laptop — a device no “serious” database administrator would even consider using, because it just won’t be up to the task of heavy, memory-intensive analytics. “There’s a lot of hype around Big Data Analytics but even the biggest companies are struggling because of the massive infrastructure, budgets and specialized skills required. Prism levels the Big Data playing field so that businesses of all sizes can get in the game,” said Bendov.

Companies large and small are singing SiSense’s praises. Among its customers are conglomerates like Target and Merck, and startups like do-it-yourself website hosting company Wix. “SiSense has created an exciting new approach to data analysis, combining the power of columnar technology with in-memory speed on huge amounts of data, all on a single node that’s easy to install,” says David Gerster, director of Analytics at Groupon and businesses intelligence industry expert. “If you’ve been wrestling with the size limitations of other tools, do yourself a favor and try SiSense. There’s nothing else on the market that crunches big data so easily and inexpensively.”

On Wednesday, April 3, SiSense, which has customers in 49 countries, announced that it had completed a $10 million Series B round of funding led by Battery Ventures with participation from Opus Capital and Genesis Partners. “We are thrilled to add Battery Ventures as an investor,” said Bendov. “We are experiencing exponential sales growth and incredible buzz in the market — now it’s time to add oil to the fire. Our biggest challenge right now is growing the sales force and the support teams quickly enough to keep up with the demand.”


The IDF’s “Na’mer” is ready for battle

Meet the Na’mer, the ‘tank-body’ APC, a 63.5-ton metal beast that’s the IDF’s main transport platform for carrying infantry troops into combat.

A NAMER APC take part in a live-fire exercise in the Negev.

A NAMER APC take part in a live-fire exercise in the Negev.

( – In the middle of the Negev Desert, a group of Namer (“Leopard”) armored personnel carriers are parked in formation, waiting for the order to open fire. Scattered among them are Merkava Mark 2 tanks.

The Namer’s operators run through their last checks. Their commanders, situated on a mound overlooking the area, radio their instructions. The desert wind blows through the expansive training ground, marked by sandy hills and valleys.

In any future conflict with Hezbollah in Lebanon or Hamas in Gaza – or possibly in Syria – the imposing Namer APC, which is the size of tanks (and is built using the frame of the Merkava tank) will carry Golani Brigade infantry soldiers deep into enemy territory.

The APCs, together with tanks, will blaze a trail for the remainder of the IDF ground forces, and will have to engage an array of threats such as tunnels laden with explosives and terrorists armed with anti-tank missiles.

The rate of progress made by the Namer APCs and the soldiers they carry will help determine how quickly the IDF extinguishes hostile rocket fire on the Israeli home front during the next confrontation with Hezbollah.

Hence, training the APC’s operators is crucial to the future of battlefield victory.

The Namer APCs and tanks have gathered for a live-fire exercise at the IDF’s School for Infantry Corps Professions and Squad Commanders. This is the training center through which all Namer crews must pass, to learn how to master their 63.5-ton metal beasts.

Suddenly, the desert air is shattered by a series of deafening volleys. A cacophony of automatic shots from an M2 Browning machine gun affixed to the Namer blast the eardrums of anyone in the vicinity.

The Namer’s bullets sear through the ground in a far-off valley, sending sand flying up into the air.

The Namer is also fitted with secondary firepower capabilities in the form of grenade launchers and MAG 7.62 mm. machine guns. All of these weapons are controlled remotely via two joysticks and a screen in the vehicle.

The APCs and tanks rush up mounds, open fire on an imaginary target, and then quickly reverse their way down the slope, out of the sight of a would-be enemy. The Namer guns are joined by the heavy, unmistakable sound of tanks firing their shells. The vehicles are “returning fire” according to the drill scenario.

“Two missiles fired at you!” one of the drill commanders calls over the radio network to a Namer driver.

The attacks represent the first phase of conquering territory in a ground combat scenario.

In any real battle, it is reasonable to expect that this kind of firepower would be backed by artillery and aerial strikes.

Since it entered service in 2008, the Namer is becoming Israel’s principal land platform for transporting infantry soldiers across combat zones. It is expected to replace older – and weaker – APC models such as the Achzarit and the Nakpadon.

It is the fastest, most fortified APC in the IDF with considerable firepower capabilities, and can transport infantry soldiers over a long distance.

Sgt. Yarden Fried, 20, an infantry instructor for the Namer, and Lt. Inbar Margaliot, 22, a Namer section officer, are responsible for training Golani crews in handling the vehicles.

A heavy burden rests on the shoulders of these two young women who must make sure that infantry forces can navigate their way through a war zone.

The two stand on a mound overseeing the company drill.

“The aim here is to conquer the targets,” says Fried. “The Golani Brigade will be the first to go into battle,” she adds.

“There is cooperation with tanks, because the two will always be combined,” Margaliot says.

Fried points out the many fortifications built into the Namer, with armored reinforcements to its front, back, and sides, enabling it to withstand direct rocket and explosive attacks from all directions.

As the vehicles maneuver below, Margaliot says she feels much pride in seeing her training bear fruit.

“All of the fighters are trained by us. In addition to pride, I also feel concern. They are like our kids,” she says.

Fried says she has family in the United States, and that they are amazed when she tells them that instead of enjoying college, she is training infantry soldiers for war.

“My cousin is at university studying history of art. She can’t believe a 20-year-old can be qualified to do this,” she says. “Girls want to contribute to the military. Even after long nights of hard work, when we only get to bed at 3 a.m., it feels good to contribute.

“We see the respect we get from the soldiers,” she says.

The firing from the vehicles stops. Soldiers disembark from the Namer, advance to a hilltop, and lay on the ground, their rifles pointed forward. The tanks, meanwhile, race forward to the next position.

Soon, the soldiers get up and move into the area that has just absorbed the bullets and shells. One area has been “conquered” in the drill. The forces move forward to take the next area.

In a real war, the decision on when soldiers should disembark the Namer and storm enemy positions on foot rests with their company commander, and is influenced by the changing conditions of any given situation.

Col. Ronen Marelly commands the School for Infantry Corps Professions.

He arrives in a jeep to monitor the progress of the drill.

He tells The Jerusalem Post that the Namer offers some highly advanced systems as well as conditions for the soldiers inside, including air conditioning.

“The infantry soldier likes to move around on foot. But inside the Namer, the soldiers can feel comfortable.

There is room for all the soldiers and their equipment. The Namer will move on with the solder’s gear inside after he disembarks,” Marelly explains.

“This is a company exercise to train Namer officers. They have to learn to command the vehicle, and we’re the only ones who provide this training. We train the drivers and the company commanders.

After the training, the Namer crew gets an army license allowing them to operate the vehicle,” he says.

“We’re not only a school. We produce a company that can fight with this new platform, alongside tanks,” Marelly stresses.

The infantry school’s instructors receive and pass on the IDF’s most updated ground forces doctrine, based on threat assessments from all arenas.

“If a specific enemy emerges with a new threat, it will have to be studied.

We must ensure that the training remains relevant,” he says.

Although the battle doctrine is handed down to the school’s instructors from the Ground Forces command, it is also improved upon by feedback from the infantry school. The feedback leads to changes – including some to the interior design of the Namer.

Marelly says that the number of hours spent training infantry forces together with the Armored Corps rose dramatically since the Second Lebanon War of 2006, when chronic under-training led to a series of battlefield errors.

“We’ve been training a lot in recent years. There are no drills involving just one type of army corps. They’re all combined. In other drills, the air forces and artillery are involved too. Any battle will see combined forces in action,” he says.


Israeli robot could be your next ‘milkman’

MiRobot’s automated milking system could be the biggest thing in dairy farming in a century.

Artist's rendering of MiRobot

Artist’s rendering of MiRobot

(Times of Israel) – Israeli cows lead the world in milk production, and Israeli dairy companies have set up projects in far-flung places like Argentina and Vietnam to export Israeli know-how on feeding, milking, and raising cows. For many farmers in the developing world, Israeli know-how has fostered a revolution in milk production, enabling dairy farmers to triple or quadruple their output. Now, agritech start-up MiRobot is ready to bring the world the next big Israeli dairy farm innovation — a robot that will completely automate milk production, at a far lower cost than anything else available.

“Automated milking systems that are on the market are not really appropriate for large dairy farms,” MiRobot’s CFO David Rubin told The Times of Israel. “The robots that are available can only handle about 70 cows a day — considered small in the dairy business — and they cost between $150,000 and $200,000. But for large farms, where there are 3,000 cows at 100 milking stations, the automation is spottier, and you need a staff to connect the cows to the milking equipment.”

That costs money, and those costs are passed on to the consumers, said Rubin. The dairy business is one of low margins and profits, and in order to maximize income, farmers will try to maximize output, running the farms 24 hours a day and adding more cows. “But there’s a limit to cow productivity, and even if you try to get milk out of cow more often you still have to pay staff to do the work,” said Rubin — and that’s providing you can even find the needed workers. Especially in Western countries, finding workers willing to wade through the muck of a milking stall and physically attach a cow’s teat to a milking machine isn’t easy.

That’s why the idea of a robot for large farms — one that can handle hundreds of cows quickly and efficiently — makes sense, said Rubin, and the MiRobot system enables farmers to make sure their cows are “covered” any time of day or not – automatically, without the need for human workers to prepare the cow for milking. “The robot does all the tasks involved in getting the cow to the milking machine, whether it’s cleaning the milking mechanism, attaching cups to the teats, or ensuring that the milking mechanism is secure.” MiRobot’s system is a lot cheaper, too; on a cost per milking basis for the 8-10 years the system can be expected to last, the system will save farmers significant amounts of money.

MiRobot is set to cost only $12,000 — far less than the cost of any milking robot system — so obviously there must be differences between the system and other robots. Rubin said that the system sacrifices exacting accuracy, with parts and algorithms approximating the areas that the robot arms have to target in order to get the work done. But that’s fine for a milking station, said Rubin. “We are not talking about a machine shop, where a variation of an nth of millimeter is going to thrown off the entire manufacturing process. The cow’s teat — and the cow itself — is large enough that if the cup is positioned a few millimeters to the left or right, the milking process will be able to continue without a problem.”

Instead of working on precise actions, MiRobot’s main technology boost is in its patented imaging system, which directs the robot to the right area that it needs to target. Thus, when a cow walks into the milking stall, the robot, which is stationary, will sort of wrap its arms around the teat, attaching an already cleaned cup and proceeding with the milking operation (the cow is meanwhile busy eating, so it doesn’t mind that it’s being manipulated). If the cow does get upset, though, it won’t be able to do too much damage to the robot, as it is made of flexible plastics, rubber, and other material that will bounce right back if a cow (they’re usually pretty hefty) steps on it or kicks it.

MiRobot is an early stage firm, a part of the Trendlines Group Mofet accelerator, where it is working on getting funding to complete its prototype (Rubin said that the company will be ready for a working demo at a farm in Israel by the end of the year). The company will be traveling to the US at the end of the month to raise money from investors, as part of a roadshow sponsored by Trendlines. The company has already raised about a half million dollars, and is seeking several million more to go into full production.

Despite the “cool” economy, Rubin expects to be able to raise the needed money because MiRobot is such a unique, and necessary, innovation. “We are pretty sure the market is there,” he said. “When we talk to people in the dairy farm business about this, everyone says that if this works, it will be the greatest thing to happen in dairy farming in 100 years. We know it works, and we expect MiRobot to be very successful.”


30% increase in anti-Semitic incidents worldwide in 2012

Hungary showing gravest trends; report links surge to Europe’s economic troubles, rise of extreme right parties and Toulouse school shooting

A monument found desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti at a Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie, Poland.

A monument found desecrated with anti-Semitic graffiti at a Jewish cemetery in Wysokie Mazowieckie, Poland.

(Times of Israel) – The European Jewish Congress found a 30 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents across the world in 2012, according to an annual report the organization published on Sunday in cooperation with Tel Aviv University.

The study linked the surge to Europe’s economic troubles and a deadly attack on Jewish schoolchildren last year in Toulouse, France.

“It appears that rather than the Toulouse attacks being a shock to the system, they had the opposite effect and perhaps allowed terrorist groups in Europe to become more emboldened,” EJC President Moshe Kantor said at an anti-Semitism press conference Sunday at Tel Aviv University, pointing to attempted terror attacks across the continent against Jewish targets.

In Europe, Hungary was identified as experiencing the most worrying anti-Semitic trends and a “correlation was observed between the political strengthening of extreme right parties and the high level of anti-Semitic manifestations, including incidents of violence and vandalism,” the study revealed.

Greece and the Ukraine were also seeing similar trends of extreme right-wing parties whose anti-Semitic and anti-Israeli rhetoric have apparently helped ignite attacks.

Tel Aviv University said Sunday that 686 attacks were recorded in 34 countries, ranging from physical violence to vandalism of synagogues and cemeteries, compared to 526 in 2011. The sharp increase followed a two-year decline.

“We should be doing all we can to reverse these negative trends and there needs to be a policy of ‘zero tolerance’ for racism,” Kantor said. “We are reaching out to the leaders in Hungary and the EU and calling for the initiation of hearings in relevant committees, because this situation cannot continue.”

The EJC said in a press statement that it has written to the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, “calling on him to initiate parliamentary hearings and provide an official and regular monitoring of developments around these issues,”


What the ‘Start-Up Nation’ can do for farmers

Israel is a-bursting with great technologies to make food easier to grow. A quick foray to 6 cities will bring that message to US investors.

Steve Rhodes

Steve Rhodes

(Times of Israel) – American investors are familiar with the “Start-Up Nation,” thanks in part to the best-selling book of the same name. But while those investors concentrate on Internet, mobile, security, flash memory, and other IT-oriented innovations, they may not know about Israel’s advances in agricultural technology. Israel has developed technologies that make farmland more productive, saving money and time for farmers, and enabling the growing of produce on land that, at first glance, does not seem suitable for farming. In a world where there are more mouths to feed daily, these technologies and innovations could be very important as nations scramble to feed their burgeoning populations.

Educating investors and others about Israeli agritech is one reason Misgav-based The Trendlines Group is sponsoring a first-ever agritech road show, according to Steve Rhodes, Chairman and CEO of The Trendlines Group. “Our goal is to introduce our promising agritech companies to potential investors and strategic partners in the US,” Rhodes said. “It is also about increasing awareness among US investors and corporations about the fantastic opportunities in Israel in the agritech space.”

Five early-stage Israeli start-ups will be participating in the event, among them companies that use solar energy to power sensors that keep track of livestock (SolChip), a start-up that uses natural herbs to more effectively prevent insect infestation of plants (EdenShield), and a company with a better, cheaper way to milk cows (MiRobot). The companies address a gamut of issues farmers are interested in solving, using nontraditional methods that are the result of years of research and work by their Israeli inventors, said Rhodes.

Agritech is likely to be the “next big thing,” according to Rurik Halaby, CEO of New York-based AgriCapital, one of the largest mergers and acquisition firms working in the agritech space. In a recent interview with The Times of Israel, Halaby said that Israel’s primary contribution to the world is the knowledge that comes with teasing food out of the arid land that characterizes much of Israel’s farm territory. “Gram for gram, Israel is as productive as any nation, and considering the limitations it must work within, it is impressive and amazing.”

Despite the challenging economic climate in the US, Rhodes believes agritech start-ups have a good opportunity to connect with investors, and that the best way to make matches is to provide opportunities for investors and innovators to meet directly. The roadshow will be holding nearly 10 events in six cities across the US — New York, Detroit, Denver, St. Louis, Memphis, and Boulder, Colorado. “In dealing with any investors, but especially investors overseas, it is critical to establish the personal connection that can only be accomplished with a face-to-face meeting,” said Rhodes, “When raising capital, you need to turn over a lot of rocks before you find the money.”

The venues for that fundraising — the six cities (actually, five of the six) that the start-ups will be visiting are also “off the map” for many Israeli hi-tech startups. A mobile tech company, for example, would probably want to search for investors in places like Palo Alto, Boston, and perhaps New York as well. St. Louis, Memphis, and the other “middle American” cities on this roadshow probably wouldn’t be the first places they would look for investors, but they are exactly the kind of cities where investors would be interested in agritech.

But agritech is a different ball game, said Rhodes, who has run dozens of roadshows for companies in the tech and medical device spaces and is very familiar with investment patterns across the US. “One of the interesting things about the agritech space is that the investors are very diverse, geographically. There are strong pockets of agritech companies and investors scattered throughout the US.”

St. Louis, for example, is home to the Global Agtech Investors Network (GAIN), which runs events and facilitates investments for the over 400 agritech corporations, start-ups, and other organizations in the St. Louis area. As the “Gateway to the West,” St. Louis is right next to the wheat belt, corn belt, and other agricultural-belt states of the Midwest, making it a natural place to look for partnerships, investments, and technology in the agribusiness space. The Trendlines companies will participate in a program at GAIN in St. Louis, and in Memphis, the start-ups will participate in an event at the Memphis Bioworks Foundation. Memphis has become a national leader in the US in the biotech space; the city is the eighth-largest medical technology center in the US, with start-ups and established companies in ancillary industries such as biomedical devices, medical labs, drugs and pharmaceuticals and agricultural feedstock and chemicals.

The time is ripe, said Rhodes, for Israel to share its agritech know-how with the rest of the world. “Israel’s thriving entrepreneurial spirit has been instrumental in creating a wealth of smart agritech solutions for more than 65 years,” said Rhodes. “Today, Israel’s agricultural community benefits from synergies with the local high-tech sector, resulting in a truly exciting array of innovative agricultural developments. We’re excited to share with investors promising opportunities in agritech.”


Israeli firm talks up mankind’s recovery from the Tower of Babel

You speak in your language but the listener hears you in his or hers — by phone, via the Internet, or even face-to-face. It’s a linguistic revolution, say the innovators behind Lexifone.

An official from Changzhou (L) shakes hands with Lexifone CEO Dr. Ike Sagie after the two signed a memorandum of understanding for the opening of an R&D center in the Chinese city

An official from Changzhou (L) shakes hands with Lexifone CEO Dr. Ike Sagie after the two signed a memorandum of understanding for the opening of an R&D center in the Chinese city

(Times of Israel) – “And the whole earth was of one language, and of one speech… And they said, Come, let us build us a city and a tower, whose top may reach unto heaven… And the Lord came down to see the city and the tower… And the Lord said, Behold, the people is one, and they have all one language; and this they begin to do: and now nothing will be restrained from them, which they have imagined to do. Go to, let us go down, and there confound their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.

“So the Lord scattered them abroad from thence upon the face of all the earth: and they left off to build the city. Therefore is the name of it called Babel; because the Lord did there confound the language of all the earth: and from thence did the Lord scatter them abroad upon the face of all the earth.”  (Genesis, Chapter 11, Verses 1-9)

The Bible ascribes the diversity of languages on Earth — some 6,500 tongues in current usage, according to most estimates — to the hubris of post-flood mankind in seeking to build a tower to heaven, and a divine decision to punish that Tower of Babel construction project by “confounding” man’s capacity to communicate in a single tongue.

Now, an Israeli start-up claims to be perfecting the best means of overcoming that biblical curse of global language barriers.

“Our vision is to allow two people anywhere in the world to communicate and understand each other, no matter their language and no matter the medium — phone, Internet, or face-to-face,” said Ike Sagie, the CEO of Lexifone. “We believe that our product is the harbinger of this revolution.”

A step toward conquering the Earth’s linguistic cacophony, Lexifone lets you speak to anyone in English and (so far) seven other languages. The person on the other end (or right next to you, using an Android app) hears what you’ve just said in his or her own language. Right now, speakers of English, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, German, Russian, and Mandarin can call each other and have their conversations automatically translated; on the agenda are Japanese, Arabic, Korean, and Hebrew. More languages, including other Chinese dialects, will follow, eventually covering most global language requirements.

Using Lexifone “is like working with a translator, but a lot cheaper,” said Itay Sagie, son of Ike Sagie and the company’s head of marketing. It’s at least 15 times cheaper, he posits, depending on the nature of the live translation services a client would have used instead of Lexifone.

“Our machine interacts with you, hearing what you say and translating it for the listener. The system is extremely accurate, with the machine engaging in a back and forth with the speaker to ensure that it understood what was being said,” Itay told The Times of Israel. The system can differentiate between dialects, such as American, British and Australian English, and can take into account regional accents, thanks to voice-to-machine software packages produced by Nuance and other companies. The system is based on enhanced voice recognition with a translation mechanism.

A woman at a hotel reception desk in Mexico uses the Lexifone app to speak to clients from abroad, hearing the conversation in Spanish, regardless of the language spoken by the other party. “Mexico is now a Multi-Lingual Zone, thanks to Lexifone,” said Itay Sagie, the company’s director of marketing.

A woman at a hotel reception desk in Mexico uses the Lexifone app to speak to clients from abroad, hearing the conversation in Spanish, regardless of the language spoken by the other party. “Mexico is now a Multi-Lingual Zone, thanks to Lexifone,” said Itay Sagie, the company’s director of marketing.

The capacity to “talk” to computers and be understood by them has been around for years. What Lexifone brings to the table is a unique translation system, called computational linguistics, which can take the sentences spoken by users and quickly turn them around into the same sentence translated into another language. Lexifone strives not just for a literal translation, but a cultural one, too. “We have a committee that evaluates phrases and idioms in different languages and decides which ones are the best match in each corresponding language,” said Itay.

Hundreds of companies large and small are already using Lexifone to provide translation services for customers, clients, or employees, he said. “Among our biggest customer segments are expats who are living in countries where they are less familiar with the language. They use our software to make phone calls to government agencies, businesses, and the like.” The system works online, at the Lexifone website, or via an Android app — which, Ike Sagie said, can also be used for live, face-to-face translations via the Android device’s microphone.

“We also have many small and medium-sized businesses using it, getting translation services for a lot less than they could with a live interpreter,” Ike added. “Right now we are working on signing up large corporations and governments that have expressed interest in our services.”

Many of those using Lexifone for translation services also use it as an IP telephony app, similar to Skype, allowing users to make calls via the Lexifone app to more than a hundred countries at low rates, with the translation service built in.

Lexifone’s pride and joy is its accuracy, said Itay. There are other tools on the market, he said, but they “will give you gibberish for the most part. No one has as advanced a translation system as we do.” Several other companies, notably NTT Docomo in Japan, are making forays into the automatic translation market, “but their system is much more limited, translating Japanese to and from only a few languages. No one has taken translation as far as we have or has been as successful and accurate as we have,” the younger Sagie said.

In a demonstration at a recent technology industry event, Lexifone worked as advertised. A conversation with a Mandarin speaker went surprisingly smoothly, from the exchange of pleasantries (“hello, how are you, I am fine”) to a discussion of the weather (“It’s raining here, what’s the weather over there?”) to a relatively complicated sentence (“How much wood would a woodchuck chuck if a woodchuck could chuck wood?”). Most of the translations were nearly instantaneous, with a two-second computer beep differentiating between the original sentence and the translation, which both participants in the conversation heard. (The woodchuck line was a bit slower — about three seconds.)

Lexifone is a relatively young company, established in 2010 at the Hi-Center accelerator in Haifa, but its products are already in use around the world. “We are working in countries where there is a high language barrier, such as Russia, China, and Latin America,” said Itay Sagie. Among the company’s marketing efforts is developing programs for local governments in the US, said Ike Sagie. “Many local and even state governments are doing business with companies, suppliers, and officials in foreign countries, and especially in the US many people do not have a foreign language. With Lexifone they will have a much cheaper and easier way to communicate with non-English speakers.”  (more >>>)


The top 65 ways Israel is saving our planet

Since 1948, Israel has set itself a task of finding creative solutions to some of the world’s most pressing problems. To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, ISRAEL21c looks at some of the best achievements.

A member of IsraAid helping out local residents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

A member of IsraAid helping out local residents in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.

(Israel21c) – When 22-year-old Emmannuel Buso was pulled barely-alive from the rubble of a three-story building 10 days after an earthquake devastated the island of Haiti, the first faces he saw were those of the Israeli rescue workers who had flown across the world to save lives.

For Haji Edum, from Zanzibar, his life-saving moment came twice, when he was flown at age 15, and then again at 23, to Israel for open-heart surgery. He is just one of thousands of youngsters to receive emergency heart care from volunteer doctors in Israel.

War veterans suffering post-traumatic stress in the US; farmers in Senegal, India and China; young women in South Sudan; the wheelchair-bound in Africa; cardiac patients in Gaza and Iraq – all have received life-changing help and expertise from Israeli specialists.

Today we all know the story of Israel the startup nation. News of its technological prowess and incredible innovation has spread far and wide. But what many people don’t know is that Israel is exporting far more than just technology. It is also sharing its experience and skills in a whole range of humanitarian and environmental fields to help people everywhere live better, fuller and healthier lives.

Since Israel was founded in 1948, the country has set itself the goal of becoming a light unto the nations. In the early years of the state, despite austerity rationing, the Israeli government founded MASHAV, the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ Center for International Cooperation, as a vehicle to share Israel’s creative solutions with the rest of the developing world.

Israel remains true to that vision and every year, with little fanfare, and sometimes very little press attention, Israelis work long hours to find solutions and offer relief to some of the most pressing problems of our times.

From environmental breakthroughs that will help reduce greenhouse emissions, to technologies that can increase food production and save vital crops, to humanitarian aid missions in the wake of catastrophic natural disasters, Israelis are providing significant assistance.

To celebrate Israel’s 65th birthday, ISRAEL21c takes a look at some of the many creative and varied ways Israel is helping to enrich and improve our planet.

The list comes in no particular order, and is by no means exhaustive. There are hundreds, if not thousands, more worthy projects going on every day. If you’ve got a project worth hearing about, we’d be delighted if you include it in our comments section at the end.

1. An Israeli company is developing a toilet that needs no water, and generates its own power to turn solid waste (including toilet roll) into sterile and odorless fertilizer in 30 seconds. Liquid waste is sterilized and then used to flush the toilet. Developer Paulee CleanTec has been awarded a grant by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, which reports that about 80 percent of human waste goes into rivers and streams untreated, and 1.1 billion people don’t use a toilet.

2. Fifty years ago, Lake Victoria carp was a significant part of the diet of Ugandan villagers. But when Nile perch was introduced to the lake, it decimated the carp population. Villagers had neither the equipment nor the expertise to catch the huge perch, and symptoms of protein deficiency started becoming apparent in their children.

Prof. Berta Sivan of the Hebrew University of Jerusalem came to the rescue with a multiyear project to help these African families. Using expertise developed in Israel, her project not only successfully spawned carp on Ugandan fish farms, but also provided training on how to dig and fill ponds and raise the small fish. Now local children have an abundant supply of protein.

3. About 50 percent of every grain and pulse harvest in the developing world is lost to pests and mold, but an Israeli scientist has developed a surprisingly simple and cheap way for African and Asian farmers to keep their grain market-fresh. International food technology consultant Prof. Shlomo Navarro invented huge bags, now marketed by US company GrainPro, which keep both water and air out. The bags are in use all over the developing world, including Africa and the Far East, and even in countries that don’t have diplomatic ties with Israel.

israaid_haiti1-222x1804. In January 2010, Israel won international praise for the speed and expertise with which it responded to a devastating 7.0-magnitude earthquake in Haiti that killed 300,000 people, injured hundreds of thousands and laid waste to the poverty-stricken country.

A team of 240 Israeli doctors, nurses, rescue and relief workers arrived in Haiti just days after the quake, bringing medicines, communications and medical equipment. Israel Defense Forces (IDF) volunteers set up the country’s most advanced and well-equipped field hospital in the capital of Port-Au-Prince. Israeli search-and-rescue missions pulled survivors from the rubble, saving many Haitians, including a man trapped for 10 days.

The delegation included volunteers from IsraAID, the IDF, ZAKA, Magen David Adom (MADA), Tevel B’Tzedek, the Negev Institute, and Alyn Hospital. It was the largest Israeli civilian relief mission ever assembled, and was one of the biggest and most skilled on the island.

In the wake of the disaster, Israel continues to send aid and assistance, including educational projects, trauma programs, micro-financing, development and relief work, rebuilding of communities and schools, aid packages, empowerment for women, and medical assistance.

5. The invention of drip irrigation by Israeli Simcha Blass and its development by Netafim, and later Plastro and NaanDan Jain, has completely revolutionized agriculture across the world, enabling farmers to increase their yields with less water. Constantly upgraded Israeli drip-irrigation techniques are regularly shared with other countries through MASHAV, Israel’s Center for International Cooperation.

6. Tal-Ya Water Technologies has developed reusable plastic trays to collect dew from the air, reducing the water needed by crops or trees by up to 50 percent. The square serrated trays, made from non-PET recycled and recyclable plastic with UV filters and a limestone additive, surround each plant or tree. With overnight temperature change, dew forms on both surfaces of the Tal-Ya tray, which funnels the dew and condensation straight to the roots. If it rains, the trays – which are now on sale – heighten the effect of each millimeter of water 27 times over.

7. About 1.6 million children under the age of five die from untreated drinking water in developing nations every year. An Israeli company has developed a water purification system that delivers safe drinking water from almost any source, including contaminated water, seawater and even urine.

WaterSheer’s Sulis personal water purifier is a small 10-gram mouthpiece that attaches to the top of a water bottle. The company has also developed systems to treat large quantities of water.

Sulis has been used in Taiwan, Myanmar and Haiti, and will be part of contingency plans in case of disaster at the 2016 Olympic Games in Brazil.

8. Israel is building a model agricultural village in South Sudan to teach local farmers about Israeli agricultural methods and technologies to help the fledgling African nation thrive.

9. In plants in China, Italy and the United States, Israeli company Seambiotic is using algae to turn carbon dioxide emitted by power plants into fuel and nutraceuticals. The company’s algae ponds, which are nourished by power plant effluent and sunlight, generate 30 times more feedstock for biofuel than do crop alternatives. The algae are a good source of valuable nutraceuticals, especially popular in China and the East.

Seambiotic is also working with the US National Aviation and Space Administration (NASA) to develop a commercially feasible biofuel variety from algae that has a higher freezing point than biofuels from corn or sugarcane.

chimp10. The lives of thousands of endangered animals in West and Central Africa are being saved thanks to the tireless efforts of Israeli law enforcement activist Ofir Drori, who founded the Last Great Ape Organization (LAGA) in Cameroon, the first wildlife law-enforcement NGO in Africa.

The organization helped propagate a zero-tolerance approach to illegal wildlife trafficking in Cameroon, which has resulted in hundreds of arrests and prosecutions. The model has been replicated throughout West and Central Africa in activities that go beyond nature conservation to the defense of human rights.


Israel’s economy has the power to astound

Shekel-300x155( – During 2012, the three leading global credit rating companies, and the International Monetary Fund (IMF) commended Israel’s economic performance and expressed confidence in its long-term viability. On September 30, 2012, Standard and Poor’s (S&P) reaffirmed Israel’s A+ credit rating, at a time when it lowered the credit rating of an increasing number of Western countries.  According to S&P, “the Israeli economy continues to generate solid economic growth….  Major security risks will be contained…. There is sufficient political will to prevent a sizable increase in the government’s debt burden…. We forecast that by the middle of the decade domestic natural gas production should contribute to improved external and fiscal balances.”

On September 3, 2012, Moody’s sustained Israel’s A1 credit rating, stating that “Israel’s stable outlook is underpinned by the country’s high economic, institutional and government financial strength…supported by its relatively high GDP per capita [US$32, 000] and its economic resilience…. The country’s specialized-export sector is well-positioned to rebound quickly should the global environment normalize…. Moody’s judges Israel’s susceptibility to event risk as moderate based on the political risks facing the country, both domestic and external…. Israel’s own gas production will increase substantially between 2013 and 2016.” On April 23, 2012, Fitch Ratings maintained Israel’s long-term foreign exchange and local currency credit rating at A and A+ respectively, despite the ongoing war on Palestinian terrorism, the Iranian nuclear threat and the raging Arab Street. Fitch cited “Israel’s strong institutions and solid recent macroeconomic performance, rich, diversified economy and strong external balance sheet against a high level of government debt and longstanding geopolitical concerns.”

On April 2, 2012, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) published its annual report on Israel’s economy: “Israel’s economy remains strong… led by robust private consumption and buoyant investment…. Israel’s fundamentals are strong: inflation and inflation expectations are squarely within the 1-3 percent target range; unemployment is at historic lows; the net international investment position is a surplus; and public debt has fallen steadily to below 75 percent of GDP…. The Israeli financial system currently appears to be generally robust…. The current combination of external threats and the relative stability of the domestic system are propitious for strengthening the crisis management framework….”  The IMF report adds that the recent discoveries of natural gas fields may transform Israel to a net energy exporter in coming years.

Israel’s economic indicators

While most of the world is afflicted by an economic meltdown, Israel demonstrates fiscal responsibility, sustained economic growth and a conservative, well-regulated banking system with no banking or real estate bubble. For example, from a 450% galloping inflation in 1984, Israel managed to hold inflation in check – 1.6% in 2012.  Israel’s budget deficit and unemployment were 4.2% and 6.9% respectively in 2012, significantly lower than the OECD average of 7% and 8%. During the 2009-2012 global economic crisis – without a stimulus package and in spite of the stoppage of the natural gas supply from Egypt, which increased energy cost – Israel experienced a 14.7% growth of gross domestic product (GDP), the highest among OECD countries.  Israel led Australia (10.7%), Canada (4.8%), USA (3.2%), Germany (2.7%), France (0.3%) and the Euro Bloc which suffered a 1.5% decline in GDP. Israel’s 2012 GDP growth (3.3%) leads the OECD which averaged 1.4%, higher than the US (2.2%) and Canada (2%), but lower than India (4.5%) and China (7.5%).

Israel’s GDP of $250BN in 2012 catapulted 120 times since 1948.  From $1,132 and $19,836 GDP per capita in 1962 and 2000 respectively, Israel surged to $32,000 GDP per capita in 2012. While the debt/GDP ratio – a key indicator for the rating companies – is the Achilles’ heel of most countries, Israel has managed to reduce it rapidly.  From about 100% in 2002, it was compressed to 75% in 2012, compared with the OECD average of 78%.

The Bank of Israel foreign exchange reserves – which are critical to sustain global confidence in Israel’s economy and Israel’s capabilities during emergencies – soared from $25BN in 2004 to $75BN in 2012, 26th in the world and one of the top per capita countries. The Swiss-based Institute for Management Development (IMD) ranks the Bank of Israel (Israel’s “Federal Reserve”) among the top five central banks in its 2012 World Competitiveness Yearbook for the third year in a row. Recognizing Israel’s promising economic indicators, Kasper Villiger, Chairman of the United Bank of Switzerland (UBS) indicated that China, Hong Kong, Brazil, Russia and Israel are the future growth engines for UBS.  Deloitte Touche, one of the top four global CPA firms opined that Israel is the fourth most attractive site for overseas investors, trailing the USA, Brazil and China, but ahead of India, Canada, Singapore, Taiwan, Australia, England, Germany and Japan.

Israel – the high-tech country

According to Warren Buffet, one of the most successful and conservative investors in the world: “If you’re going to the Middle East to look for oil, you can skip Israel.  However, if you’re looking for brains, look no further. [Israel] has a disproportionate amount of brains and energy.”  In 2006, Berkshire Hathaway, Buffett’s investment company, made its first ever acquisition outside the US, in Israel, purchasing 80% of the Israeli company Iscar for $4 billion.  In his annual letter to Berkshire Hathaway’s stockholders, Buffett defined the Iscar investment as “the highlight of the year,” adding that “at Iscar, as throughout Israel, brains and energy are ubiquitous (New York Sun, March 2).”

Eric Schmidt, Google’s Executive Chairman, has been a frequent investor in Israel’s high-tech via his own private venture capital fund, Innovation Endeavors.  He considers Israel “the most important high-tech center in the world after the US,” which will have an oversized impact on the evolution of the next stage of technology. In fact, Google established a large engineering and sales operation in Israel, whose achievements are definitely world-class. Intel has led the pack of some 400 global high tech giants which operate in Israel. Intel features, in Israel, four research and development centers, two manufacturing plants and investments in 64 Israeli start ups. Intel’s President and CEO, Paul Otellini, revealed that “we are the largest private employer in Israel (8,200 employees), and most of those employees have technological know-how. Some of our most sophisticated engineering efforts are carried out in Israel…. We have been in Israel for 40 years and we have done many things. We’re here for the long term. A Wall Street Journal book review of The Start Up Nation reported that “Steve Ballmer [Microsoft's CEO] calls Microsoft as much an Israeli company as an American company, because of the importance of its Israeli technologies. Google, Cisco, Intel, Microsoft, eBay…live and die by the work of [their] Israeli teams…. Israel, a tiny nation of immigrants torn by war, has managed to become the first technology nation….”

Highlighting Israel’s emergence as a high-tech superpower and a unique ally of the US, George Gilder, the author of The Israel Test and a high-tech guru, wrote in The Wall Street Journal: “Israel cruised through the recent global slump with no deficit or stimulus package… It is the global master of microchip design, network algorithms and medical instruments…water recycling and desalinization…missile defense, robotic warfare, and UAVs…[supplying] Intel with many of its microprocessors (Pentium, Sandbridge, Atom, Centrino)… Cisco with new core router designs and real-time programmable network processors… [supplying]Apple with miniaturized memory systems for its iPhones, iPods and iPads, and Microsoft with user interface designs for the OS7 product line and the Kinect gaming motion-sensor interface….U.S. defense and prosperity increasingly depend on the ever-growing economic and technological power of Israel. If we stand together we can deter or defeat any foe…. We need Israel as much as it needs us.”

The high-tech giants don’t just talk the Israel-talk; they walk the Israeli-walk. For instance, Cisco just made its 11th Israeli acquisition, acquiring IntuCell for $475MN; IBM acquired WorkLight for $60MN, its 11th Israeli acquisition; Sequoia Capital, one of the world leading venture capital funds, introduced its 5th Israeli-dedicated $200MN fund; Hong Kong’s $22.5BN Sir Li Ka-Shing, the 9th wealthiest person in the world, made his 7th Israeli investment; ChemChina acquired 60% of Agan  for $1.44BN; Siemens acquired solar energy Solel ($418MN) and 40% of Arava Power ($15MN); Apple made its 1st Israeli acquisition – its first research and development center outside the USA – acquiring Anobit for $400MN; the Dallas-based DG acquired MediaMind $517MN; etc..

Israel’s competitive edge

Israel attracts the elite of global high-tech due to its competitive edge, offering a unique high-tech environment. For instance, the Shanghai Jiaotong University’s Academic Ranking of World Universities – one of 3 most influential rankings – includes four Israeli universities among the top thirty computer science universities in the world.  Twenty universities are from the US, four from Israel, two each from Canada and the UK and one each from Switzerland and Hong Kong.

Israel leads the world in its research and development manpower per capita: 140 Israelis (per 10,000) and 85 Americans (per 10,000) are ahead of the rest of the world.  Israel’s qualitative workforce benefits from the annual Aliya (immigration of Jews) of skilled persons from the former USSR, Europe, the USA, Latin America and Australia, who join Israeli graduates from Israeli institutions of higher learning. In addition, Israel’s high-tech absorbs veterans of the elite high-tech units of Israel Defense Forces.  Israel’s defiance of unique security and economic challenges has produced unique, innovative and cutting edge solutions, technologies and production lines. Israel’s informal society has also nurtured ongoing interaction between the academic, research, military and industrial sectors. Moreover, Israel’s robust demography – which leads the Free World with three births per Jewish woman – provides a tailwind for Israel’s economy.

In order to sustain its competitive high-tech edge, Israel dedicates 4.5% of its GDP to research and development, the highest proportion in the world, ahead of the OECD (2.3%), Sweden (3.8%), Finland (3.5%), South Korea (3.4%), Japan (3.3%), the US (2.8%), Germany (2.7%) and Canada (1.7%). In advance of Israel’s 64th anniversary, Nicky Blackburn, editor and Israel Director of “Israel 21st Century”, wrote: “With the most startups per capita worldwide, and the third highest number of patents per head, Israel has become one of the leading players in the world of high-tech innovation, attracting international giants to its shores. From health breakthroughs to technology, agriculture, the environment and the arts, the country’s innovations are transforming and enriching lives everywhere. Israel today is playing a significant role in some of the most important challenges facing our planet.”

In hindsight, the ongoing wars and terrorism, since Israel’s establishment in 1948, have been just bumps on the way to unprecedented economic and technological growth. Wall Street is much more pertinent than the Gaza Strip!


Israel to build modern hospital in Bulgaria

A modern medical center for bone marrow transplantation with the know-how of Hadassah Hospital of Jerusalem will be opened in Varna by the end of the current year.  Also, a University of Haifa program will allow 3rd-year Israeli students to finish their diplomas in Bulgaria.

orig_42346_en( – (Sofia, April 4) - Israeli student will study in the Medical University of Varna starting from the next academic year, said deputy rector Accoc. Prof. Albena Kerekovska. The project was developed by the Varna Medical University and the University of Haifa. It envisages that the third-year students from Israel will continue and finish their education in Bulgaria and will get diplomas that will be recognized in Israel and in the EU.

“What happened in Bulgaria 70 years ago has no analogue in Europe. Today the Jews of Bulgarian origin are among the best Israeli musicians, military and medical professionals. These people are alive thanks to their Bulgarian rescuers,” said Ambassador of Israel to Bulgaria Shaul Kamisa-Raz.

His Excellency added that Bulgaria showed interest in the healthcare model adopted in Israel. Apart from that the two countries develop joint projects in genetics and in-vitro programs.
A modern medical center for bone marrow transplantation with the know-how of Hadassah Hospital of Jerusalem will be opened in Varna by the end of the current year.


Israel invited to TedMed

The USA’s annual TedMed conference is normally an American-only event, where doctors can relax and discuss matters that really concern them.  This year, Israel will be the first country outside of the US to be officially represented.  And on the final day, a satellite TedMed event will be held in Israel.

F130321GPO13-635x357(Times of Israel) – Doctors are usually a staid bunch, but there’s one place they can safely let their hair down — the annual TedMed Conference, to be held this year in Washington, DC. Israelis will be there too, presenting the latest innovations in Israeli-made medical technology. It’s a singular honor for Israel; this is the first time that a country other than the US will be officially represented at TedMed.

Modeled after the TED talks on innovation held in the Silicon Valley and points beyond, TedMed, which runs between April 16 and 18, features a mix of presentations about technology, medical and social issues, and social networking and leisure events (organized running, yoga, and meditation sessions) for hundreds of doctors, administrators, information technology specialists, insurance industry workers, and many others who work in the healthcare industry. Talks run the gamut of issues affecting healthcare, such as “When is ‘safe dosing’ a dangerous prescription?”, “How do we make prevention a $1 trillion business?”, and “Who is the real medical expert?”

Many of the speakers “push the envelope” with their ideas and presentations. It’s the kind of place where a hospital director might pick up a guitar and sing his speech to listeners, and where a doctor with the unlikely name of “ZdoggMD” (his real name is Zubin Damania) could speak about his fears that “zombie doctors are taking over America.” (The zombies in this case are not the undead, but medical practitioners who are not socially conscious).

It is in this eclectic atmosphere that Israeli biotechnology experts, doctors, academics, and medical and business professionals will be displaying some of the newest, top-flight medical technology coming out of Israel. Some 3,000 individuals attend TedMed, and they represent the cream of the crop of the medical profession and industry. Scoring an invitation is considered a great honor, and although attendees come from around the world, this is the first time a country has been invited to represent itself at the event.

Along with the main presentations, TedMed will feature an innovation center where entrepreneurs from around the world will present their ideas, products, and services. Israel will have its own booth at the center (the only country to be represented as such), where several Israeli startups will be presenting their wares. TedMed’s Innovation Center generally attract a great deal of media and investor attention, and Israeli officials have high hopes that deals with US companies and organizations will be made at the event.

Israel is a world leader in many areas of medical technology, and is at the forefront of research in dozens of areas. Israeli medical technology got a huge boost just recently, when US President Barack Obama had an opportunity to review – and be impressed – by some of Israel’s important medical solutions. Among the technologies Obama was shown was that of ReWalk, which enables paraplegics formerly confined to wheelchairs to walk again.

Besides the Israeli presence at the Washington event, Israel will be hosting its own TedMed – the first time the show’s organizers are authorizing a “satellite” event in a foreign country. The Israeli event will take place April 18, and will feature live broadcasts of TedMed talks and events – and several of the talks that will be given by Israeli speakers at the local event will be broadcast to TedMed attendees in Washington.

Israel’s participation in TedMed was the idea of the Eliram brothers, Yaron and Eitan Eliram, a lawyer and doctor, respectively. Dr. Eitan Eliram, who is currently New Media Advisor at the Prime Minister’s Office, said that Israel belongs at an event like TedMed. “Israel is known around the world as the Startup Nation, specializing in high-tech,” he said. “Now the time has come to present Israel’s accomplishments in the areas of health, biotechnology, and pharma, in order to ensure that the word gets out about how Israeli innovations are changing the world.”


Israeli plants fight infections

(Thanks to NoCamels) Israeli herbs have generated special chemical compounds to deal with the extremes of the climate. Israel’s Nufar Natural Products is developing these plants to treat problematic wounds, assist in treating fungal and other skin infections and fight parasites.

medicinal-plants-460x250( – A recent research has discovered that some Israeli herbs are as effective as modern medicine in battling bacterial, fungal infections and infectious diseases.

The Israeli climate, which is characterized by hot and sometimes windy weather, has resulted in plants developing special chemical compounds to deal with the extreme conditions they grow in. The therapeutic value of these chemicals was discovered by a team of researchers from Israel, funded by the EU.

Initial results from the external use of such herbs have shown that they can be used to treat problematic wounds, assist in treating fungal and other skin infections as well as for fighting parasites.

From plant to product

Nufar Natural Products, an Israeli company that utilizes these research findings, is developing and producing various products based on different medicinal herbs. Among the products produced is a series of Nufar teas, preparations based on aromatic and plant oils as well as natural cosmetic products.

Israel Solodoch, Nufar’s CEO, says that in the future it will be possible to develop natural preparations for treating fungal infections and lice based on these findings, as well as other preparations for Nufar’s natural cosmetics line.

 his research was conducted at the Jerusalem Hadassah College by Dr. Mina Farran, Dr. Gili Yosef, Dr. Barthold Friedlander and with the participation of students from the Faculty of Biotechnology, botanists and experts in Israel’s medicinal herbs. The research is within the scope of a project called Bio Explore funded by the European Union. It was also undertaken in cooperation with research groups from the Palestinian Authority, Greece and Spain.

Test kits were used for this research that were made with the participation of Dr. Gili Yosef. These kits have also been used by other ethno-botanical researchers in various countries around the world including: Ecuador, South Africa, Botswana, Namibia, Kenya, Tanzania, and elsewhere.

In each of these countries, Dr. Yosef has instructed locals on how to use these kits to prepare surveys of the medicinal use that can be made of those herbs growing in their countries.

Dr. Mina Farran says that these findings are only preliminary, that they must be investigated in greater detail and that other tests must be made before it will be possible to determine the final findings and other conclusions.


A UAV in your backpack

A new unmanned drone from Israel’s Elbit Systems is a game-changer for the IDF.  It takes 8 minutes to assemble, launched from a bungee cord, flies at 15,000 feet for three hours and its on-board camera shows exactly what is happening on the ground.

2013-04-11 11.11.41 pm( – NEGEV DESERT, Israel — Many Americans worry the U.S. government could use drones to spy on or attack its own citizens.

By contrast, the Israel Defense Forces is using a relatively new type of drone, developed by Elbit Systems, to save Israeli and Palestinian lives.

It’s called Skylark — one of the world’s smallest drones. It’s the kind of tool becoming increasingly crucial to the global war on terrorism.

“It’s a game changer. It really is,” IDF officer-in-training Noam Goldstein told CBN News. “Once they [troops] didn’t know what was behind this house, what was behind this mountain. You know now, in two seconds you know and you can act accordingly.”

The IDF gave CBN News a private look at this mini unmanned aerial system, or UAS, in the Negev Desert.

Soldiers carry the 13-pound Skylark to the field in a backpack.

“Its goal is to assist the ground forces with live intelligence from the next field, the next corner, in the next alley,” Lt. Ori Edry, with the IDF’s Artillery Corp Skyrider Unit, explained.

The unit can assemble and launch the Skylark within eight minutes, giving Israeli troops a new and potentially life-saving advantage in the field.

“The unique thing is they are actually working inside the field like every [all] ground troops and they’re using a really, really advanced technology,” Edry continued.

Soldiers launch this hi-tech drone into the wind from a bungee cord. It doesn’t take long before it’s out of sight.

The Skylark can fly up to 15,000 feet in the air for three hours at a time at about 50 mph — and even faster if there’s a good tailwind.

“Right now we’re three people on [the] computer. Each one has different jobs,” Goldstein explained. “Right now he’s actually flying the plane. He’s in charge of giving all the commands so that basically everything the plane does is under his control.”

Operators don’t need flight experience to operate the drone — only to point the camera and the Skylark responds, taking video night or day and in all weather conditions.

What the Skylark sees is shown in IDF training videos. It can save troops from ambush as well as prevent civilian casualties.

“Actually, we use it with a battalion making arrests in the West Bank for some terrorists,” Goldstein continued. “If he’s running, we’re going to chase him with the plane, the UAV, and tell them [troops on the ground] how to go and run after him.”

It can also solve legal questions because everything is recorded.

“It’s a legal proof that there weren’t civilians there. That it’s really [a] terrorist there, or terrorists launch missiles or whatever,” Goldstein said.

According to the Skylark’s developer and manufacturer, Elbit Systems, the UAS is currently operated by NATO countries and others around the world, including the U.K. in Iraq and Afghanistan.

It has parliamentary, homeland security, and civilian markets.

When Skylark is finished with its mission, the engine stalls, an airbag pops out and drops to the ground. Mission accomplished!


Clean panels for more solar power

Frequent Middle-East storms can coat solar panes with dust, reducing their efficiency substantially.  Sergey Biryukov at Ben Gurion University’s National Solar Energy Center came up with the idea of using an electrical field to “charge” the dust particles and repel them from the solar panels.

shutterstock_1823838-Dust-Storm-in-Dubai-harbor-560x373( – Solar voltaic panels, which at their best only have about 25 percent efficiency for converting direct sunlight into electricity, have even less efficiency than this when dust and heavy air pollution is factored in. A number of solar innovations can deal with desert dust and sand storms including Martian technology from  earth to Mars space programs for ‘zapping’ dust from solar panels on terrestrial unmanned exploration vehicles.

Due to frequent dust and sand storms in the United Arab Emirates (like at Shams solar plant) and other parts of the Middle East, the efficacy of the solar cells is reduced even less if they are afterwards covered with dust. In order to alleviate this problem, a researcher, Sergey Biryukov at Israel’s Ben Gurion National Solar Energy Center came up with the idea of using an electrical field to “charge” the dust particles and repel them from the solar panels.He also specializes in optimizing solar energy output under clouds.

But in his new technique Biryukov applies two electrodes to repel the dust. One electrode charges the particles through a process called field charging, or ion bombardment. This gives all particles, regardless of size, the same charge, Biryukov says. Another electrode bearing the opposite charge then repels the particles. According to another researcher at the Center, David Faiman, the dust particle repelling technique also is useful in periodic cleaning of the panels.

2013-04-11 11.14.28 pmDusty by-products
The technique may also be useful in “sorting out” various particle sizes which can be incorporated in other functions, such as producing pharmaceuticals and powdered food, the researchers say.

Watch how electric charge can repel dust:

Areas in the Middle East where fog storms and dust storms are frequent and solar energy is beginning to be incorporated into local electrical systems may well benefit from Biryukov’s technique, one it is put into actual production.

Better yet: Biryukov has created a special computerized control system designed to pick the right moment for cleaning of the dust.


The dark side of the Internet

Ben Gurion University engineer Mark Last has developed a system for detecting websites used for illegal military activities.  It analyzes the occurrence of certain words and highlights those sites with an unusually high frequency of them.  The system has near-perfect success rates.

terrorism( – In 2001, Mark Last, an information systems engineer at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in Israel, stumbled on the official website of the Chechen rebels. Though the insurgents based themselves in remote hideouts strewn throughout the rugged Caucasus Mountains, their website was incredibly fast and sophisticated.

“It was better than my own university’s site,” Last recalled. “The server was obviously hosted somewhere far from the actual location, but it didn’t matter. They had a very efficient way of communicating their position and view to people in different parts of the world.”

Just as sites dedicated to personal blogs and social networking popped up in the early 2000s, terrorists also began taking advantage of the web and all it offers. Like so many other organizations, terrorists then and now use the Internet for online forums, file sharing, fund raising and recruitment. But they also exploit the web as a means of exchanging information on forgery, preparing explosives and other unsavory activities.

Today, many terrorist sites parade as religious forums or news portals. A reader who comes across one of these sites would likely gather that it has something to do with Gaza and a specific set of people there, but are not likely to find any official statement affiliating it with Hamas. Most of these sites can be visited by anyone.

“For most sites, there is no official ‘Welcome to the Hezbollah’s Website’ message,” said Last, referring to the Shiite terrorist group. “Instead, they usually try to pretend to be another information outlet.”

Many terrorist groups launched websites after 9/11, including Al Qaeda, Hezbollah and Hamas. Versions in different languages likewise expanded from Arabic to Hebrew, English and Farsi. Many rely on remote servers, just like the Chechnya site that Last found.

No one knows how many jihadist sites exist. There were about 5,000 such sites five years ago. Today, the number has probably climbed into the tens of thousands, Last said.

While a YouTube video of a terrorist beheading or a message from the late Osama Bin Laden may be easy to classify as terrorism-related, other content posted behind deceptive facades can be hard to detect.

To get around this obstacle, Last developed a way to identify terrorist writings on the web automatically. The new method he and his colleagues created, called the Advanced Terrorist Detection System, allows researchers to sort through massive amounts of multi-lingual content.

The system is rooted in algorithms that categorize documents into different pre-set genres. Such algorithms — called characterization models — had been widely used to sort sites into groups, such as sports or science, but Last began tailoring them to sniff out terrorist activities. He and his colleagues first started with English documents attained from terrorist sites on the web, and then moved on to Arabic.

Their models revealed several surprising twists. Terrorists, it turns out, use specific vocabulary to deliver messages. Of the tens of thousands of different words that appear on any given site, only a select handful suggests terrorist authors. Most Arabic-writing terrorists never use any version of the word “Israel,” for example, opting instead for “Zion.” Conventional Arabic media sites, on the other hand, usually only use the term “Zionist” once, if at all, in a single article. Hezbollah is an exception to this rule.

On such terrorist pages, suicide bombers become shahid, or “martyrs,” and the practice may also be referred to as “human bombing.” The word “enemy” also speckles terrorist documents with uncanny frequency.

“Terrorists apparently need enemies,” Last said. “If they don’t have enemies, it seems they don’t have a reason to exist.”

When optimally tuned, the detection system achieved near-perfect success rates. The program should be capable of simultaneously monitoring hundreds of thousands of users in real-time, though issues with scalability need to be worked out for those goals to be realized.

Despite the advances in detection, terrorist sites are likely here to stay. Hezbollah’s webmaster, Ali Ayoub, once said his organization “will never give up the Internet.” The persistence of terrorist-run sites suggests he’s right.

Yet Last sees another possible outcome. In Fighting Terror in Cyberspace, he and co-author Abraham Kandel write that extremists could abandon the web and turn against it.

The authors say, “This situation may change abruptly once the terrorists decide that the net does not serve their purposes anymore, and like any other invention of our civilization, deserves destruction.”

Rachel Nuwer is a freelance science journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, Smithsonian and Science. She lives in Brooklyn.


Simulators for Finland

Israel’s Simlat Ltd was selected to provide an Unmanned Air vehicle System (UAS) Training Center to the Finish Defense Forces.

Images-of-Orbiter-Platform-image-on-the-right-from-the-simulation-system-300x109( – The Israeli company was selected to provide a UAS Training Center including its high fidelity UAS training systems to the FDF, as part of the FDF Mini UAS program.

 The simulation center will support of the new Orbiter Mini UAS fleet which was selected by the FDF last summer as its future UAS. The program includes the manufacturing and delivery of Orbiter Mini UAS, as well as the development of independent operational, training and maintenance capability.

The Training and Simulation Center will include advanced simulator stations deployed in Finland as well as a 3D modeling and scenario creating capability, which will enable the FDF to autonomously develop its training program and to train its new and experienced operators and instructors. The simulation will provide a high-fidelity realistic environment for Orbiter operator trainees for initial and currency training as well as mission rehearsal.

Orbiter Mini UAS, developed and manufactured by Aeronautics Ltd. is a high end Mini UAS designed for long endurance and range missions. It is equipped with an advanced electrooptical payload, and with a fully digital data-link system. Having outstanding resistance to extreme weather conditions, the Orbiter MUAS may be operated in snow and rain as well as in maritime missions.

 Nira Streifler, Product Manager from Simlat, says: “We are glad to be a part of this program and provide our core UAS simulation products that adhere to the demanding requirements of the customer including platform, payload and weather and environment simulation”.


* Thanks to for a number of stories.

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