While Israel still has some regulatory kinks to work out, the small Middle Eastern country is poised to link its innovative spirit with Europe’s established business practices to spur growth in technological breakthroughs, according to business leaders at the recent Go4Europe conference in Tel Aviv.
“We are looking for the best talent in the world, and Israel is known for having some of the best talent,” Meir Brand, the managing director of Google Israel, Greece and sub-Saharan Africa, told The Media Line. “We also look for the entrepreneurial spirit and the risk taking that Israelis are comfortable with.”
Brand was among a large group of leading financiers and high-tech CEOs who discussed their vision for creating more cooperative connections between Israel and Europe. The presenters spoke of Israeli know-how and Israelis’ inclination to challenge the status quo.
“One thing in Israel is the cultural element, the disrespect of authority, together with extremely strong technical skills,” Dor Skuler, the vice president of Franco-American telecommunications company Alcatel-Lucent told The Media Line.
“There is also a very healthy and strong team spirit (among Israelis). They’re very helpful to each other, and they have a mindset that focuses on the success of the team. They also have a real hunger to disrupt the market.”
While Israel holds promise with those looking to create new digital products, companies who want to engage in larger infrastructure projects still face issues of regulation and government interference.
“There’s a lot of non-coordination between ministries when it comes to national infrastructure, which can cost an entrepreneur a lot of money because of delays if they don’t know how to work the system,” Yosef Abramowitz, a solar power pioneer and CEO of Energiya Global, told The Media Line.
“Our advice for international investors who do want to benefit from long term, green investments in the state of Israel is to find a trusted local partner who can navigate the politics and bureaucracies in Israel.”
According to a recent Bank of Israel study, the average construction time for a project in Israel is 14 years. This lengthy process is one that has stymied business opportunities.
“We’ve seen solar energy companies that have left Israel,” Abramowitz said. “And we’ve seen solar energy companies that have closed shop. So that should be a warning sign to the Ministry of Finance that the state has been squandering the opportunity to have billions of dollars invested in its energy infrastructure. Security has to be given to investors about the future of the industry.”
The Star of David could join the 20 other flags of the European Organization for Nuclear Research, or CERN, if the organization that runs the world’s largest particle physics lab votes Israel in.
CERN’s governing council, made up of representatives from each member nation, meets on December 12. Israel will need a unanimous vote to become the first non-European member of the organization based just outside Geneva.
Scientists and diplomats told Haaretz they are optimistic about the vote despite the crisis between the European Union and Israel over Brussels’ guidelines that bar Israeli projects with links on the other side of the Green Line. The issue has snarled talks on Israel’s participation in the Horizon 2020 research program, but it should not affect the CERN candidacy because Israel’s membership does not entail funding from EU countries.
“The membership process is very long and complex, but votes in the past have been supportive of Israel,” said Eviatar Manor, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and international organizations in Geneva. “We’re on track and hopefully on December 12 we’ll become full members.”
Israel has cooperated on CERN experiments since the 1980s, becoming an observer in 1991. In 2011 it applied for membership, launching a probationary period.
“Scientists from around the world are aware of this and are very happy and excited,” said Erez Etizion, a Tel Aviv University physicist who works at CERN. “The lab is opening up to non-European countries and Israel was a natural candidate.”
Founded in 1954 on the Swiss-French border, CERN operates particle accelerators in which subatomic particles are pushed almost to the speed of light and smashed together to study the underlying structures of matter. In this way, questions can be answered about the Big Bang and the makeup of the universe.
It was in the largest of these underground accelerators, the 27-kilometer Large Hadron Collider, that scientists last year found what they believe is the Higgs boson, the elusive particle that gives mass to protons, electrons and other subatomic particles, allowing the universe to exist as we know it. Peter Higgs and Francois Englert, who first theorized about the existence of the “God particle” in 1964, were awarded the Noble Prize in Physics last month following CERN’s discovery.
Israeli universities and scientists played an important role in the hunt for the Higgs. Of about 50 Israeli scientists who collaborate with CERN, most work on Atlas, one of two massive detectors built to analyze the particle collisions inside the colliders and sniff out the Higgs and other exotic particles. The seven-story underground detector is one of the most complex scientific instruments ever built, and parts of it were put together by the Weizmann Institute, Tel Aviv University and Haifa’s Technion technology institute.
As a full member of CERN, Israel would have to contribute 13 million to 14 million Swiss francs (NIS 50 million to NIS 54 million) to the organization’s annual budget of 1 billion francs, but Manor, the Israeli envoy, said the benefits would greatly outweigh the costs.
More Israeli scientists would be able to join CERN’s staff, and Israeli companies would be able to compete for contracts to build and maintain the accelerators and other facilities. By gaining a seat on the council, Israel would also have a vote in future experiments and the construction of new accelerators, steering the direction of research in the coming decades.
“In a way, the Higgs is the past and we’re now working on the future,” said Yaron Oz, a theoretical physicist and dean of Tel Aviv University’s Faculty of Exact Sciences.
The collider is offline until 2015 for an upgrade that will allow it to run at full capacity. CERN is already planning the next generation of accelerators, including a 100-kilometer ring that would extend under Lake Geneva. The collider and its successors will explore many more questions about how the universe works, Oz said.
Scientists will be looking for new particles that may signal the existence of other dimensions, or that may be candidates for dark matter. Dark matter is a substance that makes up 70 percent of the universe but so far has only been detected through its gravitational effect on stars and galaxies. CERN research has also helped produce more mundane applications such as advances in nuclear medicine and the 1989 creation of the World Wide Web.
The Alexander boutique brewery from Emek Hefer in central Israel has won a gold medal in the 2013 European Beer Star competition for its Alexander Black English-style porter beer.
European Beer Star is one of the biggest beer competitions worldwide, which included some 1,500 beers from 40 countries this year.
“We are very excited,” said Ori Sagy, the brewery’s CEO and brewmaster.
The Alexander brewery was founded in 2010 by Sagi, Aviem Sela and brothers Yoram and Ari Yarzin.
Israeli company PointGrab has won the 2013 European Technology Innovation Award handed out by the by Frost & Sullivan business consulting firm for its achievements in “gesture recognition for consumer electronics.”
The startup develops gesture control solutions which enhance the functional capability of consumer electronic devices such as laptops, tablets, smartphones and televisions, including Samsung’s Smart TVs, Acer and Fujitsu PCs.
“PointGrab deserves this honor because they have taken the leading role with a gesture experience that is reliable and, in comparison to its competitors, is superior in terms of the crucial factors for gesture control success,” said Archana Srinivasan, senior research Analyst at Frost & Sullivan.
PointGrab CEO Haim Perski said the company “will continue to create innovative ways to make gesture a naturally intuitive interface for the masses.”
The new effort to increase Latin American trading, particularly with Chile, Peru, Colombia and Mexico, will compliment Netanyahu’s simultaneous effort to increase economic ties with China and other East Asian countries. These four Latin American countries formed the free-trade Pacific Alliance last year and account for about 36 percent of the continent’s gross domestic product (GDP). They all trade significantly with North America.
Currently in Latin America, Brazil is Israel’s main trading partner, taking in Israeli exports at about $1.1 billion per year and importing to Israel at about $400 million per year. In June, Israeli President Shimon Peres signed a free-trade agreement with Colombia.
A technology for the extraction and analysis of data from cellular phones, which was developed by Israeli company Cellebrite, helped expose a wide-scale crime ring in a recent operation which included the arrest of 46 members of an international crime organization and the confiscation of assets worth €13.75 million (about $18 million).
The crime organization was uncovered in a joint operation launched by the Belgian and Spanish police forces, with the help of the European Union’s law enforcement and criminal intelligence agencies, Europol and Eurojust.
The ring is suspected of laundering some €50 million ($65 million) since 2007, and trading with drugs from Morocco which were distributed in Europe. Investigators seized 5.3 tons of hashish, 77 vehicles, 20 buildings, five companies and €225,000 ($295,000) in cash.
A significant part of the investigation, which lasted a year, was conducted with the help of a technology developed by Cellebrite. Last year, the company launched the UFED Touch device – a special tablet for security and police organizations, which allows the extraction and decoding of data from cellular phones or tablets, even if the information is protected by a code, encoded or has been deleted.
The investigators can also use the device in field conditions and in real time. It looks like a thick and strong tablet with an adjustable touch screen, and is quickly operated by simply connecting the examined cellular phones.
All organizations involved in the investigation had Cellebrite’s equipment, which facilitated the cooperation. The tablet itself was used by investigators to extract information from the crime organization suspects’ cellular phones.
After extracting the data from the phones, investigators used Cellebrite’s UFED Link Analysis software, which can cross-check information and reveal communication links between mobile devices.
Investigators create a sort of “tree” of links between the people which is graphically presented on the computer screen, and can view conversations, correspondences, messages and photos exchanged between the suspects. They can then extract information from the cell phones and analyze it to visualize the links between the suspects and the organization’s activity.
Cellebrite’s equipment has been sold to many intelligence and security organizations around the world. The Israeli technology has helped solve many other cases, which are usually not cleared for publication.