According to former prime minister Ehud Barak, the fight against terror “is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, a struggle for the next five or 10 years.”Israel is truly a pioneer in homeland security technology, with more know-how to export than any other country in the world, according to Brig. Gen (Res) Shmuel Yachin, the former head of military R&D, speaking at the annual Israel Venture Association conference in Tel Aviv last week.
“We are in a very good position to take a leading role in this market,” Yachin told delegates at a seminar on Homeland Security Technologies. “Thanks to our neighbors there is no other country globally that has as much knowledge and understanding of dealing with terrorism on a day to day basis.”
Yachin, who was involved in program management of Israel’s Arrow missile defense system during his 20-year stint in the army, said he believes that Israel’s real strength lies in its ability to take any type of technology, even technology that has been around for years, and transform it with new ideas into cutting edge military systems.
“We have a major advantage in this, even compared to the US which has an edge over us in terms of skills,” said Yachin.
The homeland security sector has grown rapidly since September 11, 2001. In 2000, the US government’s budget for homeland security was small. In 2002, it rose exponentially to $35 billion, and in 2003 it is expected to almost double to $65 billion. According to research firm, Lehman Brothers, the value of companies in this sector has gone up by 100 percent since September 10, the day before the Al-Qaeda attacks on the US, while companies in other sectors have seen growth fall by 30%.
“9/11 was a wake up call,” Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel told delegates at the two-day conference. “Let’s hope it did not come too late for the Americans. If an organization is willing to take a civilian aircraft and turn it into a cruise missile, they will not be hesitant about killing 30,000 or 100,000 people, or in dispersing small pox or anthrax in leading countries of the West, or even in using simpler types of nuclear weapons which they can acquire or steal. This is not a sprint, it’s a marathon, a struggle for the next five or 10 years.
Israel has been dealing with terrorism since it was first founded in 1948. Today it is one of the world’s largest defense exporters, with a range of both state-owned and private sector companies such as IAI, Rafael Arms Development Authority, Elisra and Elbit Systems. There are also many mid-size or start-up companies working in a range of fields from biometrics to authentication, smart cards, data mining, disaster-recovery, perimeter security, detection of chemical agents and explosives, and information analysis.
Companies include NetLine, which has developed a technology that jams cellular-phones, preventing them from being used to detonate explosives; Nice Systems, which specialises in video surveillance for airports and other public places; perimeter security company, Magal Security Systems; On Track Innovations, which has developed a contactless smart card technology; gene therapy company Intelligene which is involved with the US government in developing early diagnosis of biological warfare agents; InfoSys, IQS, Dmatek, Configate, SentryCom, ExaNet – the list goes on and on.
“Israel has great experience in this field and is well known for this,” said Barak, who was also the country’s former chief of staff. “We have an advantage over America because we have been exposed to terrorism and home security problems. We have many assets that are already quite mature, we have talented and experienced engineers, and we have the right experience. Using Israeli technology shortens the development process dramatically.”
“Terrorism uses low-tech because it is hard for terrorists to acquire anything else,” added Maj. Gen. (Res) Prof. Isaac Ben-Israel, former director of R&D directorate at the Ministry of Defense. “But this doesn’t mean you react using low-tech means as well. The IDF relies heavily on intelligence. Here in Israel we have realized that our relative advantage in frustrating terrorist attempts is carried out mainly through technology. Our success rate is very high.”
Prof. Aharon Beth Halachmi, managing partner of Eurofund, told delegates that he believes many new homeland security technologies will emerge from Israel’s universities and research institutes. He said work was already underway on technology that could identify people in bunkers, and also a new development that offers remote identification of people carrying explosives.
“Industry does not have the time or money to develop these systems,” he said. “If we want to be as good in the high end high-tech era, then we must ensure that research continues in the academic world.” He also said that it is vital enough funding is given to help this research reach the commercialization stage, and urged Israel’s largest defense industries to act as intermediaries for emerging start-ups in this field.
Yachin also noted that there is great technology now being developed in Israel that can be transformed into military technologies. “Many companies don’t even understand what they have in their hands or how their technology can be spun into military products,” he said.
He urged the Israeli government to invest NIS1 million a year on helping start-up companies develop technology in this new and growing sector. “We need a national policy that encourages them,” he said. “They need investment and more investment. There is a big potential for export in this area for Israel.”