Business / Medical / Technology News

Business / Medical / Technology news affecting Jews in Israel and the Diaspora

Arava Power investing profits from new solar fields in social causes

By SHARON UDASIN \ 01/12/2015 16:47

Taken from The Jerusalem Post

4 social organizations already benefiting from Ketura Sun profits: Jewish Heart for Africa, Bustan, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center.

Maslul Sun field in Moshav Maslul in the Arava. (photo credit: ARAVA POWER COMPANY)

Arava Power Company, the firm responsible for Israel's first commercial solar field, will be investing profits from its six newest solar fields in various social organizations.

The six new solar fields in question began operating in the Negev and Arava deserts this spring, with the largest – Maslul Sun – at 8.9 megawatts capacity on Moshav Maslul. Company management determined that a portion of the profits generated from the six fields will be used to fund social projects, a choice Arava Power also made in the past at its first solar field, Ketura Sun.

Among the four organizations selected to benefit from these proceeds is Latet B'Eilat, where activities focus on running a soup kitchen that feeds school children as well as workshops for youth at risk and support for cancer patients, the company said. A second organization is Micha Beersheba, which assists deaf children and their families.

A third of the beneficiaries is Moving Traditions, a group that helps Jewish youth in the United States by providing synagogue and community center programming, the company said. The final recipient of funds will be the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center in the Arava, which serves children, adolescents and adults with developmental disabilities, motor disabilities, learning difficulties, chronic diseases and behavioral and emotional disorders.

The principle of directing profits to social organizations comes from the mitzvah cited in Leviticus forbidding harvest in the four corners of one's field – and instead, saving the growth in these spots for the needy, a statement from Arava Power explained.

"Arava Power is a company with a world view that combines business with Zionism," said Arava Power co-founder and executive vice-chairman David Rosenblatt. "The contribution granted to these organizations reflects the responsibility we feel toward the environment and the communities in which we operate."

In addition to the 8.9-megawatt Maslul Sun, four of the other new Arava Deserts fields included in this decision are the 6.4-megawatt Shoval Sun, the 6.8-megawatt site at Kibbutz Yotvata, the 6.4-megawatt facility at Kibbutz Grofit and the 7-megawatt site at Kibbutz Elifaz. The sixth, smaller project, is a 0.45-megawatt Erez Rooftops venture, at Kibbutz Erez in the northwestern Negev.

Arava Power Company launched the country’s first medium-sized solar field, the 4.95-megawatt Ketura Sun, in June 2011, after being founded in 2006 by Rosenblatt, Kibbutz Ketura resident Ed Hofland, and American-Israeli solar entrepreneur Yosef Abramowitz.

The four social organizations already benefiting from Ketura Sun profits include Jewish Heart for Africa, Bustan, The Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity and the Red Mountain Therapeutic Riding Center.

Also at Kibbutz Ketura, building is currently underway for a future 40-megawatt solar field, which is in the race to become the country's first large-scale solar field.  About half of the construction of the field has been completed thus far, a spokeswoman for the company said.

Israeli arms exports drop nearly $1 billion in 2013

Analysts cite exit of U.S.-led forces from Iraq, Afghanistan  competition for drone sales, decreasing defense budgets worldwide.

By Gili Cohen | Oct. 7, 2014 | 6:30 PM | Taken from Haaretz

Israeli defense exports fell by almost $1 billion last year, a very rare decline reflecting declining defense budgets worldwide.

The Defense Ministry’s International Defense Cooperation Agency said exports were $6.54 billion last year, down from $7.4 billion in 2012.

Defense exports are a key industry for Israel; since 2005, they have risen every year except for 2011. On average, Israel exports weapons, technology and expertise worth more than $6 billion annually.

In recent years, Israeli defense firms have worried about a decline in the country’s "superpower" position in drones, after losing a number of large contracts to U.S. rivals.

Most Israeli defense exports last year came in the form of airplane upgrades, software for planes and helicopters, general armaments, drones and radar systems, said the cooperation agency, also known as Sibat.

Israel does not detail which countries it sells military items to, only giving the geographic distribution based on categories as defined by Sibat.

But some information is reported elsewhere. For example, South Korea told the UN Register of Conventional Arms that it bought 67 Spike missiles and four launchers from Israel in 2013. The UN Register receives voluntary reports from countries on imports and exports of conventional weapons.

Asia and Pacific countries remained the main destination for Israeli arms last year, totaling $3.91 billion. For Europe, the amount was $705 million, a big drop from the $1.6 billion the previous year.

The reason was a huge deal with Italy in 2012. That year, Israel bought trainer jets, while Italy bought airborne early warning planes.

Last year, Canada and the United States bought $1.07 billion worth of goods, while the rest of the hemisphere bought $645 million. African countries spent $223 million, twice the number in 2012. This was the highest sum in the past four years, when annual sales were between $70 million and $120 million.

Last year was a complicated one for Israeli defense firms, Sibat said. Defense budgets around the world were cut, and the exit of the U.S.-led forces from Iraq and Afghanistan lowered demand in areas where Israeli is a leader.

This trend has been underway for a few years and has stung defense contractors around the world – but Israel has remained one of the top 10 defense exporters.

The Israeli military: Winning wars, losing money

The wastefulness of this summer's Gaza operation in terms of firepower and manpower, and the ongoing dispute over the state budget show that the IDF has yet to learn how to function according to a proper war economy.

By Amos Harel Sep. 20, 2014 | 1:37 AM | Taken from Haaretz

An Israeli soldier near the Gaza border this summer, about to prepare for a tank deployment. Photo by AFP

The escalating debate over the state budget is more of a political issue than an economic one. It will be resolved if a compromise can be found that will allow both Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Finance Minister Yair Lapid to show that they did not come out the loser in the confrontation.

According to people involved in the negotiations, there is a formula to bridge the gap that entails raising the deficit target from 2.9 percent to 3.5 percent, such that the defense budget can be increased by 6 billion shekels ($1.64 billion) next year. This is far less than the dizzying amount sought by the Israel Defense Forces (11 billion shekels), but it seems like a figure that everyone can live with, despite the potential long-term damage to the economy. If Netanyahu and Lapid both reach the conclusion that an early election will not benefit either of their parties, the dispute will be solved.

One question that has hardly figured in the accusation-ridden debate, in either the security cabinet or in the media, involves the financial aspects of Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip. Even before a decision is made on next year’s budget, the IDF is asking for 8.6 billion shekels ($2.35 billion) to cover the war’s direct expenses (the treasury’s estimate is 6.2 billion shekels); the disagreement is over what constitutes a direct expense.

The management of the war displayed wastefulness, both in the use of firepower and in the number of reservists called up. This is not a new problem. In 2007, the Brodet Committee, established in the wake of the Second Lebanon War, found that the IDF was not implementing a proper model of a war economy.

“The army’s use of firepower in the last war is a flagrant example of this,” the committee wrote. “According to the IDF’s own testimony, a large surplus of firepower was used, at a cost of billions of shekels. A great many targets were fired at, but with little to show for it. No one in the government or the army was assigned to examine this question and make a change ... When resources are limited, the implications are self-evident.”

That’s actually a polite way of describing the real data: In the 2006 conflict in Lebanon, the IDF fired more than 170,000 artillery shells at what were thought to be rocket-launching sites. As far as is known, not a single Hezbollah combatant was killed in these barrages.

The methods used in this summer’s Gaza war were better suited to their targets, but the general approach was unchanged. Most of the information about this is classified, though defense establishment sources do confirm that intensive use was made of vital stocks of firepower and munitions. And this, we should remember, was in a conflict with Hamas, Israel’s weakest regional enemy.

For his part, Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon said this week that he was pleased with the IDF’s performance in Gaza. “The ground forces came to the operation prepared. In the end, there are no cheap wars,” he said, adding that he doesn’t see hostilities with Hamas resuming at the end of the month, the deadline set earlier for cease-fire talks to resume, and that Israeli deterrence in Gaza will be preserved.

Ya’alon’s remarks paint an overly rosy picture. They also contrast sharply with the analysis of MK Ofer Shelah (Yesh Atid), the chairman of the subcommittee for IDF force-building of the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee. Shelah, who has for years monitored the defense budget and the army’s deployment for wars, paints a very pessimistic picture.

“Given the way in which the war’s lessons are being drawn,” he tells Haaretz, “every addition to the defense budget will seriously affect the state budget and will add nothing to building up the IDF.”

Shelah is not a neutral observer – he’s a political player and also is very close to the finance minister, who is against increasing the defense budget. Still, his sharp comments are well worth listening to. The IDF, the MK says, “has proved that when it’s given money, it is not able to streamline and doesn’t know how to use the funds to deploy for a possible future war.”

The proof can be seen precisely in the “good years,” 2008-2013, when the army enjoyed a budget bonanza unrivaled for decades. The funding was used primarily for two purposes: preparations for a possible attack on Iran, and considerably raising outlays for payroll and pensions. The number of career-army personnel soared by 12.2 percent in this period.

“We didn’t get much security from the budget increment, or a proper level of preparation for the war the IDF had to deal with in Gaza,” Shelah says now.

In this round, as in previous ones, Hamas avoided a direct confrontation with Israeli troops who entered the Strip. The main threat to IDF forces came from explosive devices and long-distance sharpshooting, both of which inflicted many casualties. There were relatively few face-to-face battles with armed Palestinians, and just a few dozen antitank missiles were fired at IDF troops. In the face of this threat, the army used massive firepower, from artillery to hand grenades and light arms, not to mention tanks and, of course, precise aerial munitions. Veteran army people who perused the final data were surprised at what they saw.

The problem doesn’t lie with what was fired – the high usage rate is justified if it saves soldiers’ lives – but with the stocks that remained. Here, a gap emerged. The reservists, more than 80,000 of whom were called up, were also deployed in a wasteful manner. A great many were needed to replace the regular units on the borders and in the West Bank, and to beef up intelligence and the air force. But more than a third of the reservists were called up to the Home Front Command, where they had only partial assignments, at best. The huge success of Iron Dome greatly reduced the damage to the rear, and there was no need at all for rescue operations. That didn’t stop the IDF from flooding the home front, from the south to (on a limited scale) Metropolitan Tel Aviv with reservists who had very little to do.

Israel has fought four military campaigns since 2006, one in Lebanon and three in Gaza. Three of them lasted longer than the army planned and estimated. The direct cost of the four operations has been more than 25 billion shekels (currently $6.85 billion) – and this after the last campaign centered on ground combat of two-and-a-half weeks in an area that is two to three kilometers wide.

Shelah: “If we keep going with these expenditures, with this form of war economy, all the Arabs will have to do is go on fighting us every two years, without even aspiring to win. The Israeli economy will simply not be able to bear the burden.”

He adds: “The IDF’s current combat doctrine and its ground-forces structure are not suited to the challenge. We can see this in the episode of the Gaza tunnels. This is an example in which the army prepared for war, but not for what it encountered, certainly not for the sort of Hamas it encountered. Without an overhaul of the doctrine, no input of money will help. A new doctrine is needed, one that will be appropriate for the real threat and from which the force-building will follow logically. The lessons need to be drawn and internalized before the budget discussions. Otherwise, we will perpetuate a situation in which limited warfare is carried out every two years at impossible costs.”

A senior General Staff officer admits, in the wake of the war, that “we need to regiment the consumption of ammunition. On the other hand, it’s clear to us today that we need more munitions for future combat scenarios, most of which will take place in built-up areas. In the wars of the past, things were clear and the calculation was straightforward. You knew how many tanks an enemy brigade had and how many shells you needed to destroy them. In Gaza, in a dense area of combat, you have to fire at every window that is overlooking and threatening your forces. Those are completely different numbers.”

Ministers in the security cabinet admitted that no serious discussions were held about the available munitions stocks or about the implications this situation bore for the length of the operation. Shelah expects that in the upcoming budget discussions, the security cabinet will again fail to address the economic questions raised by fighting a war, based on the lessons from the Gaza operation.

“The decisions will be made very fast, in zero time,” he says. “The subcommittees devoted dozens of hours to the defense budget in the past year. But the security cabinet ministers are very busy people. They don’t have the time to prepare for the discussions. In the end, they will vote for a number that will be a compromise between 2 billion and 11 billion shekels for 2015. The money will be taken from health and education, but it won’t bring more security.”

Selective hearing

A raging storm flared up anew at midweek between Ya’alon and Economy Minister Naftali Bennett. What began as an argument over the unauthorized transmission of information from senior IDF officers to ministers in the security cabinet during the Gaza war morphed quickly into a confrontation about who pushed for and who interfered with the army’s efforts to deal with Hamas’ offensive tunnels.

The latest round in this dispute was launched by Ya’alon, but Bennett responded quickly, alleging that the defense minister was fearful of even a limited ground operation to destroy the tunnels. No one disputes that Netanyahu and Ya’alon supported the first Egyptian-mediated cease-fire proposal on July 15, even though they were already aware of the danger posed by the tunnels. (Bennett was against the cease-fire.)

But implicit in Bennett’s allegations is a more serious claim: that until very close to the decision to send in ground troops, on July 17, Ya’alon believed that Hamas would not make use of its tunnels. But that morning, 13 terrorists penetrated Israel from a tunnel near Kibbutz Sufa, thus hastening the decision to deploy ground forces.

Ya’alon’s confidants vehemently deny Bennett’s allegation. Bennett, they say, did not initiate, generate or conceive the action against the tunnels. There was an orderly plan, drawn up in advance by the IDF, and presented to the security cabinet. It was activated the moment a decision to that effect was made. Ya’alon’s people also recall that on July 17, a few hours before the move against the tunnels, Bennett intimated, in a media interview, that a ground operation could be expected.

“What is that if not irresponsibility and an attempt to take credit for something that had already been decided?” Ya’alon’s confidants ask now.

Still, we are seeing something interesting here. In the same week, two key members of the coalition, Bennett and Shelah, coming from two opposite political poles, hurled lethal criticism at the defense establishment’s handling of the Gaza operation. Somehow, however, their remarks are not having the slightest effect on the excellent opinion the defense establishment and the man at its head have of themselves.

Accounts to settle

The question of who will be the next chief of staff continues to hover in the background. Two weeks ago, in a television interview, Maj. Gen. (res.) Yoav Galant put himself back into the race. On Tuesday, Ya’alon, who has no intention of interviewing Galant for the post, still less of appointing him, tried to put paid to that possibility for good in a meeting with reporters, after which the argument with Bennett erupted. With a few carefully chosen sentences, the defense minister made it clear that the next chief can only be one of the officers who are doing active IDF service.

Since the beginning of the Gaza war, however, Netanyahu had been conveying different messages, and was apparently considering Galant’s candidacy in a positive light. Ya’alon, sensing a possible infringement of his maneuverability on the appointment issue, was quick to make his position public, on the assumption that the prime minister would not take issue with it. Sources in Ya’alon’s bureau said this week that the two are indeed coordinated on this subject and that Netanyahu did not object to Ya’alon’s declaration.

This situation increases the likelihood that the deputy chief of staff, Maj. Gen. Gadi Eizenkot, will get the nod for top spot. The other candidates who have been mentioned, Maj. Gens. Yair Naveh and Yair Golan, will not endanger his appointment. At the moment, it looks as though even an appeal to the High Court of Justice will have little chance of blocking Eizenkot.

Which brings us back to the question of what Galant wanted to achieve by announcing his entry into the race, assuming that he knew of Ya’alon’s firm opposition beforehand. Galant was interviewed frequently on television during the war this summer, trying to consolidate his status as an alternative to the IDF’s current leadership. Even though his public critique of the operation was carefully worded and understated, it struck a chord with the public (especially the right wing), which felt frustration at the war’s outcome. Given the heightened security threats and the possibility of an early election next year, most of the parties will look for new candidates for Knesset with a “security image.” Of all the TV-studio generals, Galant will be the hottest name.

It’s quite possible that Netanyahu’s calculation when considering Galant’s candidacy was a political one: Better to have the energetic general in the tent than watch him interfering from outside. Galant’s appointment as chief of staff would have assured the prime minister of seven years of quiet – four as chief of staff and a mandatory three-year wait before entering politics. But Netanyahu’s intentions collided with the defense minister’s determined opposition.

Ya’alon has an account to settle with Galant because he sees him as one of the group that brought about an early end to his stint as chief of staff before the Gaza disengagement (Galant was Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s military secretary at the time). His suspicion that he would find it difficult to work with Galant as chief also influenced his veto. Now Galant too has accounts to settle. Not only with Eizenkot, whom he claims was involved in the conspiracy against him in the “Harpaz document” episode – something Eizenkot denies – but also with Ya’alon. The desire for revenge is a powerful motivator in public life. Will those who didn’t want Galant as chief of staff have to accept him as defense minister? In Galant’s case, that prophecy – which the journalist Uri Dan suggested in connection with his revered Ariel Sharon – could serve both as a motive and as a plan of action.

The Smart City is the Start-Up City

Blog by Omri Ziv | January 25, 2015, 8:14 AM

Taken from the Times of Israel

The annual Smart City Expo in Barcelona, is much like New York Fashion Week. Rather than famous designers presenting haute couture fashion for next season, you can find cutting edge tech giants revealing sci-fi concepts of smart and sexy mega-cities.

Projects that take detailed planning and design into consideration, are flaunted by famous powerhouses such as Cisco, IBM and Microsoft. Mega companies take the stage and present technological concepts that can change how we live in the cities we love. The Smart City Competition serves as the grand finale of the Expo, wherein cities around the world compete for the renowned title, The Smartest City of the World. Sassy and cutting edge, the 2014 expo winner and holder of the title is the apple in the tech world’s eye- Tel Aviv, Israel.

Tel Aviv, the metropolis known to many as Start Up City, has committed to transforming itself into a Smart City. The greater Tel Aviv metropolis includes 3.2 million people and is among the top three global business hubs in the Middle East, alongside Dubai and Istanbul. The city has developed a leading reputation for its technology and innovation capacity and has been rated the second most dynamic startup ecosystem in the world after Silicon Valley, based on the Startup Genome “Top 100 Innovation Cities”.


Tel Aviv’s new “Digitel” Platform, supported by Microsoft CityNext technology has flourished- demonstrating the commitment of the city to connecting its people. Both residents and tourists alike benefit from an innovative and highly personalized platform of information and connectivity. The Digitel platform serves as a personalized recommendation engine, helping residents and visitors alike to enjoy the bounty Tel Aviv has to offer. Young singles can receive recommendations of local bars, parties, and even for pop-up street parties for which the city is infamous. Parents, on the other hand, can receive real-time notifications of fun family activities nearby. Digitel will recommend age appropriate activities and places for some family fun.

The adoption of Big Data practices together with the mass deployment of free Wi-fi across Tel Aviv, have provided the city with a cutting edge platform for improving citizen services. The Smart City Expo jury panel particularly commended the Roll-out of the Digitel model as a benchmark and a pioneer of new models for public engagement in key aspects such as urban development and participatory budgeting.

In addition to the municipality’s efforts to engage the residents of Tel Aviv, the city itself is the home of many “Smart City” applications such as Waze (Acquired by Google), Moovit, GetTaxi, Breezeometer, as well as many other startups that have expanded globally. Never the one to fall behind, Tel Aviv is planning on being the first city in the world to launch an automated transit network (ATN) system, also known as the SkyTran.

Though the smart city culture is famous in its own right, what really makes Tel Aviv tick is its people. Sitting in their Rothschild Boulevard offices coding or drinking espresso at the local trendy cafe, many Telavivians dream of building their own start up. An “exit” to Google or Facebook for billions of dollars is the ultimate Telavivan dream. Entrepreneurs (also known as Startapistim) are the new pop star idols and the city is packed with more than 50 Accelerators and the largest number of start-ups per capita.

Like any other city in the world, Tel Aviv still faces many challenges. One of the city’s biggest challenges today is public transportation. Since public transportation is not allowed on Sabbath (which accounts for more than 15% of the week) and since parking is relatively cheap, the city suffers from major congestion problems. Hopefully a new metro line together with a network of underground streets, can promote a more walkable and bicycle friendly city, resulting in reduced congestion and air pollution.

Whether you are an urban planner, a technologist, or a fashion designer, Tel Aviv is a city worth paying a visit. Enjoy the white sand beaches and Bauhaus architecture while discovering Tel Aviv’s secrets using its Smart City application. You’ll quickly see why Tel Aviv was the winning project in the Smart Cities conference, and we hope that you bring some new ideas of your own to the city that’s always ready and open for innovation.

Israel Takes a Risk on Tomorrow's Epic Drugs

FutuRx, a partnership between OrbiMed, J&J and Takeda Ventures, is one of three new government-backed, high-risk pharma incubators in Israel.

by Abigail Klein Leichman | Oct. 2 | Taken from Israel21c

The FutuRx team includes CTO Ronald Ellis and CEO Einat Zisman, front; and Sigal Arad, Limor Miara, Moshik Talbi and Eli Frydman.

Up to 40 early-stage drug-development companies will be incubated over the next eight years at Israel’s latest biotechnology accelerator, FutuRx,  an all-star enterprise backed by OrbiMed Israel Partners, Johnson & Johnson and Takeda Ventures with the Office of the Chief Scientist (OCS) in Israel’s Ministry of Economy.

The 1,200-square-meter facility with fully equipped labs was opened earlier this year at the Weizmann Science Park in Ness Ziona, near the world-renowned Weizmann Institute of Science.

“Pharmaceutical companies and VCs are interested in novel, breakthrough science, but investing in that is highly risky,” says CEO Einat Zisman, a Weizmann-educated pharmacist and immunologist who previously helped establish more than 20 startups at the technology transfer companies of the Weizmann and the Hadassah Medical Organization.

“They are looking for ways to reduce risk while testing early-stage, but exciting, science,” she explains. “The willingness of the Israeli government to step in as a player in the riskiest projects was the basis for these partners to join forces. The private-public partnership we offer is unique.” Takeda and J&J are two of the biggest pharma companies, and OrbiMed is the world’s largest life-sciences VC.

The OCS has supported selected biotech startups since 1991, and has been finding new avenues for nurturing promising but high-risk projects that have trouble raising money in the private sector, says Yossi Smoller, head of the OCS Technology Incubator Program.

Open competitions were held to launch FutuRx as well as Inspire Healthcare Innovations, a joint venture between Holland’s Philips Healthcare and Israel’s Teva Pharmaceuticals to advance medical innovations and technologies; and Food-Tech Hub, an initiative of The Strauss Group to develop new approaches in basic foodstuffs, agricultural techniques, production and packaging.

Smoller tells ISRAEL21c that FutuRx marked the first time a tender specified a focus on biotech rather than letting the shareholders decide. “Developing medicines is a long and expensive process, so we wanted at least one shareholder to be among the top 25 pharma companies in the world. The idea is to have at least one that can contribute significantly to the new companies in terms of funding and expertise.”

The expectation is that after the incubator term, startups will be positioned to raise money from the private sector and operate on their own.

Filling unmet medical needs

So far, FutuRx has chosen two startups from among 200 proposals. One is developing a technology to treat a juvenile orphan disease of the central nervous system; the other is working on a cancer drug that blocks a specific protein. Up to six more projects are to be approved through the second quarter of 2015.

“The most important factor is that the technology be innovative and novel and will answer a clear unmet medical need,” Zisman tells ISRAEL21c. “The second criterion is its likelihood of reaching a proof of concept within the timeframe and money we allocate.”

An approved project may stay at FutuRx for up to three years, receiving a total net budget of up to $2.3 million, up to 85 percent of that sum from the OCS.

Though J&J has Innovation Centers in London, Boston and San Diego, and Takeda runs a New Frontier Science Group, Zisman says these programs are somewhat virtual.

“Here we actually hold the programs in our hands. It’s a plug-and-play system. We establish the company, hire the CEO and employees, and they only have to come and start achieving milestones toward clinical studies.”

The portfolio companies are provided with office and lab space, drug-development expertise and a full range of administrative services such as accounting, HR, IT and Internet.

“Early stage is interesting because it is clear that real breakthroughs come this way,” says Zisman. “But you need a tool to allow for testing and building the potential of risky projects.”

360 degrees of knowledge

It’s expected that at the end of the incubator period, the companies will be ready to prepare for Series A funding. “We believe with our hands-on guidance from day one, the companies will be much better positioned for winning funding and collaborations with big pharma.”

The FutuRx team also includes Ronald Ellis, formerly CTO at NasVax, which develops immunotherapy products; and Eli Friedman, previously COO at Israel’s Aposense drug development company.

“One of the most important aspects we bring through the experience and expertise of our partners is the ability to develop the project correctly, from understanding the ‘bottleneck’ steps to the selection of the right studies to answer the main questions, to the proper protocols for development, regulatory pathways and production,” says Zisman. “We provide 360 degrees of knowledge in all the areas that they need.”

Click here for more information.

Tel Aviv University researcher harnesses gold nano particles to engineer novel biocompatible cardiac patch.

By Viva Sarah Press | October 5 | Taken from Israel21c

Tel Aviv University researchers are literally settling a new gold standard in cardiac tissue engineering to develop functional substitutes for damaged heart tissues.

Novel biocompatible cardiac patch comprises gold nanoparticles. (Shutterstock)

Because heart cells cannot multiply and cardiac muscles contain few stem cells, heart tissue is unable to repair itself after a heart attack. So, Dr. Tal Dvir and his graduate student Michal Shevach of TAU’s Department of Biotechnology,Department of Materials Science and Engineering, and Center for Nanoscience and Nanotechnology, set out to develop innovative methods to restore heart function.

Using sophisticated micro- and nanotechnological tools — ranging in size from one millionth to one billionth of a meter — they created cardiac “patches” with gold particles that could be transplanted into the body to replace damaged heart tissue. The integration of gold nanoparticles into cardiac tissue, Dr. Dvir and his team discovered, increased the conductivity of biomaterials.

“To address our electrical signaling problem, we deposited gold nanoparticles on the surface of our patient-harvested matrix, ‘decorating’ the biomaterial with conductors,” said Dr. Dvir. “The result was that the nonimmunogenic hybrid patch contracted nicely due to the nanoparticles, transferring electrical signals much faster and more efficiently than non-modified scaffolds.”

In a study published by Nano Letters, Dr. Dvir’s team presented their model for a superior hybrid cardiac patch, which incorporates biomaterial harvested from patients and gold nanoparticles.

“Our goal was twofold,” said Dr. Dvir. “To engineer tissue that would not trigger an immune response in the patient and to fabricate a functional patch not beset by signaling or conductivity problems.”

 About Viva Sarah Press

Viva Sarah Press is an associate editor and writer at ISRAEL21c. She has extensive experience in reporting/editing in the print, online and broadcast fields. Her work has been published by international media outlets including Israel Television, CNN, Reuters, The Jerusalem Post and Time Out.

'Beersheba is the new cyber Silicon Valley'

Cyber bureau to announce protective shield in coming weeks; experts at TAU conference debate importance of cyber combat soldiers.

By YONAH JEREMY BOB | 09/15/2014 | 01:42

Taken from The Jerusalem Post

Former NSA head Keith Alexander addresses the Tel Aviv University cyber conference September 14, 2014. (photo credit: CHEN GALILI)

Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu and other speakers on Sunday trumpeted “Beersheba as a new cyber center” similar to Silicon Valley, with serious “tax breaks for those” groups locating there at the fourth Tel Aviv University cyber conference.

Netanyahu’s cyber bureau chief, Dr. Eviatar Metania, was one of many who discussed the new Beersheba cyber center, which is now kicking into full swing.

Metania added that in the coming weeks, “around Rosh Hashana,” they will announce a “new national protective cyber shield” based around the Beersheba cyber center.

The joint announcements along with the prime minister’s showering of praise on Metania also potentially indicated that Netanyahu may be empowering Metania at the expense of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency) in ongoing internal turf wars.

The prime minister also echoed a conference theme mentioned by over half a dozen speakers, that the key to defending Israel’s cyber face is focusing on the human element.

At one point he pointed to his head, signaling the dependence of cyber “hardware” on the cyber “software” emanating from the human brain.

Echoing another theme of the conference, the prime minister praised cooperative work among “government, the private sector and academia,” saying that Israel has the “finest minds” in the cyber arena, helping it establish “an Iron Dome of cyber security.”

Further, he said that “cyber defense solutions will be the biggest basis of human economic growth in this century,” showing pride that “Israeli companies developed the first cyber technologies: firewalls,” and other new technologies.

Next, he added that this innovation would pay off with corporate profits since “no nation on earth will not need cyber security.”

He said the hardest challenge was “intellectual,” since one could only guess on the best way to mobilize resources, agreeing with many other speakers that the key was that Israel “always must allow for changes as we go along.”

Netanyahu also made a possibly noteworthy slip on connections between the US National Security Agency and its Israeli sister agency, the INSA.

He said, “if you don’t know what the US NSA is, it’s Israel’s, it’s the US’s Unit 8200.”

Several leaks, including official documents from the Edward Snowden NSA trove have heavily suggested areas where the US and Israeli NSAs have no boundaries, possibly even with the INSA accessing data for the NSA which US law prohibits the NSA from directly accessing.

It may have been a mere slip, but Netanyahu’s initially seeming to say the NSA is “Israel’s” could give ammunition to those saying that the US is using Israel to circumvent some of its own privacy laws.

In another unchoreographed controversy, Metania slammed IDF Maj.-Gen. (res.) Uzi Arad after he walked off the stage for saying that draftees should choose combat units over cyber units.

Responding, Metania implied Arad was out of touch with current IDF needs and threats as opposed to the past and that it was inappropriate to tell draftees what units to choose.

Arad also broke with nearly every conference speaker and three “doom and gloom” videos showing cyber risks, telling the conference that “some are exaggerating the threat” and that he thought Israel “is in a relatively good place” in cyber defense.

Meanwhile, former US national security adviser Keith Alexander framed the conference’s harrowing challenge of defending data, focusing on the massive evolution in the cyber playing field and noting that in the last year, due to continuous technological advances, more new data were created (and need to be protected) than in the last 5,000 years combined.

He said that when the US first started seriously developing cyber defense capabilities, not long ago, it had over 15,000 network enclaves that were so diffuse that they were essentially indefensible.

Alexander as well as many other speakers commented that extraordinary advances are happening in Israel to deal with this problem.

The former NSA head said that part of the key was that the challenge is too large for any one private or national group (noting that the US alone had faced 350 attacks in the last year), such that success will be achieved only through cooperation by many countries and a myriad of private sector firms with different areas of expertise.

Former US deputy secretary of defense George England echoed some of Alexander’s themes saying that more work needs to be done to close the asymmetric advantage and gap in favor of cyber hackers over defenders.

England said that part of the asymmetry was inherent in that, for hackers, “the cost of entry is low” whereas “the payoff is high.”

Why Are Israeli Startups Leading The Tech World?

Cross-pollination between military and civilian technologies fuels a fast moving industry.

By Lois Parshley   Posted on 08.25.2014 at 3:30 pm
Taken from Popular Science

Cyber Shield Course Two trainees participate in an Israeli Defense Forces cyber-defense course.

IDF Spokesperson's Unit

People lined both sides of Boylston Street, rounds of cheers going up as runners approached the end of the 2013 Boston marathon. Then white smoke plumed. Windows splintered. Fifteen seconds later, another explosion, and glass shattered onto blackened cement. The detonations knocked athletes to the ground, in some cases blowing the shoes off their feet. Three people died, and another 264 were injured.

The FBI started investigating while first responders were still rushing to the scene. Within three days -- just 101 hours -- the bombers were apprehended.

FBI agents sifted through 13,000 videos and more than 120,000 photographs, drawn from surveillance cameras and onlookers' cell phones. To sort through the piles of footage, law enforcement turned to new technology that can condense an hour of video into just a minute of playback time.

The method, called video synopsis, was invented by an Israeli company called BriefCam, which counts all the right three-letter agencies as clients. (The FBI declined to comment on the specifics of the Boston investigation.)

Video synopsis works in a variety of ways, but most programs layer actions that occur at the same place at different times, making it possible, for example, to see simultaneously every person who walks in a door on a given afternoon. Other notable inquiries have also used BriefCam, like Norway's national security service after Anders Breivik bombed a children's camp there in 2011.

Shmuel Peleg, a co-founder of BriefCam and a professor of computer science at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, says the original intention for the tool was a long way from law enforcement. "One of my students had three kids," he said, and was hoping to come up with a better way of viewing their home videos. The eureka moment came when "one of our friends said most video on earth comes from stationary cameras," Peleg said. "He was in the military at the time," Peleg explained, and immediately thought of surveillance footage. Security cameras at Israel's borders watch for tunnel activity, but it can be hard to identify suspicious behavior in real time. "BriefCam makes it possible to integrate information that happens in a large temporal space," Peleg says, making it perfect for consistent monitoring.

Israel's environment provides a primal urgency that headquarters in Silicon Valley strewn with kegs and Ping-Pong tables can lack.

But that a civilian idea was immediately put to military use is not surprising. BriefCam's origin story reveals a common trend in Israel. "The general awareness people here have for risk is always present," Peleg says, and this mentality has made its mark on the country's business climate, influencing technological developments. "Maybe Israelis learn less things [in school] but they know how to come up with ideas, how to manage to survive," Peleg said. "Every one of us is concerned with security." Military life has left an indelible mark on Israel's booming start-up scene, leading the country to the frontlines of the tech ecosystem in odd ways.

This sway manifests most obviously in the security world. After spending six years in an elite tech unit in the Israel Defense Forces, Giora Engel, another Hebrew University alumnus, co-founded a start-up called LightCyber. LightCyber detects computer glitches in corporate environments, focusing on a new wave of electronic threats, which have moved past malware to specifically targeting companies ("like the Target data breach this last November," Engel says.) While in the Defense Forces (IDF), Engel, who has bright red hair and freckles, managed high-risk projects, including coding mission-critical systems. He says Israel is leading the world in cyber-security because people leaving the Army bring "expertise that was previously only found in the defense industry." He continued, "The nation-state cyber-breaks we were accustomed to in the military have now proliferated into the [tech] industry."

Peleg echoed Engel, saying that because of Israel's mandatory army participation, "my students are often called away from their research for reserve service." He said, "You can't think creatively while in service. You only care about survival." But upon his students' return, "new ideas come," enriching research programs.

In addition to fresh thinking, working in an environment where there are often immediate applications of new developments has driven quick innovation. Mantis Vision, a company that uses 3D imaging for a variety of mapping applications, had the Israeli government as an early client for a confidential project. "What I can tell you is this wasn't a product developed for a lab, but a real product that was used," said co-founder Amihai Loven.

Israel is an environment where "there's zero tolerance for work-arounds," Loven said. Part of what's pushing the country's tech boom, he said, is that "there's a lot of pressure to develop something something that actually works, and not just in lab environments." This provides a primal urgency that headquarters in Silicon Valley strewn with kegs and Ping-Pong tables can lack.

"Look at the recent conflict," Loven said, referring to July's deadly flare-up between Hamas and Israel. "The Iron Dome performance is like nothing you can develop in an R&D environment without a threat." The anti-missile system is designed to blow up incoming missiles before they land, and has been deployed frequently in the last month. Despite concerns the Iron Dome is actually less effective than the IDF claims, and setting aside much debate about the imbalance of force between the two sides of the conflict, the Iron Dome is far more sophisticated than alternative anti-rocket systems.

In the long run, the perceived pressure to make things that actually work can be a good thing for the market. "Products need to start high-end from the beginning in order to mature into consumer products," Loven said, citing GPS's beginnings as a defense tool. "If it's just starting as a gadget, there's a glass ceiling" on its utility, he explained.

So perhaps it makes sense there's an unusual amount of governmental support for new ideas. Giora Engel of LightCyber says government organizations are often slow adopters, taking their time in using new technology. But Israel was one of the first countries to develop a cyber-security division, all the way back in 1997. Since then, the country's quietly dominated all sorts of cyber projects -- not least Stuxnet, the notorious computer worm designed in a joint project between U.S. and Israeli forces that took out a fifth of Iran's nuclear centrifuges in 2010.

More recently, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu upped the ante, in 2011 creating the National Cyber Bureau (NCB), which reports directly to Netanyahu's office and increased the country's cyber-defense budgets by 30 percent. He made no bones about its purpose, saying, "We established the National Cyber Bureau for the purpose of transforming the state of Israel into a cyber superpower." NCB trickle-down extends to the startup world: "There's a lot of support for new technology from the government," Engel said, "because they realize that startups can bring them the most cutting edge technology and are valuable to the economy." Statistics suggest the strategy is working: 14.5 percent of all firms worldwide garnering cyber investment are owned by Israelis.

Of course, there are disadvantages of running a business in a region plagued by violence and dominated by the military. Engel said that in July, while business has continued, more or less as usual, in the startup scene, "Some people have been called to their reserve duty in their military units. And it's hard to have conference calls when any moment you may have to run to a bomb shelter."

"In this crazy country, you're always under pressure," Loven said. "If it's not defense, it's to win in the market."