With an ongoing need for cutting-edge military systems because of hostile neighbors, and a requirement that the vast majority of U.S. military aid be spent in the U.S., Israel is constantly looking for American partners.
Today, about 50 attended a Defense, Aerospace and Homeland Security Seminar in Huntsville, where numerous Alabama companies pitched their services to representatives of the Israel Ministry of Defense. The seminar, which was held at the U.S. Space and Rocket Center, was coordinated by the North Alabama International Trade Association and the American-Israel Chamber of Commerce Southeast.
Tom Glaser, who heads the Atlanta-based AICCSE, said "we've been thinking about this program for some time."
Consul General Opher Aviran spoke about the shared values between Israel and the U.S., along with a shared enemy in "those who are fighting against democracy." It is a "partnership of ideals and values."
A centerpiece of the day was a talk by Bill Dickerhoff, program manager at Boeing, about the Arrow anti-missile system, developed in large part in Huntsville. The system, which went operational in 2000, was the first to have a missile-to-missile hit-to-kill intercept. A similar system in the U.S. was not operational until 2004.
The Arrow intercepts long-range missiles, and has to do so quickly. For the U.S., the biggest missile threats are North Korea and the Middle East. After any missile launch there is a window of "tens of minutes" to figure out the target and take evasive action. For Israel, the window is 10 minutes at most.
For missiles fired from Gaza, the window is "tens of seconds." Because of that, Aviran said Israel recently deployed a new system, the Iron Dome, which "saved many lives recently in the last wave of missiles" from Palestinians in Gaza.
Keynote speaker Maj. Gen. (Res.) Professor Isaac Ben-Israel, who was involved in the Arrow project from the beginning, said there has not been a single week in the last 10 years when "someone didn't shoot a rocket, two rockets... and sometimes hundreds of rockets in one week."
The Arrow began as an offshoot of President Ronald Reagan's Strategic Defense Initiative, commonly referred to as "Star Wars." When the Palestinian rockets began coming from Gaza, the Arrow was too heavy and slow for the short-range threat, so Iron Dome was developed.
Iron Dome, which has a few batteries deployed, detects a rocket launch and figures out the trajectory. It ignores ones that will not hit populated areas; in other cases it alerts the populace and launches an intercept missile. Ben-Israel received an astonished reaction in the room when he cited an 85 percent intercept success rate.
Deploying Iron Dome "changed the situation immediately," he said. "We are very thankful to the American administration for supporting" Iron Dome.
That still leaves a gap in the middle, he noted, which is being filled by David's Sling, which is in development in partnership with Raytheon. David's Sling will deal with missiles in the 100- to 500-kilometer range.
Another area of emphasis for Israel has been cyber-terrorism. Ben-Israel said it goes far beyond the public perception of defacing websites. "The threat is much deeper and stronger." One example he cited was "damage that was done by 'someone' to the Iranian nuclear facility." And that was done to an isolated system that was not connected to the Internet.
Israel began contemplating such threats two decades ago. Currently, he said, Israel faces 300 cyber attacks every minute. "Fortunately most of the regular attacks can be defeated by means that are not so sophisticated." The challenge comes from organizations like states or crime organizations that have greater resources.
It isn't just hacking to get information, he noted. Physical damage can be done through computers. For example, turbines in power production are controlled by computer and can be damaged by malignant software.
Attacks on Israeli systems come from China, Russia and neighbors like Iran. Expertise that Israel has in fighting cyber terrorism is shared with allies, Ben-Israel said, "and the first one on the list is the U.S."
To that end, Aviran and Ben-Israel left the seminar early to meet with Alabama Governor Robert Bentley, with one agenda item being cyber security.
Three representatives of the Israel Ministry of Defense explained the process by which a company becomes a vendor. Once approved, companies find out about Israel's needs. Israel does not put out a call for bids, lest enemies find out what they need, so the military goes through its vendor list to see which companies can fill specific needs, then invites bids.
Mintz said they want to keep expanding the vendor list and try to never be in a situation where there is only a single vendor for a particular product or service.
Six Alabama companies made presentations to the group, touting everything from helicopter and aircraft maintenance and rebuilding, to a spray-on paint that makes a building bomb-resistant.
Companies also had 15-minute one-on-one interviews with the Israel Defense representatives, to discuss opportunities.
Israel receives almost $3.1 billion in U.S. military aid per year, and must spend about 75 percent of that in the U.S. Technology developed in Israel is shared with the U.S., and many products that are developed in Israel are manufactured in the U.S.