News Analysis – February 2020

General News Summary

The Trump Plan: Giving and Misgivings

Supporters have hailed President Trump’s plan for ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, released in Washington in late January, as Israel’s greatest diplomatic gift from an American president. Detractors see it as an all-or-nothing ultimatum designed to facilitate Israel’s assumption of deeper, irrevocable control over what are now classified as occupied Palestinian territories.

The 181-page document’s creators are Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Jason Greenblatt, until recently the President’s special representative for international relations; Palestinians broke off diplomatic contacts with the U.S. about two years ago after Washington moved its Israel embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, when Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas said that there was “nothing left to talk about.” After release of the Trump plan, Abbas said he was also breaking off relations with Israel, an apparent if not explicit reference to security cooperation that has continued in the interim.

In Israel, the plan has generally been accepted, albeit with reservations. Benny Gantz, leader of the centrist Blue and White opposition party, sees it at the basis for talks on a negotiated agreement; former prime minister Ehud Barak sees it as a significant opportunity. Some of the suggestions, including recognition of unified Jerusalem as Israel’s capital. Other provisions, including the annexation of virtually all Israeli settlements and of the Jordan Valley frontier area facing Jordan, have been received with enthusiasm, farther right on the political spectrum.

There’s one part of the program that neither side likes – the proposal for a Palestinian state, albeit a demilitarized one, in territories left to the Palestinians. Israeli nationalists are up in arms about the very idea of such a state, which they say would endanger Israel no matter what form it takes. Palestinian are equally dismayed by the multiple conditions attached and years it would take to establish such a state, which could be done only with approval from the Americans and Israelis. “They want to give us a gift (of statehood) after four years,” Abbas said. “Israel, on the other hand, will start implementing it immediately by annexing the settlements. During those four years, we are asked to prove our intentions.”

It remains to be seen whether the plan serves as a stimulus for renewed negotiations between the two sides, or whether, as some outside observers suggest, its goal is creating facts on the ground that reduce the possibility of a mutually accepted negotiated solution to nearly zero.

Election Countdown

Less than four weeks remain before Israeli voters go to the polls for the third time in less than a year, still looking for a parliamentary lineup that can support a viable coalition government. Basic conditions have changed since the first two rounds, in April and September, proved inconclusive, but it’s far from clear whether the third voting, on March 2, will produce yet another deadlock, with neither side able to form the 61 Knesset Members needed for a majority.

The effect of several imponderables may affect the outcome of the voting in Election No. 3:

Indictments

After long delays, formal indictments for fraud, bribery and breach of trust against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu were filed in three cases. The indictments were filed shortly after Netanyahu withdrew a request for parliamentary immunity.

Netanyahu continues in the race, claiming that the charges against him are entirely unfounded and constitute a witch hunt. It’s not clear how much, if at all, the formal indictment will affect support for him and his Likud party, considering that the content of the full indictments has been public knowledge for many months.

Trump Plan

Netanyahu was standing at President Trump’s side when the American leader presented his “Deal of the Century” proposals in late January. It’s far from clear how much will Netanyahu’s close relationship with Trump, and his prestige as an international political figure, play with voters on March 2. In addition, he tried to push through a quick annexation of West Bank settlements promised in the Trump plan.

Bring Naama Home

Netanyahu flew to Moscow for talks with Vladimir Putin and brought back Israeli backpacker Naama Issachar, freed at his intercession after being convicted to a 7-year prison sentence in Russia for possession of cannabis found in her luggage in transit from India.

War Risk Rising, Institute Says

Risk of large-scale war along Israel’s northern borders in the coming year is rising, in large part due to Iran’s increasing “determination and daring,” according to the annual strategic assessment of the Institute for National Security Studies. The report was made public in early January, by coincidence a few days after a U.S. drone attack killed Iranian international terror master Gen. Qasem Suleimani in Baghdad. The report, delivered to President Reuven Rivlin by INSS director Amos Yadlin, a former head of Military Intelligence, warned of a “rise in the likelihood of war” in light of a variety of security, political and diplomatic factors.

Kinneret on the Rise

Heavy rainfall in December raised the level of Lake Kinneret, also known as the Sea of Galilee, by 34 cm. to 211.55 meters below sea level, the Israel Water Authority reported. That is still 1.445 meters below its peak capacity.

Tel Aviv 20th on Expensive List

Tel Aviv is the world’s 20th most expensive city in 2020, down from 18th last year on the Numbeo ratings firm list. Tel Aviv finished between 19th place held by Oakland, California and Copenhagen, which was 21st. Other Israeli cities on the list: Haifa, 31st, and Jerusalem, 34th on the list headed by five Swiss cities – Zurich, Basel, Lausanne, Geneva and Bern.

6th in Innovation

Israel ranked sixth overall on the Bloomberg news service list of innovative countries, which was released in mid-January. Israel was fifth last year. In specific categories, Israel was first in research and development intensity, second in researcher concentration, fifth in high-tech density, seventh in patent activity, 15th in productivity and 31st in value-added manufacturing. Germany and South Korea were first and second respectively in the annual listing.

Fitch Rating

Fitch Ratings, the international credit assessment agency, has upgraded its operating environment score for Israel’s banks from ‘A-‘ to ‘A’ with a stable trend. The agency says that the change in the score reflects Israel’s rising per capita GDP, which it estimates at $45,300 in 2019.

Gas Flows

Israeli natural gas from its offshore Leviathan and Tamar fields began flowing to Egypt, energy ministers of the two countries announced in mid-January. Last October, the partners in the Israeli fields signed a contract with the privately held Egyptian firm Dolphinus Holdings to transfer some 85 billion cubic meters. Total value of the contract is estimated at over $19B.

Meanwhile Energean, the Greek company that owns rights to natural gas from Israel’s offshore Tanin and Karish fields, has signed a letter of understanding to sell up to 2 billion cubic meters of gas a year to DEPA, a Greek gas distributor. The gas would be transported from the Mediterranean to Greece through the projected natural gas pipeline to Europe, expected to be built at a cost of about $9B.

In early January, Jordan’s Natural Electric Power Company began experimental pumping of gas from Leviathan to test infrastructure before commercial supply to the Hashemite Kingdom actually begins. Noble Energy of the U.S., Israel’s Delek Drilling and Ratio Oil Exploration are operators of the Leviathan field.

Gas Pipe to Gaza?

Government-owned Israel National Gas Lines has been ordered to produce a detailed plan for a pipeline carrying Israeli natural gas to the Gaza Strip. Pending agreement with Gazan authorities, the pipeline could be completed as early as 2022.

Beersheba Plan

A plan to establish an innovation district in central Beersheba is being promoted by Beersheba Municipality, Prime Minister’s Office and Construction and Housing Ministry, in cooperation with Ben-Gurion University and Soroka Medical Center. The proposal envisions a district containing Soroka, the university, an IDF computer center to be built, two neighborhoods, and the area around the railway station.

Gabbay Named

Avi Gabbay, former chairman of the Labor Party, is the new CEO of Cellcom Israel, one of the country’s “big three” mobile communications providers. Gabbay replaced Nir Sztern, who took over as CEO of Paz Oil Company.

Air India Doubles Tel Aviv Flights

Air India plans to double the number of its weekly flights to Israel, the airline said in mid-January. Beginning April 1, the airline has scheduled six flights per week, compared to the current three. The Indian airline’s flights, which transit in Saudi Arabian airspace, are two hours shorter than the indirect route of El Al.

The Economy

2019 Deficit Soars

Israel’s 2019 fiscal deficit was higher than anticipated, year-end Finance Ministry figures indicate. The NIS 12B deficit was the equivalent of 3.7% of Gross Domestic Product, 0.8% above the 2.9% envisioned by the government budget. Finance Ministry officials attribute the shortcoming to a shortfall of NIS 9.2B in anticipated tax revenues and an excess of NIS 2.8B in government expenditures. In absolute numbers, the cumulative deficit for 2019 was NIS 52.2B, compared to NIS 38.7B in 2018.

Debt Ratio Marks Stability

Israel’s 58.5% government debt-to-GDP ratio in 2019 marked the third consecutive year on the right side of the 60% limit set by the Maastricht Treaty, according to a report issued by the Finance Ministry’s accountant general in mid-January. A low ratio is a sign of stability, and the government’s ability to pay its financial obligations. The reported public debt ratio, which also takes in finances of local authorities, was expected to decline to around 60%.

Record Reserves

Israel’s reserves in foreign exchange at the end of December amounted to a record $126.023B, up about $3.6B from the end of November 2019, according to Bank of Israel reports. Increase was largely due to purchases of foreign currency by the central bank, in order to maintain exchange rates favorable to Israeli exporters.

At the same time, the central bank downgraded its growth prediction for 2020 from its previous estimate of 3.2% to 2.9%. BOI Governor Amir Yaron said the revised prediction was in keeping with expectations for the world economy, where only moderate growth is anticipated.

Malls Mauled

Per-square meter revenues of stores in shopping malls declined by 3% in 2019, according to a year-end survey by Retail Systems Israel. The decline was particularly pronounced in fashion outlets, where income of more than half the stores was down 10%.

6th Desalination Plant

Israel is getting a sixth seawater desalination facility. Israel’s National Infrastructure Committee, in late December, approved a plan for a desalination plant in the western Galilee, an area which has suffered from a prolonged drought, and cannot rely on desalinated water from the facilities on the other side of the Carmel mountain range.

Pay Outpaces Housing

Israeli wages and housing prices are both rising, but pay levels are increasing more rapidly than the cost of purchasing a home, according to a report by the Bank of Israel. Housing prices rose 1.9% in the 12 months ending on August 31, while average wages were up 2.5%.

Record Tourism

4.5 million tourists visited Israel in 2019, the Central Bureau of Statistics has reported. The figure sets a new record; there were 4.1 million in 2018, 3.6 million in 2017, and 2.89 million in 2016.

Big Plans for Haifa Bay

Representatives of the Israel Land Authority in mid-January presented an ambitious “Innovation Valley” plan to the Haifa District Planning and Building Commission. The plan envisions terminating petrochemical industry operations in Haifa Bay, including all the oil refineries, and use the vacated area for urban development.

Meanwhile, Finance Minister Moshe Kahlon and Transport Minister Bezalel Smotrich were due to present a plan for privatizing Haifa Port to the ministerial committee on privatization. The plan involves selling shares in the port to a private investor who pledges to invest NIS1B; preference will be given to an investor with experience in maritime cargo.

Ukraine Bank Sues

Ukraine’s largest bank has filed an NIS2.1B lawsuit against Ukranian-Israeli citizens Igor Kolomoisky and Gennadiy Bogolyubov and Israel Discount Bank. PrivatBank, owned by the Ukrainian government, claims that Kolomoisky and Bogolyubov took out fraudulent loans and transferred the embezzled funds to a straw company account in the Israeli bank.

Auto Income Up

Purchase taxes on all types of automobiles rose 20% to NIS10B in 2018, according to the Israel Tax Authority’s annual review of the automotive industry published in late December 2019. Import duties on spare parts raised the total to NIS11.1B. Average purchase tax on a passenger vehicle amounted to NIS35K.

Globes reported that China has targeted Israel as a market for vehicles. Reasons for the decision were said to include Israel’s suitability for initial marketing and trials, its great sensitivity to price, and lack of obstacles designed to protect a local vehicle industry.

Hawaii Power

Puna Geothermal Venture (PGV), a subsidiary of Israel’s Ormat Technologies, has reached agreement with Hawaiian Electric’s Hawaii Electric Light subsidiary on an amended and restated power purchase agreement (PPA) for dispatchable geothermal power sold from Ormat’s Puna complex, located on the Big Island of Hawaii. The Puna plant has been out of action since the close-by Kilauea volcano erupted in May 2018.

Mofaz Sued

Shaul Mofaz, a former IDF chief of staff and defense minister, has been sued in a Tel Aviv court for allegedly defrauding two former Israeli security experts in connection with bids on a Jamaica government contract. The suit centers around help Mofaz and his brother, a colonel in the IDF reserves, allegedly promised the plaintiffs in getting a government contract.

Finance & Investment

Tech Fundraising Soars

Israeli technology companies raised a record $8.3B in 2019, up 30% from 2018’s $6.35B. According to a report by the IVC Research Center and the ZAG-SW law firm, the number of deals in the two years was almost identical – 522 in 2019, compared to 532 the previous year.

In a separate report, IVC-Meitar said that total value of exits in 2019 reached $21.7B in 138 deals including the $6.9B acquisition of Mellanox by Nvidia, which is still subject to closing. This figure is up sharply from $12.6B in 2018.

Unique Bond Issue

MLRN Projects, a specialist in non-banking credit, raised NIS120M in a late-December bond issue on the Tel Aviv. MLRN became the first Israeli Arab-owned company to sell bonds on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange. MLRN founder and CEO Muand Rian, an Israeli Arab who grew up in Kfar Bara in the Triangle region northeast of Tel Aviv, now lives in Kfar Shmaryahu, just north of Tel Aviv.

Digital Health Cashing In

Israeli digital health start-ups raised $662M across 69 deals in 2019, according to Tel Aviv-based Start-Up Nation Central (SNC). The interim numbers, published at the end of December, represent a year-to-year increase of about 32%.

Koch Investment

KDT Medical Investment, a subsidiary of U.S. billionaire Charles Koch’s Koch Industries, is investing $200-$250M in Insightech, the MRI-guided imaging developer controlled by Israel’s Elbit Imaging and Elbit Medical Technologies. Globes noted that Koch previously had invested $150M into Insightech, whose technology uses focused MRI-guided ultrasound waves to destroy tissue, for treatment of non-Parkinson tremors, and to clear blood-brain blockage.

Orphan Drug Status

The European Medicines Agency has granted orphan drug status to Motixafortide, a pancreatic cancer treatment developed by Israel’s BioLineRx Ltd. The drug developed by BioLine, based in Modi’in about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, received the same status from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2019.

Mangrove’s Wix Profits

Mangrove Capital Partners of New York has collected about $40M from sales of shares in Wix, the Israeli developer of website-building technology, over the past two years. During that time Mangrove has reduced its holdings in Tel Aviv-based Wix from 6.9% to 1.8%.

Mergers & Acquisitions

Good Year for M&AS

2019 was another good year for Israeli mergers and acquisitions, registering 138 exits, 122 of which were mergers and acquisitions valued at $21.7B in total according to an IVC Research Center report. That figure compares with 2018’s 122 deals, 106 of which were mergers and acquisitions worth a total of $12.6B.

Insight Ventures-Armis

New York-based venture capital and private equity firm Insight Partners has agreed to buy Armis, an Israeli IoT security company with offices in Tel Aviv and Palo Alto, California. According to press reports, sale price for Armis, which provides information security software that analyzes and classifies devices and their behavior to identify risks and protect information and systems, is between $800M and $1.2B, citing two sources.

The $20B portfolio of Insight, which opened offices in Tel Aviv last October, includes $700M in Israeli companies including Wix, Checkmark, Lighttricks and Monday.com Labs.

Comtech-Gilat

Comtech Telecommunications is purchasing Israel’s Gilat Satellite Networks for cash and shares at a company valuation of $532M. Based in Huntington, New York, Comtech develops, produces and markets advanced communications solutions. Gilat develops and markets VSAT satellite ground stations.

IFF-Dupont Merger

International Flavors and Fragrances, which acquired Israel’s Frutarom for $6.5B, has merged with the nutrition unit of DuPont, the American-international chemicals giant. The merger creates a flavorings industry giant with an estimated value of almost $50B.

Israeli Profits on Plaid Deal

Israeli entrepreneur Amit Avner collected several million dollars on the early-January $5.3B sale of fintech company Plaid to Visa, according to a report in the Haaretz. Avner, who owned only a small stake in Plaid, is the founder of ad verification firm Taykey, which was sold to Innovid for an undisclosed sum in late 2017.

I-800-Contacts-6over6

I-800 Contacts, the U.S.-based contact lens retailer, has acquired Israel’s 6over6 for an estimated $100M. 6over6 is the developer of GlassesOn, a digital platform allowing users to perform their own vision test producing eyeglass or contact lens prescriptions claimed to be as accurate as examination by an optometrist.

Codota-Tab Nine

Codota, a Tel Aviv-based AI-assisted software development platform firm, has completed the acquisition of Canadian code prediction tool developer TabNine. No financial details were disclosed. The acquisition of TabNine, developed by a student at the Waterloo University in Canada, creates an AI platform which fully supports nearly all popular programming languages including Java, JavaScript, Python, C, HTML and others.

ServiceNow-Loom Systems

ServiceNow, a cloud computing specialist in digital workflow, has acquired Loom Systems of Tel Aviv for an estimated $80M. Loom, which has headquarters in Tel Aviv and offices in San Francisco and New York, developed an AIOps solution for predicting and solving IT flaws.

Mimecast-Segasec

Mimecast, a London-based specialist in the cloud-based management of email, has acquired Segasec Labs of Tel Aviv. Purchase price was not disclosed, but industry sources estimate it at about $40M. Segasec has developed security technology protecting website operators from consumer phishing fraud.

Sapiens-sum.cumo

Sapiens, an Israeli developer of software for the insurance industry, has purchased sum.cumo, a German insurance technology company, for just over Euro28M. sum.cumo provides insurers in Germany, Switzerland and Austria with marketing services in e-commerce environments.

Cellebrite-Black Bag

Cellebrite, a digital forensic company based in Petah Tikva east of Tel Aviv has concluded a definitive agreement to acquire BlackBag Technologies the U.S. Based in San Jose, California, BlackBag specializes in digital forensics for corporations and law enforcement agencies. Cellebrite’s parent company, Japan’s Sun Corp. said the purchase price was $33M.

Perion-Contentiq

Perion Network is paying $73M in cash and incentive payments for Content IQ, a New York-based company with offices in Tel Aviv. Content IQ is described as “a digital publishing orchestration system with proprietary data algorithms and analytic tools which deconstruct content, revenue and distribution to solve today’s biggest digital publishing challenges.”

Miniclip-Ilyon Games

Miniclip, a European developer of mobile technology with headquarters in Neuchatel, Switzerland, has purchased Israel’s Ilyon Games for a reported $100M. Ilyon, located in Rosh Ha’ayin northeast of Tel Aviv, develops a variety of games including several versions of the popular Bubble Shooter.

Bard-Lifebond

C.R. Bard, a medical device company based in Murray Hill, New Jersey, has acquired Israel’s LifeBond for several tens of millions of dollars. Based in Caesarea about halfway between Tel Aviv and Haifa. LifeBond develops medical devices designed to restore and repair tissues to reduce post-operative complications. The company had raised $60M from investors including Johnson & Johnson Development Corp., Pitango Venture Capital, and GlenRock Israel.

Kaltura-New Row

In a deal involving two Israeli companies now based in the United States, Kaltura has acquired NewRow for an undisclosed sum.  Kaltura, based in New York, has developed and marketed a video creation, marketing and distribution service for clients including Warner Bros. Entertainment, HBO and Intel.  NewRow, of New Jersey, runs a service that enables the sharing of videos and classes by corporations and educational institutions.

Generation Capital-GES

Generation Capital, an infrastructure investment firm traded on the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, has purchased GES from Israeli property developer Azrieli Group for NIS110M. GES manages water purification, sewage and desalination projects.

Insight Buys Moonactive Stake

New York-based Insight Partners, a venture capital firm, has paid $125M for a stake Israeli mobile game developer Moonactive, at a company valuation of $1.25B. Moonactive is headquartered in Tel Aviv, and has a development center in Kiev, Ukraine. Its founder, Samuel Albin, is the son of business people Galia Albin and the late Mickey Albin.

Elbit Medical Sells Insightech Stake

Elbit Medical Technologies has sold most its stake in Insightec for $102M. The buyer, at a company valuation of $702M, was not named.

Science & High Technology

Grant Funding Stops

Lack of funding in the absence of a government budget has forced the Israel Innovation Authority to suspend grants for new projects in the first quarter of 2020. The funding shortage has affected all government agencies. IIA said the halt was temporary, and that it will continue accepting proposals, but not approve until the next government passes a budget.

Bioline Test Success

77% of pancreatic cancer patients participating in a test of BiolineRX‘s BL-4080 treatment showed positive results announced in late December. The Israeli company, which is based in the Modi’in area about halfway between Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, began as a company for developing drug projects initiated by Dr. Aharon Schwartz, then head of innovation at Teva Pharmaceuticals, together with Morris Lester; several of its developments have reached the clinical trial stage, including a polymer to rebuild heart muscle after a heart attack and a treatment for schizophrenia.

Zebra Signs Johnson Deal

Zebra Medical Vision, an analytics specialist based in Shefayim in central Israel, has signed a partnership agreement with DePuy Synthes Co., a subsidiary of Johnson & Johnson. The companies are to cooperate on development of artificial intelligence technologies for spine and other orthopedic surgeries.

Zebra Medical, whose technology uses artificial intelligence and machine learning algorithms for automated analysis of X-rays, CT scans, and MRI, says it has received FDA clearance for its automated chest x-ray triage product to analyze chest x-ray images for lung trauma.

Cannabis Imports

Cannabis produced in Portugal by Tilray of Canada will soon be sold as finished products in Israeli pharmacies, under terms of an agreement with Canndoc, a subsidiary of  Israel’s InterCure Ltd. Canndoc has an option to import 2.5 ton of high quality cannabis from Tilray’s facilities in Portugal; a first shipment of 250 kilograms reportedly was on its way to Israel in early January.

Cannabis License

Together Pharma has received approval from Uganda’s National Drug Authority to export medical cannabis to Germany, Malta and Israel. In addition to a cannabis farm near Ashkelon, south of Tel Aviv, Together’s 7.5-acre farm in Uganda has received Good Agricultural and Collection Practices from the World Health Organization. The Uganda permit makes it the world’s first exporter of medical cannabis from the African continent.

Italian Accelerator

Ten start-ups have been selected for a new program for Italian firms in Israel, launched in January by the Italian Embassy in Tel Aviv and the Innovation Center of Italian bank Intesa Sanpaolo. Seven of the startups will be hosted for three months at the Eilat Tech Center accelerator, which develops new business ideas in Israel’s advanced innovation ecosystem.

Robots at the Super

Sufersal, Israel’s largest grocery retailer, is considering deploying robots made by Israeli-Singapore developer Trax in stores around the country. One Trax robot is already operational at a shopping mall in the center of Tel Aviv, where it manages inventory and restocks shelves as necessary. Trax’s image recognition technology that turns shelf images in stores into real-time actionable insights. The company’s 600 employees include 200 in its Israel development center.

In a separate development, an Israeli research center estimated that about 15% of Israeli jobs are at high risk because of a move toward automation similar to other developed countries.  In addition, the report, by the Taub Center for Social Policies in Israel, classified 54%of existing jobs as being at moderate risk due to automation and 31% at low risk.

Nestle’s Choice

Nestlé SA, the multinational food and beverage giant, is setting up a foodtech innovation arm under Osem, its Israel-based subsidiary.  The Israeli project will work closely with the R&D accelerator established by Nestle in Lausanne, Switzerland, last year.

Intel Most Active

Intel was the most active multinational in Israel in 2014-19, participating in 52 investment rounds and buying five local companies for a total of $17.5B, according to a report by Tel Aviv-based IVC Research Center Ltd., Israel-based GKH Law Offices, and the Israel Advanced Technology Industries (IATI). The two most active multinationals in the past five years in terms of just acquisitions, however, were Google, with 10 deals, four of them acquihires, and Microsoft, with eight.

Multinational companies now employ about 62,000 people in Israel, mostly in operations centered in and around the Tel Aviv metropolitan area.

Microsoft Data Center

Microsoft plans to set up a data center in Israel, to provide cloud services for Israeli customers. The competitive cloud services sector is dominated by large companies, including Amazon and Google, which do not have Israeli data centers.

Wind Farm Funding

The ministries of Defense and of National Infrastructure, Energy, and Water Resources will fund development of technology that will make it possible to build wind turbines farms in the Golan Heights without disrupting the activity of the IDF and the air force in the area. NIS250M has been allocated to fund the new technology.

ALS Trial

Kadimastem, a biopharmaceutical firm with headquarters in Nes Ziona, southeast of Tel Aviv, has reported positive results in clinical trials for its treatment of amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), popularly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.  Six months into an early-stage Phase I/IIa trial, the company said it had found no toxicity and significant improvement in motor function of patients receiving low dosages of Kadimastem’s treatment, which has already been awarded orphan drug status by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Porsche Partnership

Porsche, the German carmaker, is partnering with TriEye, a Tel Aviv-based developer of short-wave infrared (SWIR) sensing chips that enable drivers to see in adverse road conditions, especially bad weather. The partnership will explore ways to improve performance of Porsche’s advanced driver assistance systems (ADAS) and autonomous vehicle (AV) products.

Daimler AG, the parent of automaker Mercedes, reportedly plants to test whether an ecology-friendly plastic substitute made by Israeli start-up UBQ-Zeelim can be used in its vehicles. Based in Ze’elim in southern Israel, UBQ-Zeelim has developed a process that turn municipal waste including food waste, soiled paper and cardboard into a new composite material.

Tesla Registrations

Tesla, the U.S.-based electric automaker, has opened a pop-up store at a shopping mall in an affluent Tel Aviv neighborhood. At the store, in the Ramat Aviv Mall, Israelis will be able to register to purchase Tesla cars, when they become available in Israel.

New Incubators

The Israel Innovation Authority and the Ministry of Economy and Industry establishing three new technology incubators in outlying regions. The incubators, located in Yeruham in southern Israel, Karmiel in the Galilee and Ben Shimon Regional Council in the northern Negev, are designed for companies in the medical cannabis, cleantech, agritech, industry 4.0, and plastics sectors.

In a separate development, government-owned Israel Aerospace Industries in December inaugurated an innovation center in collaboration with the international Starburst Accelerator, which specializes in aerospace.

Solar Vision

Israel’s Environmental Protection Ministry says that 43% of Israel’s electricity could be solar, reached solely by relying on solar panels installed on buildings, greenhouses, and built infrastructure without encroaching on open areas and fields. The current target set by the government is to have 17% of the country’s electricity produced using sustainable sources by 2030.

Despite the ambitious plans, some obstacles already have surfaced.  According to a report in Globes, the Israel Lands Authority has expressed doubts about a plan to build a 3,000-dunam (750-acre) solar field to generate electricity using the photo-voltaic method near Dimona in the Negev.  The ILA says the field, which would generate 300 megawatts, would interfere with mining in the designated area.

Power, Por Favor

The Tel Aviv-based Noy Fund, partnered with several other Israeli firms, has purchased a photo-voltaic facility in southern Spain capable of generating 420 megawatts of electricity. Noy, a major factor in energy-generation in Israel, is partnered in this Euro270M project by the Altshuler Shaam and Meitav Dash investment firms, the Amitim pension funds and Clal Insurance.

Teva Settles Lawsuit

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries has agreed to pay out $54M to settle a suit by former employees claiming that the Israeli pharmaceutical company bribed doctors to write prescriptions for multiple sclerosis treatment Copaxone and Parkinson’s disease treatment Azilect. Two of Teva’s former sales representatives claimed that Teva would pay doctors to write prescriptions for its branded drugs.

FDA Expands Treatment Rights

The U.S. FDA has given IceCure, a developer of freezing-based cancer treatments, permission to expand marketing beyond its original permit for breast cancer. IceCure, based in Caesarea about midway between Tel Aviv and Haifa, can now market its technology for treatment of malignant and benign tumors of the kidney, liver, ear, nose and throat. The company’s technology uses an ultrasound imaging-guided probe to inject liquid nitrogen into a tumor.

Brain Cancer ‘Helmet’

Optune, a ground-breaking cancer treatment which fights malignant brain tumors using electric pulses, has become available to patients in Israel. Developed by Haifa Technion Prof. Yoram Palti and Novocure, the helmet treats glioblastoma (GBL), an aggressive form of brain cancer and has approval in the U.S., Canada and Europe.

New Cancer Center

Tel Aviv’s Ichilov Hospital will get first national center for proton radiation cancer therapy is set to be built at the Tel Aviv Sourasky Medical Center, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot. Ichilov was selected over two other groups, one by Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Hospital-Ein Kerem and the Sheba Medical Center in the Tel Aviv metropolitan area, and a second group led by Israeli HMO Clalit Health Services. Proton radiation therapy enables more targeted treatment than conventional radiation.

Pineapple Burn Treatment

MediWound, based in Yavne southeast of Tel Aviv, has signed a $16.5M contract to supply the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services with its pineapple-based burn treatment drug. NexoBrid, MediWound’s pineapple enzyme-based topical treatment for the removal of dead tissue. MediWound last year entered a North America licensing agreement with Vericel Corp. for the exclusive distribution of NexoBrid.

Adico OK

Adico, the Tel Aviv-based start-up developer of artificial intelligence technology to aid radiologists, has received U.S. Food and Drug Administration approval for an algorithm to rapid detection of blockages in CT scans in emergency rooms.  According to the company, the technology enables rapid detection of stroke danger.

Swiss Choices

Five Israeli start-ups have been chosen to participate in the collaborative program of Switzerland’s national Swiss Federal Railways – FSight, a blockchain-based energy prediction and trading company; plug-and-play IoT startup HereO; indoor GPS startup Oriient New Media Ltd.; SoftRide Technologies Ltd., which develops technology designed to facilitate autonomous driving, and TIBA Parking Systems.

Aerospace & Defense

Laser Breakthrough

A major breakthrough in laser beam technology makes it possible to develop highly accurate interceptions, the Defense Ministry announced in early January. Early testing indicates that the beam can be directed on targets at long distances, even in unfavorable atmospheric conditions.

As a result of the breakthrough, the ministry’s Directorate of Defense Research and Development has launched three programs for the development of high-power laser demonstrator prototypes, in cooperation with industries Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Elbit Systems: a prototype ground-based anti-missile laser system which would provide an additional layer of aerial defense to the current Iron Dome, David’s Sling and Arrow systems; a prototype mobile laser to provide protection to maneuvering ground forces; and development of a prototype laser for high-altitude defense  mounted on an airborne platform.

One major advantage of the new system will be in cost: The new system will be powered by electricity rather than chemical generation of power in previously tested systems, and the cost of each interception will be about $1, compared to tens of thousands of dollars of each rocket fired by Iron Dome.

Advanced Iron Dome Tested

The Defense Ministry‘s Missile Defense Organization said in early January that it had completed a series of successful tests on an advanced version of Israel’s Iron Dome, dealing with new threats the Israeli missile defense system might face. According to the Israel Defense website, Iron Dome has performed over 2,400 successful interceptions in the 10 years since it first became operational.

Money for Missiles

The government has voted in principle to accept an IDF request for an additional NIS2B allocation for missile defense.  No source for the funding, to be spent over two years, was designated.

Armament Investment

Government acquisitions for Israel’s ground forces declined slightly in 2019, totaling NIS3.8B compared to 2018’s NIS4.3B, Yediot Aharonot reported. In the framework of the multi-year Tnufa development program, outlays for the Navy and Air Force were almost doubled, reaching a combined total of NIS1.9B compared to NIS1.1B in 2018, mostly due to Sa’ar 6 corvettes built for the Navy in Germany. Other outlays included NIS2B for intelligence and computation, NIS1.9B for multibranch logistics.  About NIS11.6B was spent with Israeli contractors and suppliers.

Government Satellite Plan

Israel Aerospace Industries will build Dror 1, the first of a series of government-owned communication satellites. Under terms of an agreement signed with the state, Dror 1 is due to be launched within four years. Estimated cost is NIS190-200M.

The move, which eventually will involve a series of satellites, stems from a 2018 government decision to maintain communications satellite independence.

IAI Privatization Blocked

Former welfare minister Haim Katz has prevailed upon Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to stall progress in steps leading to privatization of Israel Aerospace Industries, according to a report in Yediot Aharonot. The paper cited opposition by the IAI workers committee as the reason for the delay. Haim Katz, who resigned his ministerial post last year after he was indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, previously headed the powerful IAI union, which is now headed by his son Yair.

Boeing, Lockheed Pitch Planes

Executives from U.S. defense contractors Boeing and Lockheed Martin promoted the advantages of the warplanes their firms produce at a mid-December defense conference in Tel Aviv. The comments were made against the background of a pending Israeli decision whether to purchase F-15 IAs made by Boeing, or a third squadron of Lockheed Martin’s F-35. Boeing representative Avi Barber praised the F-15 IA as “another generation from the F-35,” while Gary North of Lockheed Martin said that when it arrived in Israel, his company’s aircraft had “changed the dynamics” of the Middle East and that its radar allows it to identify and intercept low-flying airborne threats including cruise missiles reportedly in the Iranian arsenal.

Forbes Credits Israeli Developments

Forbes magazine has included three Israeli developments in its list of the most important weapons systems developed and deployed over the past decade – the Iron Dome missile defense system, the Trophy (Windbreaker) active protection system for tanks and armored vehicles, and Stuxnet, the malicious computer code through to have been developed by Israel, which attacked the systems and severely damaged computer systems Iran used to operate its centrifuges used to enrich uranium.

Eitans Getting Iron Fist

Elbit Systems has won an initial $31M contract to provide IDF new Eitan wheeled armored fighting systems with its Iron Fist active protection system. The Iron Fist system uses optical sensors, tracking radar, launchers and countermeasure munitions to defeat threats at a safe distance and provides 360-degree protection coverage at close range scenarios in open terrain and urban settings. The IDF’s Kfir Battalion is due to absorb Eitan wheeled vehicles in a staged program to increase the infantry unit’s firepower.

U.S. Marine Sights

The U.S. subsidiary of Israel’s Elbit Systems has been chosen to develop a prototype of the Next Generation Hand-Held Targeting System for the U.S. Marine Corps. The solution is based on rugged laser designators, precision azimuth sensors and high-performance day and night imaging systems. Value of the deal was not announced.

Brits Deploy Drone Defense

Rafael’s defense against drone attacks including drone swarms, has already been deployed at a British Army base in the Middle East, according to a report on the Israel Defense website. The system incorporates radar to detect incoming threats and an electro-optical tracking element before it is decided whether to use a frequency jammer, laser beam or some other technology to intercept the drone.

Government-owned IAI reported successful tests of its own Drone Guard protection system at various commercial airports in January. The tests, which took place during the airports’ normal operating hours, were designed to observe how the system would detect drones and neutralize them without hindering flights or alarming passengers in the terminal area. The system, produced by IAI and its Elta subsidiary, utilizes a multi-level system of sensors, cameras and a jammer to neutralize and intercept hostile objects.

Montenegro Contract

The Ministry of Defense of Montenegro has awarded Elbit with a $35M contract to provide remote-controlled weapons stations for the Balkan country’s new Oshkosh 4×4 Joint Light Tactical Vehicles. Elbit will also provide logistical support for seven years.

Elbit’s Nanosatellite Launched

Nanova, the commercial nanosatellite developed by Elbit, was successfully launched into orbit on a Polar Launch Vehicle from the Satish Dhawan Space Center in southern India in mid-December. Nanova’s UHF payload provides a direct satellite link for data, voice and text communication. It was developed with an unnamed U.S. company as part of an initiative by the BIRD (U.S.-Israel Research and Development) Foundation.

Copter Cooperation

Elbit and MD Helicopters of Mesa, Arizona, have signed a teaming agreement to incorporate advanced weapons and mission management capabilities into MD’s 530G Block II (BII) scout attack helicopter. The pilot-centric integrated weapons system incorporates a helmet display and tracking, weapons management and mission management systems. Value of the deal, reported by Israel Defense, was not announced.

First Hermes to Switzerland

Switzerland has received the first of six Elbit’s Hermes 900 unmanned aircraft system. According to a report on Israel Defense, the systems will be missioned for border surveillance and disaster relief from a base at the Emmen Airbase. Elbit won a $200M Swiss government contract for six Hermes systems in November 2015.

Seaport Security

BLER Systems, a developer of security and cyber-intelligence systems based in Petah Tikva east of Tel Aviv, unveiled its maritime intelligence system at a recent security show in Paris. BLER says the platform allows seaport security officers to collect information from a wide range of sources, analyze big data information from dynamic online sources, and receive accurate and up-to-date information from public records and databases.

Dutch Wearable Tech Sale

Elbit has been awarded a $65M follow-on contract to supply the Dutch Army with wearable technology systems. The deal, which runs over two years, encompasses soldier load carriage and protection (LCP) systems, man-pack E-LynX Software Defined Radio systems, RAPTOR wearable computing units, command and control capabilities and vehicle systems.

IDF Ammo Contract

Elbit has been awarded a $144M Defense Ministry contract to supply small-caliber ammunition to the IDF.  The ammunition will be produced at Elbit’s Nof Hagalil factory in Upper Nazareth; the plan was acquired as part of Elbit’s 2018 acquisition of government-owned IMI Systems, formerly known as Israel Military Industries.

Finnish Buys

Finland’s Defense Ministry has authorized acquisition of ammunition for Finnish Leopard-2A6 tanks from the Land Division of Elbit. Purchase of the state-of-the-art 122mm HE/Fragmentation cartridges has an estimated value of dozens of millions of U.S. dollars. Several other international defense firms competed for the contract, according to Israel Defense.

According to a report by Israel’s Hamevasser, Finland also said it had acquired advanced Gavriel-5 sea-to-sea missiles from IAI.  The missiles, with a reported range of up to 200 km, incorporate INS-1 GPS navigation technology. Though specific sale of the Gavriel-5 has not been reported in Israel, a 190 million Finnish purchase of Gavriels was reported in various Israeli and international media in 2018.

Fuse Order

Reshef Technologies, based in Or Yehuda near Tel Aviv, has been awarded a NIS14M contract to supply fuses to the IDF.

Mellanox Joins Consortium

Israeli chipmaker Mellanox Technologies has joined the Cyber Companies Consortium (IC3), headed by IAI and will begin selling its products as part of the consortium. Mellanox will also collaborate with IAI’s subsidiary, Singapore-based Custodio Technologies Pte. Ltd., to develop a tool based on Mellanox’s smart network cards and Custodio’s CyVestiGO investigation system.

Rafael Wins U.S. Deal

Rafael will supply Spike NLOS (Spike) air-to-surface missiles to the U.S. for Apache AH-64E helicopters, according to a report on the Janes website. Value of the deal was not announced but is estimated at a minimum of $60M based on a per-unit price of about $100,000 and the U.S. Army’s 360 Apaches.

Rafael previously won a contract to supply 260 Spike LR rockets and 12 launchers to the Indian armed forces, for about $70M.

Virginia Delegation

About 17 Israeli defense-related firms are due to explore possible business collaborations during a planned visit the U.S. state of Virginia in early February to attend a one-day conference sponsored by the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the Virginia Israel Advisory Board. Participating companies include Elbit, Rafael, IAI, General Robotics, Accubeat, ADL, Astronautics, Bler Systems, CityShob, DSIT, Magam, Magna, RT LTA, Windward and Shilat.

Fire-Fighting Demo

Elbit Hydrop innovative precision solution for fighting fires from altitude successfully completed a field demonstration in mid-January. In an exercise led by the Israel Fire and Rescue Authority, two Air Tractor aircraft extinguished a fire in a field from more than four times higher than the average altitude of a standard aerial fire-fighting system. Using the HyDrop system each aircraft launched 1.6-tons of 140-gram liquid pellets in a computed ballistic trajectory.

Brits Test Elbit System

The British launched initial tests of Elbit‘s IronVision helmet-mounted battlefield situational awareness system in early December, as part of the new Challenger 2 tanks system. Elbit said it had worked with the U.K. for the past year on integrating the system, which is designed to give a 360-degree view of a tank’s surroundings in real time.

Elbit also signed a teaming agreement with MD Helicopters of Mesa, Ariziona, to incorporate the Israeli defense contractor’s pilot-centric integrated weapons system into MD’s 530G Block II scout attack helicopter. The helmet-based systems enhance positioning and target engagement by day and night and are part of a support system for Hellfire missiles.

Matan Ends Aeronautics Term

Amos Matan has stepped down as CEO of Aeronautics, the maker of unmanned aerial vehicle systems based in Yavne, southeast of Tel Aviv. He will be succeeded by Moshe Elazar, a former senior manager at Rafael, which together with Israeli businessman Avihai Stolero purchased Aeronautics last September for $230M.

Aeronautics has been under police and Israel Securities Authority investigation since 2017 for alleged violations of defense export-control regulations.

Boeing Partners Vtol Firm

Boeing, the aerospace giant, has entered into a partnership with Israeli’s Tactical Robotics to develop vertical take-off and landing (VTOL) aircraft, including aircraft based on Tactical’s Cormorant design, formerly known as Air Mule. Financial details were not announced. Based in Yavne in central Israel, Tactical develops air vehicle configurations for military and homeland security uses.

Amnesty Challenges NSO Permit

Amnesty International has asked an Israeli court to block Israeli cyber-intelligence specialist NSO‘s license to export its products to an unidentified country. (The Israel Defense website says it thinks the unnamed country is Saudi Arabia.) The suit, filed against the Ministry of Defense, is part of Amnesty’s campaign targeting NSO, claiming that NSO’s Pegasus phone-hacking software tools are being used by governments around the world to harm its personnel.

Drone Controllers

Mobilicom, based in Shoham east of Tel Aviv, has won a $2M contract to provide Elbit with its MCU mini-controllers and SkyHopper Control Air for the defense contractor’s unmanned aerial vehicles.

In a separate development, Elbit has received a $33M settlement from U.S. aerospace firm Hughes Network Systems in a lawsuit for patent infringement involving a satellite communications link.

French Order UGVS

The French Army is ordering between five and eight Probot unmanned ground vehicles from Tel Aviv-based robotic vehicle developer Roboteam. The vehicles, designed for the evacuation of wounded from combat areas, are due to be deployed this year in the African Sahel region. The Probot, an all-terrain tactical platform, can carry payloads of over 75o kg, climb stairs and maneuver precisely in confined areas.

Tavors to Philippines

The Philippines National Police is acquiring 25,000 556mm Israeli-made Tavor assault rifles, under a contract signed last December. About 10 years ago, Tavors were chosen as the gradual replacement for IDF M16 assault rifles and M4 carbines.

According to a report on Israel Defense, the Philippines is also purchasing ATMOS artillery systems produced by Israel’s Soltam Industries in a deal valued at $47M.

Patriot Shortage

The U.S. has said it is sending Patriot batteries to defend against Iranian attacks on its bases in Iraq, but does it have enough of the missile defense systems to deploy there? Not quite, according to a report in both Fox News and Jerusalem Post, which say available systems are already stationed in the Gulf and other locations. Washington last year purchased two Israeli Iron Dome systems, produced by Raytheon in the U.S. together with Rafael. A possible alternative is Skyhunter, recently introduced by Raytheon, which says it is based on Iron Dome.

IAI Unveiling Improved Heron

IAI is unveiling multi-altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle Heron MK II at the Singapore Airshow. Heron MK II is an updated model of the Heron UAV, which is used by the IAF and is operational with over 20 other organizations worldwide.

Refueling Plane Request

The IAF plans to ask the U.S. to give up two of its scheduled production slots for the Boeing KC-4A so that it can get early delivery of the aerial refueling plan.  Formal order of the planes, due to replace Boeing 707s now used for in-air refueling, has been delayed because of the electoral deadlock, meaning that the government hasn’t passed a budget in more than a year.

Montenegro Deal

Israeli private defense contractor Elbit has been awarded a $35M contract to supply the armed forces of Montenegro with remote-controlled weapons stations for the Balkan country’s new Oshkosh Defense 4×4 light tactical vehicles.  According to a report in Haaretz, the purchase represents almost half of the entire defense budget of Montenegro, which has a population of only 600,000 residents.

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