Thursday, May 23, 2013

Asia courts hi-tech Israel

From: The Australian May 23, 2013, by Colin Rubenstein*:

ISRAELI Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's recent visit to China was revealing... Beijing arranged a program that strongly hinted it regards Netanyahu as an important visitor.
In addition to the standard protocol for visits from heads of government - meetings with President Xi Jinping and Premier Li Keqiang at the Great Hall of the People with full military guard - Netanyahu was invited to hold a live chat with Chinese citizens on Xinhua's website, and gave a speech at the Central Party School, the main academic institution that trains the Communist Party's future leaders. These less common gestures highlight a desire to reach out to a foreign leader.
The welcome mat put out for Netanyahu in Beijing is part of a growing trend across east, south and southeast Asia. Israel's reputation as the "start-up nation" - a dynamic economy centred on hi-tech, innovation and entrepreneurship - is causing regional leaders to sit up and take notice. Israeli leaders - long focused on the US and Europe - are starting to make the Asian region a new priority.
...Chinese leaders know that Israeli-Chinese trade and economic co-operation is highly valuable and only likely to become more so.
Netanyahu concluded his visit to China having signed a $US400 million ($408.5m) trade agreement. China followed up the Netanyahu visit by announcing that the University of International Business Economics had decided to create a new department of "Israeli economics and Judaism" dedicated to the study of Israel's economy, technology and business culture. This follows classes established at the University for Foreign Affairs in Beijing over recent years on Hebrew and Israeli culture.
Since Israel and China established diplomatic relations in 1992, trade between them has expanded almost 200 times to $US9.91 billion last year.
"If we offer a marriage between Israeli technology and Chinese manufacturing and global marketing capabilities, we can have a winning combination," Netanyahu said in Shanghai. Beijing apparently agrees, with Chinese ambassador to Israel Gao Yanping echoing these sentiments in the Jerusalem Post.
...Israel's regional economic ties extend beyond China to South Korea, Japan, Singapore, Vietnam, Mongolia, Cambodia, Laos, Nepal, India, Sri Lanka and other countries.
While some connections date back more than 50 years - as in the case of Myanmar, Thailand and The Philippines - these relationships are today growing at an unprecedented rate. Even in countries with no diplomatic relations with Israel, such as Indonesia, there are growing ties, albeit indirectly.
Israel is also negotiating a free trade agreement with India that could lift annual trade volume between the two from $US5bn to $US15bn.
Israel's defence trade with India is about $US9bn. Tourism is also growing, with South Koreans and Indians visiting Israel in substantial and increasing numbers. Israel's two-way trade with the Association of Southeast Asian Nations has reached $US28bn and exports to Asia continue to grow. They're about 22 per cent of the Israeli total.
Asian nations are recognising that Israel excels in innovation in a variety of areas of particular interest, including water conservation, irrigation methods, agriculture, medicine, communications and hi-tech.
Israel has also gained a reputation for ground-breaking entrepreneurship, pioneering technologies, profitable business opportunities and high investment returns. The Wall Street Journal magazine recently ranked Tel Aviv as the world's second "most innovative city", qualities recently singled out by business mogul and philanthropist Warren Buffett. Following his acquisition of the Israeli company Iscar, he said: "Israel is a good place for investment because of its people. There is no other place like it on earth where you can find people with such qualities."
Smart Australian companies are, and should be, looking for ways to leverage Israeli economic presence in our region.
*Colin Rubenstein is executive director of the Australia-Israel & Jewish Affairs Council.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Syrian front heats up

From The Times of Israel 21 May 2013, by Aaron Kalman:

Israel’s military chief issued a severe warning to Bashar Assad on Tuesday, saying the Syrian leader would “bear the consequences” of any more attacks on Israeli forces near the Syrian border.
Benny Gantz uses binoculars to look across Israel's border with Syria, Tuesday 21 May 2013
(photo credit: IDF Spokesperson)
Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz issued his threat hours after an Israeli jeep came under fire during a patrol in the Israeli-controlled Golan Heights.
Syria claimed it destroyed an Israeli vehicle that crossed the ceasefire line in the Golan Heights overnight. A statement issued by the Syrian Armed Forces said its troops destroyed the vehicle “with those in it.” It did not elaborate, but said any attempt to infiltrate Syria’s territory will face “immediate and firm retaliation.”
The IDF said the vehicle, which had not entered Syrian territory, suffered light damage. It said that the Israeli troops reported a “direct hit” from their return fire — a Tamuz missile, fired seven minutes after the Syrian fire.

Gantz said there was no doubt whatsoever that the routine IDF patrol was inside Israeli territory, and no doubt either that it was deliberately fired upon by Assad’s forces — “from a clearly marked Syrian position… not once, not twice, but three times.” Israel, he said, “cannot allow the Golan Heights area to become a comfortable space for Assad to operate from. If he causes [the situation on] the Golan Heights to deteriorate, he will have to bear the consequences.”
Although Israeli analysts said Tuesday’s incident was apparently a local initiative, “Assad encourages and directs the widening of different operations against Israel, including the Golan Heights,” Gantz told a conference at the University of Haifa.
Tuesday’s was the latest in a string of incidents in which gunfire and mortar shells have struck the Golan in recent months. Israel believes that most of the fire has been spillover from the Syrian civil war, but that several cases, including Tuesday’s, were intentional.
That was bolstered by the fact that Tuesday marked the first time the Syrian army has acknowledged firing at Israeli troops across the frontier, in what appeared to be an attempt by Assad’s regime to project toughness following three Israeli airstrikes near Damascus this year.
Ehud Ya’ari, a leading Arab affairs analyst, told Channel 2 news on Tuesday night that the situation between Israel and Syria was now “several times more explosive than it was this morning.”
He noted that a Syrian member of parliament, Sharif Shehadeh, warned after the Golan exchange of fire that Syria would respond to any future Israeli attacks; Shehadeh also spoke of “other regional forces” allied with Syria — in reference to Iran and Hezbollah.
“This marks a serious change of policy by Assad,” said Ya’ari. Assad has  now “tied his own hands… committing himself to respond to any future Israeli attacks.” This was something the Syrian president had avoided doing for two years, because he didn’t want direct confrontation with Israel.
Israel has warily watched the Syrian civil war, fearing the two-year-old conflict could spill across its borders.
Israel is concerned that Assad, in an act of desperation, could try to escalate tensions on the border to draw in Israel and divert attention away from his struggles against the rebel groups seeking his ouster. Israel also fears that Assad’s sophisticated weapons could be transferred to Iranian-backed Hezbollah terrorists in Lebanon or fall into the hands of the rebels, including Islamic extremists connected to al-Qaeda who Israel believes will turn their attention to the Jewish state if they topple Assad.
Tensions have been rising between Israel and Syria in recent weeks, particularly following two airstrikes executed by Israel earlier this month that targeted Iranian arms shipments bound for Hezbollah via Syria. Israel has not confirmed carrying out the attacks.
The strikes marked a sharp escalation of Israel’s involvement in the Syrian civil war and raised fears that the conflict could turn into a full-fledged regional war.
Syria vowed to retaliate after the strikes and Assad said Syria was “capable of facing Israel” and would not accept violations of its sovereignty. Firing at an Israeli target seems to be in line with the tougher rhetoric that followed the airstrikes.
Gantz visited the area after the cross-border incident Tuesday and told soldiers stationed there to “stay alert during these challenging times.”
Speaking earlier at a conference in the north of the country Gantz described the precarious security situation that Israel faces in an unstable and volatile region, and said things could spiral out of control at a moment’s notice.
“A day doesn’t go by in which we don’t have to make decisions that could lead us to a sudden and uncontrollable deterioration,” he said. “That is something that will be with us for the near future. We need to be more alert.”
Later in the day, meanwhile, Home Front Defense Minister Gilad Erdan warned that rockets raining down on densely populated areas in Israel “are only a matter of time” and could happen at any moment.
“The question is no longer will rockets be fired at the large populated areas in Israel, the question is when it’ll happen,” Erdan told reporters during a briefing ahead of a large drill scheduled for southern Israel Wednesday. He said the battles being fought no longer distinguish between the front line and the home front, as missiles and rockets allow strikes far from the battlefield.
“it could happen tonight, it could happen next week,” Erdan said of the next escalation. “Flare-ups along our borders aren’t something dependent only on the IDF or its will.”