As it was in the ancient world, Israel has once again become a crossroads of the world, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in a speech Tuesday. “We find ourselves in an age when both data is bursting forth via the Internet, and the economy continues to become more globalized than ever,” Netanyahu said at the annual conference of the Institute for National Security Studies. “For us it is a challenge, but even more, it is an opportunity.”
In his lengthy address, Netanyahu focused on topics the hundreds of attendees from Israel and abroad would have expected to hear at a conference run by Israel’s most prestigious defense-oriented think tank – Iran, the Palestinians, Hamas and so on. In fact, he discussed them in depth. But Netanyahu also dedicated a large chunk of his speech to how he envisions Israel fitting into the global economy in the coming years. According to the Prime Minister, Israel has what it takes – in terms of natural resources, geopolitical strategic positioning, and human capital – to take a leadership role in crucial areas of the world economy.
Israel already has a reputation as a global leader in technology development, Netanyahu said. Nearly every week, a large delegation of foreign government officials or representatives of multi-national tech companies come to Israel to “shop” for technology, start-ups, or key personnel to help them develop projects.
“They do not come here because of our pretty blue eyes, and they do not come out of political considerations,” Netanyahu said. “They come for three reasons laid out to be me by the leaders of China, Mexico, and other countries” with whom Netanyahu met at the Davos World Economic Forum last week. “They want three things: Israeli technology, Israeli technology, and Israeli technology,” the Prime Minister said. “They know what they want, and I believe we are able to supply them with these things because of the special circumstances that have enabled us to develop our technological capabilities.”
Among those circumstances, Netanyahu said, was the Jewish tradition of learning and questioning. “Our fine universities and research centers, and our special culture” of creativity and challenging authority “is the result of the fact that we are always asking questions. This is part of our Talmudic tradition that never accept limitations on questioning.”
That learning and questioning tradition has served the state well, enabling Israelis to develop innovative ideas and methods to defend the country. Now, with the increased importance of the Internet, said Netanyahu, Israel has an opportunity to parlay those skills into leading a new growth industry – cyber-security.
“The Internet cannot grow without security, without developing ways to protect individual information. It cannot grow unless we can protect bank accounts from hackers. It cannot grow without developing defenses against attacks on the networks that are constantly growing, and without the ability to defend countries, electrical systems, communications systems, transportation systems, and the like,” said Netanyahu, adding that this was a world-wide need – and an area Israel already excelled in. “The world’s largest companies, such as Cisco, are partners with us in this project. As Cisco CEO John Chambers has said, Israel is the most advanced country in the world” in cyber-security.
But besides cyber-security, Israel has something else to offer the world – a secure channel between Asia and the West for goods. China, of course, is the dominant power in Asia, and “China is very interested in Israeli technology, to put it mildly. If we, a country of 8 million, can get hold of a small part of China’s market, it will do a great deal for our economy.” Israeli technology companies have a great deal to offer China, and tech exports to that country and others in Asia will be greatly beneficial to the Israeli economy.
“But there is another opportunity for business with China,” Netanyahu said. “In order to keep its economy going, China must move huge amounts of merchandise over at least the next 20 years to the West, including Europe. These goods still must be moved physically. Most of them, 95-98%, are delivered by ship, with a large portion plying the Suez Canal.
“Now, we are building a channel between the Dead Sea and the Mediterranean,” Netanyahu said, in the form of a railroad line between Aqaba, Eilat, and Ashdod. “We will have a land bridge between Asia and Europe for freight, and later for passengers, that will allow you to get from Eilat to Ashdod in two hours. The new transport lines will provide a secure transfer point for goods moving from East to West, as well as help further develop the Negev, the Prime Minister added.
The same applies to the extensive highway system the country is building. “You are traveling these new roads, you see how we are developing the entire country. We are moving forward on this development, as the world economy develops,” Netanyahu added. “By opening up the country we will open ourself up to the great economic opportunities in the world.”