Ex-defense minister Moshe Ya’alon to head UAE-based Israeli VC firm

New company to invest in Israeli startups developing cybersecurity, defense products in Emirates; Ya’alon left politics earlier this year

Ricky Ben-David is The Times of Israel’s Startups and Business editor and reporter.

Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a campaign rally in Tel Aviv for his new political ally Benny Gantz on January 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)
Former defense minister Moshe Ya'alon speaks at a campaign rally in Tel Aviv for his new political ally Benny Gantz on January 29, 2019. (Hadas Parush/Flash90)

Former IDF chief of staff and defense minister Moshe Ya’alon will head a new Israeli-owned venture capital firm based in the United Arab Emirates, charged with investing in early-stage Israeli startups developing technologies in fields like cybersecurity, smart cities, public safety, fintech and insurtech.

The firm, Synaptech, is owned by the Avnon Group, an Israeli provider of cybersecurity, defense, and homeland security (HLS) solutions such as unmanned aircraft systems, counter-drone solutions, and radar systems for law enforcement, security agencies, and first responders. The VC firm is owned jointly with Avnon Group’s “strategic partners in the Gulf,” according to the announcement Wednesday.

Avnon Group was founded by Tomer Avnon, a veteran businessman in the HLS and defense sectors. The company recently set up an office branch in Abu Dhabi. Separately, Avnon Group set up Hive 2040 last year with Israeli investment firm Meitav Dash, a VC outfit registered on The Tel Aviv Stock Exchange, to tap into Israeli cyber, smart cities, and fintech startups. The investment committee for Hive 2040 includes former police chief Yohanan Danino.

Synaptech will invest in up to 20 startups “with the aim of bringing the spirit of the Israeli ‘Start-Up Nation’ to the Emirates and realizing the business potential in the defense industry between the two sides,” Avnon Group said in a statement Wednesday.

“The Abraham Accords [formalizing ties between Israel and the UAE, followed by Bahrain, Sudan, and Morocco, signed last year] have opened the door to Israel and the United Arab Emirates for strategic cooperation that will affect the two countries for many years to come,” Ya’alon said in the announcement.

Avnon Group and its partners will also set up an innovation center where the selected startups can base their development activities, as well as a “Corporate Innovation Center, Accelerator and Training Center for Disruptive Technologies” where Gulf countries will be able to “take part in the development process of Israeli-made products.” The participating companies will also receive guidance and access to local investors and partners in the region, according to the announcement.

“At the UAE Innovation Center, we will allow Israeli technology companies to recruit strategic investors and develop their product according to market demands, in collaboration with their future customers in the Gulf. We believe that in a short time, Synaptech will become a symbol of peace and economic cooperation between Israel and the United Arab Emirates,” Ya’alon said.

Ya’alon bowed out of politics ahead of the national elections earlier this year (Israel’s fourth in two years), after it became clear his Telem party, running solo, would not clear the electoral threshold. Telem was previously allied with the Yesh Atid party headed by Yair Lapid, the current foreign minister in Naftali Bennett’s government coalition, and before that was part of the Blue and White alliance with Lapid and current defense minister Benny Gantz.

A former Likud stalwart, Ya’alon had aligned himself with the protest movement against former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, despite holding views that are squarely right-wing. He became a fierce critic of Netanyahu in recent years, after he resigned from the Defense Ministry post in 2016, citing his lack of faith in Netanyahu.

“Israel must concentrate all its strength on the fight for change: To heal the rifts in society, to thwart the culture of falsehood, to restore integrity to our way of life and to strengthen democracy, which is eroded every day,” Ya’alon said in March when he quit politics.

Ya’alon first entered the Knesset with Likud in 2009. A hawk on Iran and staunch supporter of settlements, Ya’alon famously stoked diplomatic tensions with the US in 2014 when he called then-secretary of state John Kerry “messianic and obsessive.”

Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.

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