Israel needs ‘Iron Dome for diplomacy,’ deputy minister says

Michael Oren, who holds the public diplomacy portfolio, says country unprepared for diplomatic warfare, and startups present their wares as Cyber Week kicks off in Tel Aviv

Shoshanna Solomon was The Times of Israel's Startups and Business reporter

Michael Oren, Israel's deputy minister for public diplomacy, speaking at the Combating Terrorism Terrorism Technology Conference, part of the Cyber Week 2018 events in Tel Aviv; June 17 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)
Michael Oren, Israel's deputy minister for public diplomacy, speaking at the Combating Terrorism Terrorism Technology Conference, part of the Cyber Week 2018 events in Tel Aviv; June 17 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

Israel needs to create an “Iron Dome” for diplomacy, to help the nation protect its image on the battlefield of public relations, Michael Oren, Israel’s deputy minister for public diplomacy said on Sunday at a conference on terrorism and cybersecurity in Tel Aviv.

Oren was referring to the Iron Dome missile defense system, designed to shoot down incoming rockets and missiles, which it did effectively during the 2014 conflict, known in Israel as Operation Protective Edge, and since.

Israel is dealing with enemies —  like the Islamist terror group Hamas, which rules the Gaza Strip — who may have no military strategy but do have a well-honed diplomatic and media strategy, he said. Their policies entice Israel to “strike and kill civilians,” he said. The main aim, he said, “is to take us to Hague,” referring to the international court.

There has been an international outcry over deadly clashes between Palestinian demonstrators and Israel at the border with the Gaza Strip. Since March 30, tens of thousands of Palestinians have taken part in weekly protests, which Israel says are orchestrated by the ruling Hamas terror group in Gaza and used as cover for attempted attacks and breaches of the border fence. Palestinian leaders have said they would file charges against Israel in the Hague, the world’s only permanent war crimes court.

A worker walks by an Iron Dome missile defense battery near the city of Sderot in southern Israel on May 29, 2018. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

“We are not prepared for diplomatic warfare,” Oren, a former Israeli ambassador to the US, said. “We need a legal and diplomatic Iron Dome to protect us” from delegitimization and negation of Israel’s right to exist, he said.

Speaking about the close strategic relations between Israel and the US, Oren said that the cooperation between the two nations is intense, especially in cybersecurity.

Israel represents 0.2 percent of the world population but accounts for over 20% of the global investments in cybersecurity, he said. “We are up there” with global leaders in the sector, he said.

“Israel has thwarted at least 30 major terror attacks” globally, Oren added, including one on an Australian airliner. He didn’t provide further details or timeframe for the events.

Oren was speaking at a conference in Tel Aviv that kicked off Israel’s Cyber Week, an annual international cybersecurity event hosted at Tel Aviv University and attended by some 8,000 participants from more than 60 countries.

The Combating Terrorism Technology Conference held Sunday was organized by the US Department of Defense, the Israeli Ministry of Defense, and the MIT Enterprise Forum of Israel. It brought together international experts on strategy and technology to discuss current trends in terrorism, counter-terrorism, technology and the opportunities for startups to put it all together.

During the event, the finalists of the “2018 Combating Terrorism Technology Startup Challenge” presented their technologies and a winner will be awarded a $100,000 check later on Sunday. Some 210 startups from 19 countries submitted their entries, including 60 technologies and applications, in such fields as big data, social media, biometrics, computer vision, video analytics, drones, robotics, cybersecurity solutions and medical technologies for disaster areas.

Adam Tarsi, International Program Manager, U.S. Department of Defense, of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO); June 17, 2018 (Shoshanna Solomon/Times of Israel)

The competition enables the US Department of Defense to tap into the latest cutting edge technologies out there, said Adam Tarsi, International Program Manager, US Department of Defense, of the Combating Terrorism Technical Support Office (CTTSO).

The CTTSO is in charge of working with all the US forces that respond to emergency situations — whether the New York police or counterterrorism entities. Since 1994 the body has been working with Israel by jointly investing in promising technologies with typical amounts ranging from $500,000 to $1 million.

“We have already financed hundreds of cooperative projects — and there are currently 40-50 active projects a year,” he said, in an interview with The Times of Israel.

Governments and defense forces will be looking with increased interest at startups in the field of artificial intelligence and deep learning that will enable officials to analyze all of the data that is available. “This is a new direction in fighting terrorism, harnessing the power of artificial intelligence,” he said, and finding out “how can we use data to help us make decisions.”

The idea is to turn “piles of data into knowledge,” he said. AI technology is already being used, but it is still evolving, he said. Another prominent trend, he said, is finding technologies to help analyze social media and online behavior, to help thwart damaging fake news.

Startups presenting their technologies at the conference included: D-ID, which has developed a technology to protect photos from face recognition algorithms, while keeping them similar to the human eye; CardioScale, which has developed a system to help first responders prioritize which patients to treat first in a mass-casualty event or terror attack; 3rdEye Systems, which has developed a uniquely low weight/low cost thermal imaging and analysis system that allows drones to automatically detect and autonomously respond to a variety of targets in all light and weather conditions; RoboSleeve, which uses medical colonoscopy technology to solve the homeland security and defense problem of inspecting tunnels, pipes, and other dangerous and inaccessible spaces by putting a camera at the end of a tube that is inserted into the underground tunnel; and FinCom.Co Ltd, which uses advanced phonetics and AI to identify individuals across a number of different databases, even those in which the name is misspelled or written in a different language.

Cyber Week is held jointly by the Blavatnik Interdisciplinary Cyber Research Center (ICRC), the Yuval Ne’eman Workshop for Science, Technology and Security, Tel Aviv University, the Israeli National Cyber Directorate under the Prime Minister’s Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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