Archive for November 2019

Flying high: Military prowess helps Israel become global force in drone industry

November 30, 2019

Source: Flying high: Military prowess helps Israel become global force in drone industry | The Times of Israel

In fierce battle for market share against superpowers China and US, domestic UAV industry uses army experience to edge out the competition

In this photo taken on November 7, 2019, visitors examine exhibits at the 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Unmanned Systems (UVID) at Airport City, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

In this photo taken on November 7, 2019, visitors examine exhibits at the 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Unmanned Systems (UVID) at Airport City, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

AFP — In a fierce battle for market share against world superpowers China and the United States, Israel’s drone industry likes to say it has a secret weapon — military experience.

Unmanned aerial vehicles (UAVs) are used daily by Israel’s military in and around its borders.

The senior echelons of the country’s industry are populated by former military and intelligence officials, many of whom became founders or engineers in local startups.

Israel’s first rudimentary drone dates back to 1969. It was a remote-controlled plane with an attached camera to spy on neighboring rival Egypt.

Drones became more common, though not much more technically advanced, during the war in Lebanon from 1978.

But half a century later, tiny Israel is now a global force in the multibillion-dollar UAV industry, competing against China and the US.

In this photo taken on November 07, 2019 WanderB Vtol, a mini unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV), by Israeli company BlueBird is displayed during the 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Unmanned Systems (UVID) at Israel’s Airport City, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

It trades on its unique selling point: enemies at its borders and therefore plenty of opportunities to test and fine-tune its UAVs.

Ronen Nadir was a military commander specializing in missile development before establishing his company, BlueBird Aero Systems.

It sells combat drones across the globe, including the WanderB VTol that takes off and lands vertically like a helicopter, but has wings to improve speed. These drones can take off and land in a town, a jungle or the deck of a boat.

“You will not believe it, but it took only four and a half months” from the first concept, scribbled on paper, “until this UAV was demonstrated to the first customer,” Nadir said.

Hundreds have been sold since October 2018, he added.

Real-time feedback

“When an American company develops a mini-UAV and then it is used by the Marines in Iraq or Afghanistan, it takes a few years from the development of the system until it is used on the battlefield,” Nadir said.

“In Israel all the people (in the industry) are ex-army soldiers, officers. The engineers who work on the development of the systems are actually operating the UAVs in the (military) reserves, in actual service. Then they come back to the office with actual and real-time feedback.”

An IDF soldier with a Skylark drone during a drill at the Tzelim army base, August 5, 2013. (Miriam Alster/Flash90)

Development cycles are therefore short, he said, ensuring that Israel is at the “cutting edge” of the industry.

One study often cited by local authorities put Israel as the world’s largest exporter of drones, but it dates to 2013.

Since then, the US has vastly increased exports of its Global Hawk, a higher cost and performance drone, as well as the Predator. These have sold particularly in European markets, pushing the country ahead of its ally Israel.

China, which offers cheaper, lower-quality solutions, is perhaps also ahead of Israel now, often selling to countries the Jewish state has no relations with, said Philip Finnegan, director of corporate analysis at the American firm Teal Group.

In this file photo taken on November 07, 2019 SafeAir Mavic drone by Israeli company PARAZERO is displayed during the 8th International Conference and Exhibition on Unmanned Systems (UVID) at Israel’s Airport City, near Tel Aviv. (JACK GUEZ / AFP)

“The difficulty with ranking Israeli companies in the market is that they are very secretive over what they are selling and to who, as are the Chinese,” he said.

Teal estimates the global drone market to be worth around $12 billion in 2019, with that expected number to double in a decade.

“They (Israel) are certainly in the top three, if not the top two.”

‘A stage ahead’

At a recent conference for Israeli drones at Airport City, an industrial zone close to the airport in Tel Aviv, a discreet guest sneaked in: Nadav Argaman, head of the Shin Bet internal intelligence services.

His message was clear: “We buy Israeli technologies before anything else.”

Tevel Aerobotics Technologies has developed a drone that it hopes will help farmers do labor-intensive fruit-picking (Courtesy)

The technology, he said, helped allow Israeli civilians to live “comfortable daily lives, without knowing what happens under the surface” -– or in this case above it.

“In order to be alive we have always to be a stage ahead, including in drones,” said Zohar Dvir, the former deputy police chief reported to have inspired the Adam Sandler film “You Don’t Mess with the Zohan.”

Today Dvir is a board member at Gold Drone, which specializes in agricultural drones.

Even here, military expertise comes in handy.

“The biggest place for opportunity now is agriculture,” said Ben Alfi from BWR Robotics, which specializes in agricultural drones.

He says drones play an increasingly pivotal role in revolutionizing agricultural practice, whether it be spraying, harvesting or pollination.

Soldiers from the IDF’s Sky Riders Unit launch a Skylark drone during an exercise in an undated photograph. (Israel Defense Forces)

When it comes to “cost-effective, efficient” engineering, he said, “Israel is the best.”

Though not, he cautioned, in creating more traditional vehicles.

“The last vehicle we tried to make was 40 years ago,” he said, referring to the infamously bad Israeli-made Sussita cars from the 1960s. “It was made out of fiberglass and could be eaten by a camel.”

 

Iranian protests – which saw 7,000 arrests, 143 killed – point to future turmoil

November 30, 2019

Source: Iranian protests – which saw 7,000 arrests, 143 killed – point to future turmoil | The Times of Israel

Struggling under US sanctions over its nuclear program, regime will face ever-tougher decisions on where to cut costs, likely targeting subsidies that make life affordable for poor

An Iranian soldier stands guard overlooking a pro-government rally organized by authorities in Tehran, Iran, November 25, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

An Iranian soldier stands guard overlooking a pro-government rally organized by authorities in Tehran, Iran, November 25, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates (AP) — Even among hard-liners in Iran, there seems to be an acknowledgment of one fact after widespread protests, violence and a security force crackdown following a spike in government-set gasoline prices: This will not be the last time demonstrators come out on the streets.

As Iran struggles under crushing US sanctions over its rogue nuclear program following US President Donald Trump’s withdrawal of America from Tehran’s nuclear deal with world powers, its elected civilian government and those in its Shiite theocracy will face ever-tougher decisions on where to cut costs.

Those cuts will more than likely target its vast system of government subsidies that make life affordable for its poor; from low-cost electricity in their homes to the bread on their plates. Any move to increase those prices will draw further protests. But the government may not have any other option.

The protests that struck some 100 cities and towns across Iran beginning November 15, came after Iran raised minimum gasoline prices by 50% to 15,000 rials per liter. That’s 12 cents a liter, or about 50 cents a gallon. After a monthly 60-liter quota, it costs 30,000 rials a liter. That’s nearly 24 cents a liter or 90 cents a gallon. An average gallon of regular gas in the US costs $2.58 by comparison, according to AAA.

Traffic passes a building that was set ablaze during recent protests over government-set gasoline prices rises, in Tehran, Iran, November 20, 2019. (Ebrahim Noroozi/AP)

Cheap gasoline is practically considered a birthright in Iran, home to the world’s fourth-largest crude oil reserves despite decades of economic woes since its 1979 Islamic Revolution. Gasoline there remains among the cheapest in the world, in part to help keep costs low for its underemployed, who often drive taxis to make ends meet.

Iran’s per-capita gross domestic product, often used as a rough sense of a nation’s standard of living, is just over $6,000, compared to over $62,000 in the US, according to the World Bank. That disparity, especially given Iran’s oil wealth, fueled the anger felt by demonstrators.

Iran’s government, however, likely saw little choice in trying to push through changes to its gasoline subsidies.

Iran spent $26.6 billion on oil subsidies in 2018, according to the Paris-based International Energy Agency, the most of any country in the world. Iran spent 15% of its overall GDP, or $69.2 billion, that year on oil, electricity and natural gas subsidies.

Keeping gas costs low also benefits the wealthy, as well as those who smuggle Iranian fuel into other countries.

US sanctions, re-imposed by Trump, largely have stopped Iran from selling its crude oil abroad, cutting into a crucial source of government income. While Iranian President Hassan Rouhani pledged the money saved from cutting gasoline subsidies would go to the poor, Tehran also needs to cut back spending in order to weather the sanctions.

Already, Iranians have seen their savings chewed away by the rial’s collapse from 32,000 to $1 at the time of the 2015 atomic accord to 126,000 to $1 today. Daily staples also have risen in price.

An Iranian man checks a scorched gas station that was set ablaze by protesters during a demonstration against a rise in gasoline prices in Eslamshahr, near the Iranian capital of Tehran, November 17, 2019. (AFP)

Even with the hike in gasoline prices, Iran still subsidizes fuel costs. Its economy remains largely state-planned despite privatization efforts. Among other major subsidies are bread and wheat, diesel fuel, heating oil and electricity.

Iran’s minister of industry and trade, Reza Rahmani, pledged Tuesday that prices will not be increased through the end of the current Iranian year on March 21. However, the gasoline prices came suddenly and without warning overnight, signaling further cuts likely would follow the same way in order to try to control the outcry.

The scale of the gasoline price demonstrations remains unclear even today as Iran so far has not offered nationwide statistics for the number of people arrested, injured or killed in the protests. Amnesty International believes the protests and the security crackdown killed at least 143 people.

One Iranian lawmaker said he thought that over 7,000 people had been arrested, while the country’s interior minister said as many as 200,000 people took part in the demonstrations.

Iranian Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli speaks during a press conference in Tehran, Iran, July 1, 2018. (Vahid Salemi/AP)

While demonstrators attacked gas stations, the target of choice appeared to be banks. Protesters attacked over 700 banks, smashing ATMs and setting some ablaze, Interior Minister Abdolreza Rahmani Fazli said.

That anger doesn’t come as a surprise. In recent years, banks burdened by bad debts or circled by corruption allegations have collapsed in Iran, sparking sporadic protests by depositors who lost their money. Some of those banks had ties to powerful people within Iran, leading to allegations of cronyism.

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei called those who attacked the banks “thugs” in his first comments on the demonstrations. His website published a cartoon showing masked rioters attacking a bank, while another frame showed a family and an elderly man with a cane peacefully waiting to withdraw money from an ATM.

“Setting fire to such and such bank is not the action of the people, it is the action of thugs,” Khamenei said, according to his website. “These acts of sabotage do not solve any problem. In fact, they add insecurity to the problems that exist.”

Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei speaks in a meeting with members of the Revolutionary Guard’s all-volunteer Basij force in Tehran, Iran, November 27, 2019 (Office of the Iranian Supreme Leader via AP)

However, bank attacks were widespread in 1978 in the months ahead of Shah Mohammad Reza Pahlavi’s abdication and the Islamic Revolution. Marxists who hated capitalism, Islamists who opposed usury rates and others taking advantage of the chaos ransacked hundreds of banks, angry over corruption. The Iranian economy nose dived as money flooded out of the country.

The revolution saw millions on the street, something not seen in these recent protests. However, these demonstrations turned violent in the span of a day, showing the danger looming ahead for Iran’s government as it likely faces further hard choices ahead as sanctions look unlikely to be lifted as it has begun breaking centrifuges, enrichment and stockpile limitations in the nuclear deal.

“These riots are not the last ones and it definitely will happen in the future,” Revolutionary Guard acting commander Gen. Ali Fadavi has warned.

 

IDF strikes Hamas compound in Gaza in response to weapons fire, rocket 

November 30, 2019

Source: IDF strikes Hamas compound in Gaza in response to weapons fire, rocket | The Times of Israel

Aircraft attack terror group site in northern Strip after rocket launched and unspecified arms used to fire towards Israel, setting off sirens in both cases

Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Illustrative: An Israeli airstrike in Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip, November 27, 2019. (Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

The Israel Defense Forces said it launched airstrikes against the Hamas terrorist group in Gaza in the predawn hours of Saturday morning after weapons were fired at Israel from the Strip on Friday, setting off sirens.

“A short time ago IDF warplanes and aircraft attacked terror targets belonging to the Hamas terror organization in the northern Gaza Strip, including a military compound,” the army said in a statement. “The attack was carried out in response to fire from the Gaza Strip at Israeli territory earlier tonight.”

“The IDF sees gravely the firing of any kind of weapons toward Israeli territory, and will continue to take whatever action is necessary against attempts to harm Israeli civilians,” the statement said. “The Hamas terror organization is responsible for all acts in and emanating from the Gaza Strip and it will bear the consequences of all terror acts carried out against Israeli civilians.”

The army had earlier referred to the attack as “non-rocket fire” that did not cause casualties or damage, but did not give specifics. It set off sirens in the Ashkelon area north of Gaza. Iron Dome interceptors were fired in response but no interception was made.

Earlier on Friday evening aircraft had attacked a Hamas target in northern Gaza in response to a rocket attack that also set off alarms in Israel. The army said the rocket exploded in an open field in Israeli territory. There were no casualties or damage in the attack.

The incidents came hours after a Palestinian teenager was reported killed by Israeli troops during a protest near the Gaza-Israel border.

The Hamas-run Gaza health ministry reported that 16-year-old Fahed al-Astal was shot in the stomach and that five others were wounded. No official demonstrations were held Friday. An IDF spokesman said some demonstrators had approached the border fence and attempted to sabotage it. Troops responded with less-lethal means as well as some live fire.

On Tuesday, terrorists fired two rockets at southern Israel as Palestinians marked a “day of rage” in response to a recent decision by the United States supporting Israeli settlements. One of the projectiles was shot down by Iron Dome. The second appeared to strike an open field in the Sha’ar Hanegev region of southern Israel.

The IDF launched airstrikes on Hamas targets in Gaza in response.

A day earlier, a mortar shell from Gaza landed in southern Israel.

For the third straight week, the territory’s Hamas rulers canceled the regular Friday protests for fear of instability. This was followed by two days of fighting between Israel and the smaller Palestinian Islamic Jihad terror group earlier this month.

According to the Kan public broadcaster, organizers insisted that the cancellation of this week’s demonstration “has nothing to do with the recent understanding reached with Israel” and the measure was taken to protect Palestinian protesters from Israeli troops at the border.

The fighting earlier this month started after the IDF killed Baha Abu al-Ata, a top commander in Islamic Jihad.

During the escalation in tensions, the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s armed wing, fired some 450 rockets and mortars at Israel, which responded with many retaliatory strikes in Gaza.

The Hamas terror group’s Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades, unlike in previous rounds of fighting, was widely believed to have stayed on the sidelines.

Three Israelis were wounded by rocket fire during the fighting, and dozens were injured when they fell while running to bomb shelters.

Palestinian sources said 34 Gazans were killed. Israel said 25 of the fatalities were terrorists; human rights officials said 16 civilians were among the dead.

In addition, the Al-Quds Brigades, Islamic Jihad’s military wing, said Friday one of its members succumbed to injuries he sustained in an Israeli airstrike during the last round of fighting. It identified him as 30-year-old Raed al-Sarsawi.

 

A proposed long-term Gaza truce brings Hamas back to Judea & Samaria. The IDF would go for it – DEBKAfile

November 30, 2019

Source: A proposed long-term Gaza truce brings Hamas back to Judea & Samaria. The IDF would go for it – DEBKAfile

Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Hamas are amidst negotiations for a multifaceted deal via Turkey, Qatar and the US for ending rocket fire from Gaza and affirming a Palestinian power-sharing agreement. This corridor to a long-term Gaza truce, while costly for Israel, is favored by its military command.

Hope was boosted when Hamas on Nov. 29 cancelled another of its Friday clashes, the third in a row, between bomb-throwing Palestinians and Israeli troops on the Gaza border. Reluctant to totally give up this twenty-month long week-by-week “March of Return” spectacle, Hamas leaders are discussing whether once every two months is enough.

Israel’s political scene is too toxic for Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu’s policies to be credited for this let-up in Gaza violence. Rather his policy of sanctioning Qatar’s monthly cash payments to Gaza’s Hamas rulers and its impoverished population was roundly slammed by his opponents. Opposition speakers vowed to “put a stop to the suitcases of cash entering Gaza” when they come to power.

But they have turned silent in the last few days now that this policy is seen starting to bear fruit. Not only has Hamas slowed its terrorist operations against Israel, but the hidebound Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, under its octogenarian chairman Mahmoud Abbas (Abu Mazen) of Fatah, is stirring into life.

The spirit of change awakening in the two rival Palestinian factions, Hamas and Fatah, may not be altogethery good news for Israel, especially when Turkey’s President Recep Erdogan is a key player. On a visit to Qatar on Nov. 26,  to inaugurate a Turkish military base established to secure its ruler Sheikh Tamim Al-Thani in his dispute with Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, his talks with the emir centered strongly on plans for Palestinian presidential and parliamentary elections to be held for the first time in 12 years.

Erdogan and his host devised a formula for overcoming the long feud between the Fatah leader Abbas and Hamas’ Ismail Haniyeh. They proposed that the rival factions agree in advance on the results of the election. Abu Mazen’s Fatah would win a majority, Hamas a minority. The presidency would be retained by the former. This carve-up would have two consequences:

  1. The PA and its ruling Fatah would be given a role in the Gaza Strip’s civic rule, including full responsibility for expenditure, while Hamas would maintain its military arm and control of domestic security.
  2. Hamas’ political and religious organs would be allowed by the PA to re-establish operations in the PA-controlled areas of the West Bank.

The Qatari sheikh and Turkish president offered to personally vouch for this accord for the two participants.

Another visitor to Doha this week was Abu Mazen. The Qataris handed him a personal letter of five pages addressed to him by Ismail Haniyeh. DEBKAfile’s sources report that the PA chairman, on the pretext of needing time to study its content, held back his reply to the Turkish-Qatari power-sharing proposal put before him.

Hamas is meanwhile making preparations for Palestinian elections. All its spokesmen have been ordered to desist from public statements. Yahya Sinwar, who is addicted to fiery rhetoric, was advised by Turkish president to stop hailing Iran as the great champion of the Palestinian cause. In another directive, Hamas ordered a halt on rocket fire against Israel, successfully applying it to the Islamic Jihad. The pause in the weekly border riots was another by-product of progress towards an agreed truce with Israel.
Erdogan and Al-Thani must still overcome formidable obstacles before an Abbas-Haniyeh accord is concluded and the way is clear for a long-term Gaza truce with Israel. But another hopeful sign that Hamas is finally beginning to attend to the needs of the Gaza population occurred this week when work began on a big new American hospital at the Erez border terminal between Gaza and Israel. This hospital would reduce the Gazans’ total dependence on Israel and Egypt for medical treatment.

The source of its funding is unknown, likely buried somewhere in the relations between Qatar and Washington and possibly figuring in President Donald Trump’s Middle East peace plan when it eventually sees the light of day. UN Middle East peace envoy Nikolay Mladenov is also making noteworthy progress on the track he is running between Egypt, Hamas and Israel.
This buzz around the Gaza may be positive news for Israel, by and large, but the price for its outcome may be high. If the Fatah-Hamas accord brokered by Qatar and Turkey goes through, Hamas’ political and religious institutions will be making a comeback on the West Bank. Israel will have to find a strong guarantor as insurance that Hamas will not exploit its comeback for a return to terrorist violence against Israel – this time within easy reach of its central conurbation and international airport.
However, with its politics in chaos, and an interim government with a life expectancy only up until another election just months away, Israel is in no state for making fateful decisions. The IDF’s Deputy Chief of Staff Brig. Gen, Eyal Zamir, former head of the Southern Command, is trying to step into the breach. He is going around with the enthusiastic message that the potential Fatah-Hamas deal, if concluded, would herald new relations of cooperation instead of confrontation between Hamas and Israel. He points out that already, Hamas is showing good will be holding the Islamic Jihad back from resuming its rocket barrage against Israel.
Still, the obstacles to overcome before this happens are pretty formidable: For instance, Abu Mazen must forego his stipulation for the Palestinian elections to include East Jerusalem or not take place anywhere else. And Israel will not sanction any accords before Hamas hands over the missing IDF soldiers’ bodies and civilians held hostage against the mass release of convicted terrorists.

 

President Trump Delivers Remarks to Troops in Afghanistan

November 29, 2019

 

 

Palestinians claim U.S. policy “an act of war” – TV7 Israel News 28.11.19

November 28, 2019

 

 

China THREATENED Trump With Retaliation Over His Support Of Hong Kong, BRING IT!

November 28, 2019