Shin Bet seeks computer wizards (& Israel’s “pink” diplomats)

October 05, 2006

CONTENTS

1. Shin Bet seeks computer wizards
2. Zionist founder’s children are buried in Israel
3. British architects call for Venice’s Biennale to ban Israel
4. Israel’s “pink embassy” in Paris
5. Netanyahu favorite for premiership
6. Israel’s economy affected less than expected by war
7. Microsoft buys Israeli start-up Gteko
8. UN troops will limit its actions to a “demonstrating presence”
9. Jane’s: Hizbullah received direct support from Syria during conflict
10. Hizbullah: We’re increasing our arsenal, not decreasing
11. Germany sends troops to Lebanon
12. Israel has abandoned efforts to kill Nasrallah for now
13. Israeli tourists return to the north
14. Canadian prime minister stands up for Israel
15. Thousands rally in Bern to support Israel



[Note by Tom Gross]

This dispatch contains various items about Israel.

SHIN BET SEEKS COMPUTER WIZARDS

The Israeli domestic security service, the Shin Bet, has followed in the footsteps of its external counterpart, the Mossad, in seeking recruits online.

Normally shrouded in secrecy, the Shin Bet (also known as the Shabak) launched its first-ever public recruitment drive last week. It unveiled a slick new website (www.shabak.gov.il/it) and bought online ads in Israel and abroad in a campaign aimed at attracting top-notch computer programmers to its cutting-edge tech division.

As security services increasingly rely on technology for their work, the Shin Bet is trying to attract the best computer programmers to join its ranks, promising “an exciting and challenging environment to work.” The Shin Bet’s main task is to prevent terror attacks inside Israel and the head of the organization, Yuval Diskin, says “computer geeks play a vital role as much as undercover agents and interrogators in preventing attacks.”

In August alone, the Shin Bet thwarted 25 attempted Palestinian suicide attacks and arrested 17 potential bombers, thanks, in large part, to its information technology unit.

The Shin Bet is trying to lure experienced engineers and computer programmers away from high-tech startup ventures by offering competitive salaries and a chance to develop the latest technologies, all for the sake of their country’s security, it says.

High-tech entrepreneur Yossi Vardi has, apparently, already been drafted. Vardi was one of the founders of Mirabilis, the inventors of ICQ (the Internet’s first ever successful chat service), which was later sold to American Online for hundreds of millions of dollars.

For more on the Mossad, please see:
* Munich (3): BBC set to name woman agent who killed Olympics massacre mastermind (Jan. 24, 2006).
* Israel Harel, the man who became the Mossad (Feb. 19, 2003).

ZIONIST FOUNDER’S CHILDREN ARE BURIED IN ISRAEL

The century-old dying wishes of Theodor Herzl, the founding father of modern Zionism, have finally been fulfilled as the remains of two of his three children were brought from France to be reburied in Jerusalem a few days ago. An official ceremony was held at the cemetery on Mount Herzl, the hill in Jerusalem named after Herzl and where his own remains were also buried in 1949, soon after the rebirth of the State of Israel.

The funeral followed years of bureaucratic battles and religious controversy about whether Herzl’s son who converted to Christianity and later committed suicide was entitled to a proper Jewish burial. His youngest daughter was killed in the Holocaust and her body was never found.

Herzl lived and worked as a journalist and author in 19th-century Europe. Deeply shocked by the wave of anti-Semitism that accompanied the Dreyfus Affair in 1895, when a French Jewish captain was wrongly accused of espionage, Herzl, a fully assimilated Jew, concluded that neither assimilation nor exclusion would keep Jews safe. In his book, “The Jewish State,” he argued that the best answer would be for the Jews to once again have their own homeland.

BRITISH ARCHITECTS CALL FOR VENICE’S BIENNALE TO BAN ISRAEL

The “British Association of Architects and Planners for Justice in Palestine” has asked the organizers of the 10th International Architecture Biennale in Venice, Italy, for Israel’s pavilion to be excluded from the exhibition. They claim Israel’s participation is provocative “following an ugly, unnecessary war and wanton destruction in Lebanon” and “a one-sided war” in Gaza, both of which they blamed Israel for.

The Israeli exhibit which they want banned is called “Life Saver: Typology of Commemoration in Israel” and deals with the issue of memory in Israel, depicting 15 commemoration sites, both monuments and buildings, remembering the victims of the Holocaust and of Israel’s wars.

The Biennale is one of the most important international architectural exhibitions and will last until November 19. The organizers did not respond to the calls to ban the Israeli exhibit.

Radical British anti-Zionist Jews, led by architect Abe Hayeem, were at the forefront of the petition to ban Israel.

ISRAEL’S “PINK EMBASSY” IN PARIS

The Israeli Foreign Ministry is considered to be one of the most advanced in the world in terms of recognition of the rights of gay couples. Israel recognizes 10 couples of gay and lesbian diplomats who live with their partners of the same sex as married couples, granting the partners the same rights as heterosexual couples such as a diplomatic passports, insurance and salary benefits.

In Paris, the Israeli embassy has been nicknamed “the pink embassy” by other diplomats as the partners of two envoys enjoy the same rights of married couples.

One reason that gay diplomats from other nations ask for postings to Israel is that they know how tolerant the country is. The Danish ambassador to Israel, Carsten Damsgaard, who is gay and has been married to his partner for 15 years, told the Israeli paper Yediot Ahronot: “I really appreciate the openness of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. If I judge by the way we were received over here, and we’ve been here for three years, I can say that Israeli society is very open.”

Even supposedly gay-friendly countries like the United States and France, don’t go so far in helping partners of homosexual diplomats.

For more on gay pride in Israel please see the last two articles in the dispatch Harry Potter taught at Bar-Ilan University (June 24, 2003).

NETANYAHU FAVORITE FOR PREMIERSHIP

According to a major new poll, former Israeli prime minister and current Likud leader Binyamin Netanyahu is the preferred candidate for the premiership. The poll shows Netanyahu with a sizeable lead over current prime minister Ehud Olmert, foreign minister Tzipi Livni and former Labor prime minister Ehud Barak. In second place after Netanyahu, is the rightist Moldavian-born politician, Avigdor Lieberman.

ISRAEL’S ECONOMY AFFECTED LESS THAN EXPECTED BY WAR

The recent Israel-Hizbullah conflict has affected Israel’s economy less than originally projected. The loss of GDP due to the war is expected to be under 1%. According to the Israeli Central Bureau of Statistics, in spite of the substantial cost of the war and the disruption to civilian life caused by hundreds of thousands of Israelis having to flee their homes or live in bomb shelters, Israel’s GDP will grow by 4.5% in 2006, business productivity will rise by 5.6% and the standard of living will rise by 2.8%, more than the 1.6% increase in 2005.

In the new World Economic Forum Global Competitiveness Index, Israel has climbed 8 places to occupy the 15th slot worldwide.

Last week business agreements were signed between Israel and Indonesia, the largest Muslim country in the world. It is estimated that the signing will lead to a quadrupling of trade between the countries.

MICROSOFT BUYS ISRAELI START-UP GTEKO

Bill Gates’ U.S. software giant Microsoft has shown its confidence in Israel again, this time by acquiring Hi-Tech start up Gteko for $120m.

Gteko products enable PC and peripherals manufacturers, Internet service providers, software vendors and corporate information technology departments to improve software service quality and reduce call-center costs.

Earlier this year, Microsoft acquired U.S.-Israeli Whale Communications Ltd., which makes secure access products.

A host of American companies continue to invest in Israeli ones. For another example, see the note and article about Warren Buffet in the dispatch Bon Appetite: Buffalo meat declared kosher (& Aliza Olmert’s art quadruples in value) (May 18, 2006).

UN TROOPS WILL LIMIT ITS ACTIONS TO A “DEMONSTRATING PRESENCE”

The Israel Defense Forces have completed their withdrawal from Lebanon, thus fulfilling all of Israel’s commitments under UN Security Council resolution 1701. As Israeli troops leave, their former positions are being taken by Lebanese soldiers, the first time in 40 years that the Lebanese army has been deployed in southern Lebanon.

Yet problems remain with the Lebanese side and Hizbullah have failed to honor their commitments such as the release of the kidnapped Israeli hostages. There are also problems over the rules of engagement regarding the UNIFIL forces and the Lebanese Army, stemming from different interpretations of Resolution 1701. According to Israel, the resolution requires UNIFIL and the Lebanese army to actively search for arms depots and to disarm Hizbullah. The UN instead now says it sees its role as firing only in self-defense and limiting its actions to a “demonstrating presence,” without actively intervening in cases of attack by Hizbullah along the border.

The UN resolution in August called for a total of 15,000 UN troops to be in place before Israel pulled its troops out of southern Lebanon, but this has not yet happened, and it remains to be seen whether the UN force will ever actually reach that number.

The Jerusalem Post writes: “Since the ceasefire took effect a month ago in Lebanon, the existing 2,000-member UNIFIL contingent has expanded to about 5,500 troops, and it is expected to grow to 8,000 in November. Time and again, Israel and the U.S. were assured that the new, more robust UNIFIL would be nothing like the old, discredited force, which acted as human shields for the massive Hizbullah weapons buildup that led to the recent war. Signs are already growing, however, that the ‘new’ UNIFIL, though larger and better armed, will not act appreciably differently to the ‘old’ UNIFIL that has existed since 1978. If there is any lesson to be learned from the last war, it is that the only way to prevent a renewed conflict is to prevent Hizbullah from being in a position to start one. This means disarming Hizbullah, and keeping it away from the border, not just ‘sharing’ that border and standing by as it becomes a potential flashpoint.”

JANE’S: HIZBULLAH RECEIVED DIRECT SUPPORT FROM SYRIA DURING THE RECENT CONFLICT

The leading British intelligence and defense magazine, Jane’s International Defense Review, reported yesterday that Hizbullah received direct intelligence support from Syria during the recent conflict, using data collected by listening posts jointly operated by Russian and Syrian crews. Hizbullah was also fed intelligence from new listening posts built on the Syrian side of the Golan Heights, which are operated jointly with Iran, Jane’s said.

Israel has also said that Russian anti-tank missiles procured by Syria were reportedly transferred to Hizbullah and used during the war.

The intelligence cooperation agreement between Syria and Iran is part of a broader strategic cooperation accord that was agreed in November 2005 and confirmed during Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinjead’s visit to Damascus in January 2006.

HIZBULLAH: WE’RE INCREASING OUR ARSENAL, NOT DECREASING

Hizbullah has let it be known that it has no intention of abiding by the section of UN Resolution 1701 that calls for the disarming of “all militias.” Six weeks after the end of the Lebanon war, the militia and terror group said it is facing little on-the-ground pressure to give up its weapons and disarm. Hizbullah claims to have now increased its arsenal to more than 20,000 rockets in Lebanon, most supplied by Iran and Syria.

In an interview with the Spanish newspaper El Pais on Sunday, Syrian president Bashar Assad said, “If a real will exists to introduce illegal weapons (into Lebanon), neither UN resolutions nor military deployment will be able to stop” (their entry). Assad went on to say that efforts by both Syrian troops and United Nations peacekeepers to stop the movement of contraband arms destined for Hezbollah was “a waste of time.”

Iran again displayed its enhanced Shihab-3 intermediate-range ballistic missile during a military parade on Sept. 22 in Teheran. The Shihab-3 is said to have a range of 2,000 kilometers. President Bush on Saturday signed legislation that would impose mandatory sanctions on entities that provide goods or services for Iran’s weapons programs. Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad said, also on Saturday, that Iran would not halt uranium enrichment even for a short period, as hapless EU diplomats have asked.

GERMANY SENDS TROOPS TO LEBANON

German Chancellor Angela Merkel welcomed the approval by the lower house of parliament to send 2,400 German troops to Lebanon to join the UNIFIL forces.

According to Merkel, the mission has a “historical dimension.” Germany, she told the Bundestag, had an obligation to send its soldiers to the Middle East and contribute to peace in the region. Because of the sensitivity surrounding Germany’s Nazi past, and in order to reduce the possibility of any clashes with Israeli soldiers, the German troops will patrol Lebanon’s coastal waters preventing arms being smuggled to Hizbullah.

For more on Germany’s decision to send troops to Lebanon, please see Firm with Nazi past buys 25% of Ha’aretz (& animals recover from Hizbullah) (Aug. 21, 2006).

Despite initial objections from Israel, UN Secretary General Kofi Annan told the Malaysian Prime Minister that his country should send 360 troops to join the UN force stationed on Israel’s borders. Malaysia, which is a mainly Muslim country, refuses to recognize Israel.

ISRAEL HAS ABANDONED EFFORTS TO KILL NASRALLAH FOR NOW

Israel has quietly backed off from its plan to assassinate Hizbullah leader Hassan Nasrallah because of the international condemnation that his killing would create, the Israeli daily Ma’ariv reported last Friday.

During the 34-day war between Israel and Hizbullah that ended Aug. 14, Israel had targeted the Hizbullah leader for assassination, security officials said, according to Ma’ariv. In a successful effort to evade assassination, Nasrallah went underground, though he repeatedly recorded videos from his hiding place that were broadcast on Lebanese television.

Nasrallah emerged from hiding on Sept. 22 to address a massive rally in Lebanon celebrating Hizbullah’s bombardment of Israel. Ma’ariv reported that Israeli army officials determined that they could successfully assassinate him with an air strike during the rally, but dozens of bystanders might also have been killed so the army called off the mission. The Israeli government declined to comment on the reports.

ISRAELI TOURISTS RETURN TO THE NORTH

Tens of thousands of Israeli tourists visited northern Israel’s parks, natural reserves and villages during the Jewish new year last week, barely a month after the ceasefire which put an end to the missile attacks by Hizbullah. Tourists also visited the sites hit by the missiles and paid visits to memorials for the Israeli victims, while collecting remains of the rockets as souvenirs.

Nevertheless, hoteliers and innkeepers said occupancy rates remained well below average, particularly in locations close to the Lebanese border. They hope that as another Jewish holiday (Sukkot) approaches, more tourists will visit the region.

During the war with Hizbullah, many western news outlets extensively reported on the hardships being suffered by the Lebanese tourist industry, while completely ignoring those of Israel’s tourist industry. For more, see the note “Israel also has a tourist industry” in the dispatch Israel, Lebanon, Hizbullah: 14 more observations on the situation (July 17, 2006).

CANADIAN PRIME MINISTER STANDS UP FOR ISRAEL

At a summit of 53 Francophone countries last week, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, standing alone on what he called a point of principle, forced the conference to introduce a modicum of balance into its anti-Israel statement on the recent war in Lebanon. Harper insisted that Israeli victims were also recognized too. France reacted with anger to Canada’s stance. President Jacques Chirac said that Harper’s position flew in the face of “the great majority” of countries at the summit.

THOUSANDS RALLY IN BERN TO SUPPORT ISRAEL

Around 3,000 people took part in a pro-Israel demonstration in the Swiss capital, Bern, on September 30, calling on the Swiss government to take a more sympathetic stance towards Israel.

-- Tom Gross


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.