Israel’s start-up army

Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
Dr. Naser al-Tamimi
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For many Jews, the task of the Israeli Defense Force is to protect the country from its enemies. For the Palestinians, Arabs and many worldwide, it represents a ruthless tool of occupation and a symbol of colonial power. The Israeli army has an advantage that does not get much Arab media attention: its ability to produce experts, managers and businessmen who establish companies, especially in the high-tech and e-security sectors.

Israel has some 4,000 technology start-ups, more than any other industrialized nation except for the United States, according to the Israel Venture Capital Research Center. The Israeli private sector spends more on innovation as a percentage of GDP than any other country.

Perhaps this is due to the composition of the Israeli military, which differs significantly from the hierarchical nature of traditional armies. Its soldiers are trained to take the initiative, think fast, and adapt to new circumstances rather than wait for orders. In other words, the Israeli army is decentralized to a large extent.

“Israel will never surrender and will always fight to the end,” wrote Jewish-American lawyer and political commentator Alan Dershowitz. “Israel must always maintain qualitative military superiority over the combined resources of its enemies.” Perhaps this strategy is used by Israeli companies, especially in the technology sector. This may be the secret of their success: maximizing their strengths while attacking their opponents’ weaknesses.

The Israeli army is to some extent a factory producing a technical elite. As a result, Israeli businessmen benefit from expertise provided by the army

Naser al-Tamimi

As such, compulsory military service in Israel is in many cases not a waste of time, unlike in many Arab countries. A lot of Israeli army recruits are university graduates or qualified people, who are screened, then given leadership responsibilities quickly, even if they are young.

The Israeli army is to some extent a factory producing a technical elite. As a result, Israeli businessmen benefit from expertise provided by the army, while the latter benefits from technologies developed by those outside military barracks.

Israel is third in the world in terms of per-capita spending, behind only the United States and the United Arab Emirates. It is the second-largest spender on military robots after the United States, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute. Israel is a major arms exporter, with India, China and Russia among its customers.

Such technologies are essential to Israel’s security, as government networks are among the most attacked in the world, with daily assaults numbering in the tens of thousands, according to the Soufan Group, a New York-based security adviser.

More than 600 Israeli companies are active in the security sector, and rely mostly on domestically-developed technologies to support the country’s security requirements, according to a recent study by the Israel Export & International Cooperation Institute.

The high-tech sector is very important to Israel’s economy in terms of exports and employment. However, its education system has “degraded significantly,” wrote Forbes columnist Mark Fidelman. “Without a robust education system, Israel will surely lose their ability to create world class companies and world class talent to run them.”


Dr Naser al-Tamimi is a UK-based Middle East analyst, and author of the forthcoming book “China-Saudi Arabia Relations, 1990-2012: Marriage of Convenience or Strategic Alliance?” He is an Al Arabiya regular contributor, with a particular interest in energy politics, the political economy of the Gulf, and Middle East-Asia relations. The writer can be reached at: Twitter: @nasertamimi and email: [email protected]

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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