Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Israel’s Tech Firms Do Business in Saudi Arabia

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Video of the week: Israeli technology is everywhere -           
By Jonathan Ferziger and Peter Waldman. BloombergBusinessWeek 2-2-2017
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Over the course of 30 years working in Israeli intelligence, Shmuel Bar immersed himself in the hermeneutics of terrorism. Using techniques of literary analysis more familiar to Koranic scholars and Bible critics, he came to recognize the distinctive language and religious phrases that suicide bombers used in their farewell videos. “Victory is with the patient” appeared frequently in the martyrdom declarations of Hamas recruits. Al-Qaeda adherents favored the call “God, count them, kill them, and don’t leave any of them.”
Bar, a tousle-haired 62-year-old with a wry sensibility, emerged from government service in 2003 amid the proliferation of global terrorism, and in the rising sense of doom he saw a business opportunity. He founded a company called IntuView, a miner of data in the deep, dark web—a sort of Israeli version of Palantir, the Silicon Valley security contractor. Tapping engineering talent in Israel’s startup hub of Herzliya, he adapted his analyst’s ear for language to custom algorithms capable of sifting through unending streams of social media messages for terrorist threats. He sold his services to police, border, and intelligence agencies across Europe and the U.S.
Then, two years ago, an e-mail arrived out of the blue. Someone from the upper echelons of power in Saudi Arabia, Bar says, invited him to discuss a potential project via Skype. The Saudis had heard about his technology and wanted his help identifying potential terrorists. There was one catch: Bar would have to set up a pass-through company overseas to hide IntuView’s Israeli identity. Not a problem, he said, and he went to work ferreting out Saudi jihadis with a software program called IntuScan, which can process 4 million Facebook and Twitter posts a day. Later, the job expanded to include public-opinion research on the Saudi royal family.
“It’s not as if I went looking for this,” Bar says, still bemused by the unexpected turn in a life spent confronting Israel’s enemies. “They came to me.”
“If it’s a country which is not hostile to Israel that we can help, we’ll do it”
Bar says he meets freely these days with Saudis and other Gulf Arabs at overseas conferences and private events. Trade and collaboration in technology and intelligence are flourishing between Israel and a host of Arab states, even if the people and companies involved rarely talk about it publicly. When a London think tank recently disinvited Bar from speaking on a panel, explaining that a senior Saudi official was also coming and it wasn’t possible to have them appear together, Bar told the organizers that he and the Saudi gentleman had in fact been planning to have lunch together at a Moroccan restaurant nearby before walking over to the event together. “They were out-Saudi-ing the Saudis,” he says.
Peace hasn’t come to the Middle East. This isn’t beating swords into plowshares but a logical coalescence of interests based on shared fears: of an Iranian bomb, jihadi terror, popular insurgency, and an American retreat from the region. IntuView has Israeli export licenses and the full support of its government to help any country facing threats from Iran and militant Islamic groups. “If it’s a country which is not hostile to Israel that we can help, we’ll do it,” Bar says. Only Syria, Lebanon, Iran, and Iraq are off-limits.
The Saudis and other oil-rich Arab states are only too happy to pay for the help. “The Arab boycott?” Bar says. “It doesn’t exist.”


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