News Digest — 2/1/23

On This Day In 2003: Ilan Ramon Died Aboard Columbia Space Shuttle

On February 1, 2003, Israeli astronaut Ilan Ramon was killed alongside the rest of his crew during the fatal Columbia Space Shuttle mission.

Born in 1954 in Ramat Gan to Holocaust survivor parents, Ramon completed the Israeli Air Force flight academy course with honors, graduated from Tel Aviv University with a degree in electronic engineering and computers and served his country first as a fighter pilot in the Israeli Air Force all before earning the prestigious title of ‘Israel’s first astronaut.’

In 1997, Ramon was selected by NASA to train for a space shuttle mission aboard the Columbia space shuttle orbiter, an opportunity that saw him move to Texas in order to spend the next five years training for the 16-day mission.

And so, on January 16, 2003, Ramon and the other six members of his crew set off for a 16-day mission dedicated to science and research.  Although secular, Ramon felt closely connected to Judaism and Israel, and requested both Kosher food and observed Shabbat while in space.  “I feel I am representing all Jews and all Israelis” he commented at the time.

The items taken aboard the space shuttle by Ramon reflected his love for Judaism and his respect for Jewish history, as among the items  was a drawing of a moon landscape created by 16-year-old Peter Ginz who had died in Auschwitz during the Holocaust.

He also took two miniature Torah scrolls with him, one given to him by former Israeli president Moshe Katsav, and a second one gifted to him by Prof. Yehoyachin Yosef, a Bergen Belsen survivor.  He also took a dollar of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.

After completing a successful 16 days in space, with the crew conducting over 80 experiments over the course of the mission, Columbia began its journey back to earth.

However, an undiscovered breach in the shuttle’s thermal protection system caused it to disintegrate the moment it hit the Earth’s atmosphere, killing Ramon and the rest of the shuttle crew.

In addition to Ramon, the other six people to lose their lives that day were Payload Commander Michael P. Anderson, Mission Specialists David M. Brown, Kalpana Chawla, and Laurel B. Clark, and Payload Specialist Ilan Ramon of the Israeli Space Agency, Commander Rick D. Husband and Pilot William C. McCool.

Ramon was posthumously awarded a United States Congressional Space Medal of Honor, making him the only foreign recipient of the award to date.

Ramon left behind a wife and four children.

In the two decades following his death, a number of institutions were set up in his name, including Ramon Airport (also named for his son, Asaf Ramon, who died in an IAF training exercise), the Ilan Ramon Youth Physics Center and a number of elementary schools and high schools across the country.

A space-themed playground in Beersheba also bears his name, and further afield in space, the Ramon Crater in the Apollo Basin proudly carries his name, all the way across to the far side of the moon. 



PM Netanyahu: IDF Cyber Intel Experts Training 20,000 Students

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (1/31) said IDF Unit 8200 cyber intelligence officials are now training 20,000 Israeli students to boost the country’s future defense capabilities.

“Nationally, we are building an IDF school for computer science in Beersheba and Unit 8200 is training some 20,000 young people for the field of cyber,” said Netanyahu speaking at the Cybertech conference in Tel Aviv.

The prime minister said that, “The people who are actually practicing defense against cyber attacks are teaching the youngsters – the result is superior.”

Next Netanyahu said that, “Israel has become a leading cyber power, both on a government level and at the private sector level.”

“Let me focus on the dramatic increase in cyber attacks…emanating from governments.  In Israel we are creating a cyber iron dome.  We are using advanced AI [artificial intelligence] and defusing data from multiple sources to deal with multiple attacks as they are all happening simultaneously,” he said.

He spoke about threats both from nation-states and ransomware hackers, who might not be affiliated with governments.

Further, he advocated for high levels of public and private sector cooperation as well as international cooperation where “the league of like-minded countries with smarts, with advanced AI and cyber” capabilities can help each other.

Moreover he said, “Cyberwarfare is in its infancy.  The capabilities of cyber war are not limited to democracy, but democracies must pool their resources to defend themselves.”

Earlier at the conference, former IDF Intelligence Unit 8200 chief and Team8 Co-Founder and CEO Nadav Zafrir said on Tuesday (1/31) that “if there is a resolution in 2023,” in the Russia-Ukraine war, cyber attacks will become worse not better.

“Cyber as part of the toolkit will become the main tool and we will see more threats, not less,” said Zafrir.

The former IDF cyber intelligence chief also said sarcastically that the world is “almost celebrating a year of war in Ukraine. A year ago no one would have believed we would have a global war in Ukraine that looks like a world war.”

Next, he discussed “what did not happen.  We didn’t see the cyber doomsday weapon come out in Ukraine.  We didn’t see it because there was no motivation to take it out.  But we did see cyber become a real thing.  In this war, it was part of the toolkit.”

Further, he said that “we will be in the Wild West of cyber in 2023” given a complete breakdown in US-Russia relations leading to unprecedented levels of global nation-state and ransomware attacks.

Microsoft Corporate President Michal Braverman-Blumenstyk said that 2022 saw a record $8.4 trillion in losses due to hacking, making up 9% of the world economy.

Mandiant UK Managing Director Stuart McKenzie Mandiant said Russia’s cyber attacks on Ukraine led to “the most sophisticated attacks we have ever seen.”



Israel’s Cybersecurity Authority Foiled Over 1,000 Major Attacks In 2022

Over the past year, Israel’s cyber defense authority foiled over a thousand major attacks that had the potential of seriously crippling the country’s economy, its cybersecurity czar said on Tuesday (1/31).

Speaking to reporters at the Cybertech 2023 conference, Director General of Israel National Cyber Directorate (INCD) Gary Portnoy elaborated on Israel’s cyber activities and explained how they have become an integral part of securing the Jewish nation from outside threats, especially those stemming from Iran.

Israel is “subject to cyber attacks like other parts of the world, only in addition to the regular share, we also have Iran to contend with, with its organized, coordinated and aggressive attacks on the Israeli cyber space,” Portnoy told the conference.

He added that “our defense is as strong as ever.  We see how they work, many times without success in causing real damage.”

“As in the world of counterterrorism and spy games, the general public is most of the time unaware of the attacks that have been stopped.  Our job is to prevent those attacks that, if successful, would result in millions of damages to the economy and the country.  Our efforts often happen behind the scenes,” he further added.



2 Hurt In Ramming Attack At Tapuah Junction

A terrorist ramming attack was carried out at the Tapuah Junction in Samaria Tuesday night (1/31), the IDF reported.

According to the report, an Arab vehicle ran over two Israeli soldiers before fleeing the scene.  Security forces are searching for the driver.

One victim was moderately injured while the other was slightly injured.  Magen David Adom and Rescuers  Without Borders’ personnel provided them with medical treatment at the scene and evacuated them to Beilinson Hospital in Petah Tikva.

Samaria Regional Council chairman Yossi Dagan called on the government to act with all its might against terrorists.  “Abu Mazen (PA chairman Mahmoud Abbas) is trying to ignite a wave of terrorism throughout the country and the right-wing government should treat him the way they treat any terrorist.  Abu Mazen and his fellow terrorists are trying the new government again and again.  If the government wants to prevent a wave of terrorism throughout the country, it must order the IDF to launch a determined military operation tonight against the terrorist infrastructure of the Palestinian Authority.”

The day Abu Mazen fears a knock at the door, the area will stop burning.  The new government must change the failed security paradigm of the outgoing government.  We, the settlers of Samaria, together with the entire people of Israel, are strong and have faith and we will overcome the terrorism.  The ball is in the hands of the government and we trust it to fight back and set a precedent for a defensive attack against the terrorist Palestinian Authority.”



NGO Crowdfunding Campaign Aims To Save Dead Sea

The Dead Sea Revival Project launched a crowdfunding campaign this week to save the salt lake located at the lowest place on earth.

According to the NGO, the Dead Sea is disappearing mainly because the water sources and the historical flow of the Jordan River to the sea have dried up or have been diverted.  Other causes include factories and industries, both on the Israeli and the Jordanian side, that pump out large quantities of water to extract minerals.

The funds are aimed to establish a brand new Dead Sea Boat experience at the northern end of the Dead Sea as part of the NGO’s mission to share the story of the unique site with the world and influence public opinion and global support.

“I fell in love with and rediscovered the Dead Sea on private boat tours starting in 2016,” founder Noam Bedein, who is a photojournalist, said.  Since then I have returned countless times to capture the ever-changing landscape as well as the environmental drama and the primordial beauty of the site.”

“Today, 98% of the remaining northern Dead Sea is no longer accessible to the public.  Its famous beaches were closed because of the drop in the water level, and along its shores over 7,000 sinkholes appeared and about 700 new ones are discovered every year.  Our goal is to launch excursion packages accompanied by environmental and educational content by ‘World Water Day 2023’ (March 22).  We started this campaign to help raise funds for the development of the project.”

Some 430 meters below sea level, the Dead Sea is one of the world’s saltiest bodies of water, and due to its unique abilities was even a finalist in the Seven World Wonders’ contest.