News Digest — 3/18/22

Gantz Approves Development Of Laser Defense System

After a series of discussions in recent months, Defense Minister Benny Gantz has approved the allocation of hundreds of millions of shekels for the development and production of an operational laser interception system.

Defense Ministry Director General Maj. Gen. Amir Ashel will sign the order in the coming days, after which he hopes for an accelerated process for the development of the Magen Or System, which will be installed in the first phase near the Gaza Strip.

The development of the plan will be led by the Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure in the Defense Ministry.  Rafael will be the main developer of the system, in collaboration with Elbit Systems.

Over the past few months, work has been completed on the groundbreaking technology that enables the deployment of a high-power laser transmitter that can destroy rockets, shrapnel and unmanned vehicles.

In the first phase, hundreds of millions of NIS will be allocated from the defense budget for development and experiments of the system.  In the next phase, the defense is expected to allocate additional hundreds of millions to complete the development process.

On Thursday morning (17th), the Minister of Defense toured the Rafael Company complex, together with the head of R&D at Mapat, Brigadier General Yaniv Rotem, and the General Manager of Rafael, Maj. Gen. Oren Sabag, who introduced him to the system, developed following the working meetings that have taken place in recent months.

Subsequently, Minister Gantz approved the progress of the system’s development, according to the  work plan and the promotion of the order from Rafael.

Laser technology will make it possible to deal with a wide range of threats, including rockets, shrapnel and UAVs, in a light, effective and significantly inexpensive configuration relative to any other means of defense.  It will be integrated into the air defense system of the State of Israel and will constitute a complementary capability to the Iron Dome system.

Defense Minister Benny Gantz said: “Today we are taking a dramatic and important step towards a change in the battlefield, and an upgrade in the security of Israeli residents in the face of the threats that are developing on our borders from Gaza, Lebanon and Syria, sponsored by Iran and terrorist organizations.  The powerful laser is a strategic change in our defense that will be given to the home front, in terms of operational flexibility at the political level.”

“As in the past, today our Israeli defense systems and industries, with resourcefulness, flexibility and groundbreaking technologies, maintain Israel’s security superiority and save lives.  We will do everything and allocate the necessary resources to complete the process as quickly as possible and according to our plan.  Our investment will also lead to great economic gain for the State of Israel and cooperation with many friendly countries in the world,” Gantz said.



Annual Report: Israel Ranked 9th Happiest Country In The World

Israel was ranked the 9th happiest country in the world in the annual World Happiness Report, coming just one point below Norway and beating out New Zealand.

The ranking is a stark increase from 2021, when Israel came in 11th, and from 2020 when it came in 14th.

Like last year, COVID-19 played a major role in this report as the world continues to grapple with how the global pandemic disrupted and upended society in all sectors.

Overall, the Nordic countries once again dominated the top spots, with Finland coming in as the world’s happiest country for the fifth year in a row.

In second place was Denmark, followed by Iceland.  Switzerland came in fourth followed by the Netherlands and Luxembourg, with the Nordic states of Sweden and Norway coming next.

At the bottom of the list was Afghanistan, in the same place as last year.

Factors taken into account include GDP, social support, life expectancy, freedom to make life choices, generosity and perceptions of corruption.

This is the 10th anniversary of the release of the World Happiness Report, a publication of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network.



‘It Is A Privilege To Save Lives In Ukraine Wearing A Uniform With The Israeli Flag’

The spirit of Israeli volunteerism is known worldwide, and yet the story of Israel Defense Forces officer Mio Fernandez from Jerusalem stands out.

Only several days after being discharged from the military, he traveled to Lviv to help Ukrainian Jews escape the war.

For the past five years, Fernandez has served in the IDF’s Duvdevan counterterrorism unit and planned to go on a long-awaited vacation to Sinai upon being discharged.  However, he soon received a phone call that would change his plans completely.  Instead of traveling abroad to enjoy Sinai’s scenery and coral reefs, he traveled to a country engulfed in conflict.

“I was celebrating the end of my military service with friends, when I received a phone call from the ‘One Heart’ [Israeli aid] organization.  “Without too much thought, I canceled my plans, and at 5 a.m. in the morning was already on a flight to Ukraine.”

“One Heart” is a civilian aid organization that operates in times of emergency.

“I am very glad I came to Lviv,” Fernandez continued.  “It brings an immense sense of fulfillment.  Everyday we find Jews and help to rescue them, by aiding them in making their way to the border.  It sounds easy but it is not.  Only thanks to the Israeli flags on our uniforms do people recognize us and turn to us for help.”

Having spent only several days in Lviv, Fernandez has already helped many cross the border into Poland and eventually, to Israel.  Fernandez will stay in Lviv for a while longer, after which he will return to Israel to see his parents and his girlfriend whom he has not seen since he was discharged from the IDF.  After a short break, he plans to return for another volunteering round to Ukraine.

“It is a privilege to save Jewish lives from war zones thanks to the Israeli flag on my uniform,” Fernandez added.



Israel Sees Stream Of Russian Immigrants, Not Only Ukrainians

Most reports on refugees arriving in Israel in past weeks focused on the absorption of those fleeing Ukraine since the Russian invasion.

However, the country is also filled with Russians who want to live in the Jewish state, including the young and educated, who largely prefer Tel Aviv, reports Hebrew-language website N12.

“I have a hard time with the Russian president and his administration.  Everything that is happening now started in 2014 (with the annexation of the Crimean Peninsula,” Russian immigrant Ivan Grantowski, 28, told N12.  He arrived in Israel earlier this month.

Grantowski feared he was being watched in Russia, where authorities “could have put me in jail for many years just because I wanted to voice my opinion on the administration,” he told N12

“Some people are approached by the police only because they wrote on Facebook that they are not happy with the situation.”

Israel could also become a country of refuge for the Jewish community in Russia, which is considered one of the largest in the world, according to N12.   Jews receive immediate citizenship when they make aliyah to Israel, including anyone with at least one Jewish grandparent under the Law of Return.  Israel is one of the only countries that does not require an entry visa from Russian citizens.  

“People travel here in large numbers,” Maria Gaider, the 28-year-old daughter of former Russian Prime Minister Tagur Gaider, told the news site.  “I see all the people here from my phone number.  I was just walking down the street in Tel Aviv, and I happened to meet three people from Moscow,” she said.

Not all Russians who arrived in Israel are immigrants, she added.  Many people come “because they are afraid that we will soon return to a period reminiscent of the Soviet Union.  They want to come here and wait for changes in the country.”

Tel Aviv is known as the most expensive city in the world, and the influx of Russians has not helped the situation, to say the least.  Gaider described the jump in apartment prices at the beginning of the Russian attack on Ukraine.

“Apartment prices rose immediately  – both for sale and for rent….”

“There are no apartments at all, anywhere.  Not only in Tel Aviv, but also in Bat Yam and Netanya.  How did this happen?  Because  of the war.  When the war started, demand began to exceed supply.”

Muscovites also prefer to settle in a place full  of life and culture, Grantowski told N12.

“Tel Aviv is central, it is a cultural city – with theater and music,” he said.  “We live with friends in Tel Aviv, and I love the city very much.  The problem is that prices here, and in Israel in general, are very high.”

According to the data of the Tel Aviv Municipality, which has been considered the record of absorption in Israel for four years in a row, in 2021, 3,069 immigrants from all over the world came  – most of them Russian-speaking.  Those who choose Tel Aviv as their home constitute about 10% of all immigrants to Israel.

Although there are still no official figures on the subject, estimates range from several hundred to several thousand Russian citizens who have come to Israel since the war broke out, writes N12.



Israeli Arabs See Rise In Standard Of Living, Life Expectancy And Education – Dr. Nasreed Haddad Haj-Yahya

Arab society in Israel is being revolutionized by a rise in the standard of living, life expectancy and education.  The number of Arab citizens of Israel was 1,595,300 at the end of 2020, 17.2% of the total population.  They are 83% Muslim, 9% Druze, and 8% Christian.  Over the last two decades, life expectancy for both Arab men and women has increased by three years, similar to the equivalent increase among Jews.

The median number of years of education among Arabs has risen dramatically.  In 1985, the median was 7.7 years for Arab women and 9.3 for Arab men; in 2017, the median for both sexes was 12 years.  Matriculation rates in the Druze system are even higher than in the Jewish school system.

The number of Arab undergraduate students and their share of the total student population has almost doubled over the last decade, from 10% in 2009-2010 to 18.3% in 2019-2020.

Arab students for an MA degree have risen from 6.5% in 2009-2010 to 14.6% in 2019-2020.  The proportion of Arab Ph.D. students rose from 3.9% in 2009-2010 to 7.3% in 2019-2020.

In 2000, Arabs constituted 4.8% of civil service employees.  By 2020 it reached 13.2%.  The percentage of Arab board members in government companies has risen from 1.2% in 2000 to 12% in 2018.

The writer is director of the Arab Society in Israel Program at the Israel Democracy Institute.