Expect the Good News about Israel’s Economy to Keep Coming

Aug. 17 2018

For the first time in seven years, S&P Global—a firm known for its credit ratings—upgraded Israel’s rating to a higher-than-ever AA-. Moody’s also recently gave Israel a similarly positive upgrade. Predictably, opponents of the Netanyahu government pointed to the Israeli economy’s problems, such as inequality, the high cost of living, and so forth. Zev Chafets comments:

[The critics are] right about the extremely high cost of living, the scarcity of affordable housing, and the rate of poverty, which exceed those of most [advanced] countries. The Economist just named Tel Aviv the world’s ninth most expensive city. Currency appreciation has played a role in this. It also reflects the transformation that has made Tel Aviv an economic engine for the economy. Still, soaring housing prices . . . are a real issue for many Israelis. . . .

A credit rating is a judgment on a limited set of issues; Israel’s challenges are more complex than just the factors that impact its ability to borrow on international markets. Still, it shows that the terror problems that caused its credit rating to drop at the start of the century are no longer an overriding concern from that perspective. . . .

Israel is a world leader in everything from medical cannabis research to unmanned aircraft, from integrated circuits to water desalinization. It exports agricultural technology to poor countries, cut diamonds to the rich ones, pharmaceuticals, and, lately, entertainment to American networks. Israel has also managed to become a destination for both gay tourists and Christian pilgrims. . . .

Israel could be complacent, but it isn’t. Last week, Professor Isaac Ben-Israel unveiled a new national project. As an IDF general, he was the father of Israel’s widely admired anti-missile program. As a civilian, in 2010, he conceived and developed a cybersecurity ecosystem. Now, with government support and private investment, he intends to do the same for artificial intelligence. Ben-Israel’s plan, which has Netanyahu’s support, includes making AI and data science mandatory in high schools and universities, leveraging government investment to foster startups, cooperating with Intel and other foreign high-tech companies that already have Israeli research-and-development centers, and concentrating on areas in which Israel has a competitive advantage, including financial technology, healthcare, robotics, and the [so-called] “Internet of Things.”

Read more at Bloomberg

More about: Artifical Intelligence, Israel & Zionism, Israeli economy, Israeli technology


Leaked Emails Point to an Iranian Influence Operation That Reaches into the U.S. Government

Sept. 27 2023

As the negotiations leading up to the 2015 nuclear deal began in earnest, Tehran launched a major effort to cultivate support abroad for its positions, according to a report by Jay Solomon:

In the spring of 2014, senior Iranian Foreign Ministry officials initiated a quiet effort to bolster Tehran’s image and positions on global security issues—particularly its nuclear program—by building ties with a network of influential overseas academics and researchers. They called it the Iran Experts Initiative. The scope and scale of the IEI project has emerged in a large cache of Iranian government correspondence and emails.

The officials, working under the moderate President Hassan Rouhani, congratulated themselves on the impact of the initiative: at least three of the people on the Foreign Ministry’s list were, or became, top aides to Robert Malley, the Biden administration’s special envoy on Iran, who was placed on leave this June following the suspension of his security clearance.

In March of that year, writes Solomon, one of these officials reported that “he had gained support for the IEI from two young academics—Ariane Tabatabai and Dina Esfandiary—following a meeting with them in Prague.” And here the story becomes particularly worrisome:

Tabatabai currently serves in the Pentagon as the chief of staff for the assistant secretary of defense for special operations, a position that requires a U.S. government security clearance. She previously served as a diplomat on Malley’s Iran nuclear negotiating team after the Biden administration took office in 2021. Esfandiary is a senior advisor on the Middle East and North Africa at the International Crisis Group, a think tank that Malley headed from 2018 to 2021.

Tabatabai . . . on at least two occasions checked in with Iran’s Foreign Ministry before attending policy events, according to the emails. She wrote to Mostafa Zahrani, [an Iranian scholar in close contact with the Foreign Ministry and involved in the IEI], in Farsi on June 27, 2014, to say she’d met Saudi Prince Turki al-Faisal—a former ambassador to the U.S.—who expressed interest in working together and invited her to Saudi Arabia. She also said she’d been invited to attend a workshop on Iran’s nuclear program at Ben-Gurion University in Israel. . . .

Elissa Jobson, Crisis Group’s chief of advocacy, said the IEI was an “informal platform” that gave researchers from different organizations an opportunity to meet with IPIS and Iranian officials, and that it was supported financially by European institutions and one European government. She declined to name them.

Read more at Semafor

More about: Iran nuclear deal, U.S. Foreign policy