How Israeli Technology Transformed an Inhospitable Strip of Desert into an Agricultural Powerhouse

July 21 2022

Despite early Zionists’ focus on creating farming communities, the Jewish state’s economy is now more closely tied to software than to produce. But the old slogan of “making the desert bloom” remains a reality—and part of the story of Israeli technological innovation. Abigail Klein Leichman reports from an agronomic institute in the southeastern part of the country:

Maayan Kitron, coordinator of flower and herb research at Arava R&D, also provided visiting reporters with tastes of cherry tomatoes, peppers, and strawberries raised in this strip of the Negev desert stretching down Israel’s eastern border from the Dead Sea to Eilat. This is a place of long, punishing summers—hardly hospitable conditions for agriculture.

“The average summer day is 40-plus degrees” Celsisus, or 104 Fahrenheit, “and at night the temperature drops only 10 degrees” [50 Farhenheit], says Kitron, who also has a family farm in the central Arava. Nevertheless, the R&D center’s greenhouses grow Gulliver’s spinach (a spinach-like leafy green that thrives in hot climates and keeps in the fridge for a month), Momordica (a bitter melon containing potential nutraceutical substances including a “natural insulin”), cherry tomatoes, eggplants, melons, cucumbers, and exotic crops like kiwano (horned African melon).

Kitron says the average annual rainfall in the Arava Valley is 50 millimeters (2 inches). This year, less than 20 millimeters fell. “Our water comes from about 60 wells we’ve drilled, all connected to one control system in Eilat,” she says, adding that now they’re also getting some water piped from a desalination plant in Ashkelon.

The saline well water must be treated, but the upside is that irrigating with saline water results in sweeter produce. (Kitron explains that’s because of osmosis: the salt concentration of the water causes the plants’ roots to release more sugars.) . . . Drip irrigation, an Israeli innovation, makes this workable. But the heat and the not-particularly-fertile soil are also challenging.

Read more at Israel21c

More about: Israeli agriculture, Israeli technology, Negev

The U.S. Is Trying to Seduce Israel into Accepting a Bad Deal with Iran. Israel Should Say No

Last week, the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) released its quarterly report on the Iranian nuclear program. According to an analysis by the Institute for Science and International Security, the Islamic Republic can now produce enough weapons-grade uranium to manufacture “five nuclear weapons in one month, seven in two months, and a total of eight in three months.” The IAEA also has reason to believe that Tehran has further nuclear capabilities that it has successfully hidden from inspectors. David M. Weinberg is concerned about Washington’s response:

Believe it or not, the Biden administration apparently is once again offering the mullahs of Tehran a sweetheart deal: the release of $10 billion or more in frozen Iranian assets and clemency for Iran’s near-breakout nuclear advances of recent years, in exchange for Iranian release of American hostages and warmed-over pious Iranian pledges to freeze the Shiite atomic-bomb program.

This month, intelligence photos showed Iran again digging tunnels at its Natanz nuclear site—supposedly deep enough to withstand an American or Israeli military strike. This tells us that Iran has something to hide, a clear sign that it has not given up on its quest for a nuclear bomb.

Meanwhile, Antony Blinken today completes a three-day visit to Saudi Arabia, where he is reportedly pressing the kingdom to enter the Abraham Accords. This is no coincidence, for reasons Weinberg explains:

Washington expects Israeli acquiescence in the emerging U.S. surrender to Iran in exchange for a series of other things important to Israel. These include U.S. backing for Israel against escalated Palestinian assaults expected this fall in UN forums, toning down U.S. criticism regarding settlement and security matters (at a time when the IDF is going to have to intensify its anti-terrorist operations in Judea and Samaria), an easing of U.S. pressures on Israel in connection with domestic matters (like judicial reform), a warm Washington visit for Prime Minister Netanyahu (which is not just a political concession but is rather critical to Israel’s overall deterrent posture), and most of all, significant American moves towards reconciliation with Saudi Arabia (which is critical to driving a breakthrough in Israeli-Saudi ties).

[But] even an expensive package of U.S. “concessions” to Saudi Arabia will not truly compensate for U.S. capitulation to Iran (something we know from experience will only embolden the hegemonic ambitions of the mullahs). And this capitulation will make it more difficult for the Saudis to embrace Israel publicly.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Antony Blinken, Iran nuclear program, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, U.S.-Israel relationship