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Israeli firms seek hi-tech help -- in Gaza
By Joe Dyke
Gaza City, Palestinian Territories (AFP) Sept 20, 2017

Elbit Systems reorganizing its Cyberbit Solutions subsidiary
Washington (UPI) Sep 19, 2017 - Israel's Elbit Systems is reorganizing its Cyberbit Solutions subsidiary -- merging business areas into Elbit's Land and C4I division.

The reorganization will take effect on Jan. 1, the company announced in a news release Monday.

"We are witnessing substantial growth in both the defense cyber and commercial cyber sectors and we anticipate to further broaden the activities of each sector separately," Bezhalel (Butzi) Machlis, president and chief executive officer of Elbit Systems said in the release. "The reorganization will enable us to better deal with future challenges of each growing market, to best match our offerings and to position ourselves as global leaders in each field."

Under the reorganization plan, Cyberbit's Solution's defense Cyber Intelligence and Cyber Security business will be wrapped into Elbit Systems. Cyberbit's commercial cyber business will continue to operate under Cyberbit.

Elbit said modern battlefield requirements are shifting -- from C4I (command, control, communications, computers and intelligence) to C5I, with the addition of the cyber dimension. The company restructuring reflects a growing demand for cyber security and cyber intelligence in the defense sector.

Saudi Arabia to unblock internet calling apps
Riyadh (AFP) Sept 20, 2017 - Saudi Arabia will lift its ban on internet calling applications on Wednesday, authorities said, easing restrictions online as the conservative kingdom faces new criticism over censorship.

Voice and video calling apps such as WhatsApp and Skype will be "widely available to users", a government statement said Tuesday, in a move aimed at improving business confidence as the kingdom transitions into a post-oil era.

"Access to VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) will reduce operational costs and spur digital entrepreneurship," the statement said, citing a directive from the communications and technology ministry.

"Digital transformation is one of the key kick-starters for the Saudi economy, as it will incentivise the growth of internet-based businesses, especially in the media and entertainment industries."

The announcement comes a day after Al Jazeera lashed out at Snapchat for blocking the Qatari broadcaster from its app in Saudi Arabia at the request of Saudi authorities.

Saudi Arabia has long accused Al Jazeera of acting as a mouthpiece for extremist groups, a charge it denies.

Alongside the United Arab Emirates, Egypt and Bahrain, Saudi Arabia imposed a blockade on Qatar in June, in the worst diplomatic crisis to roil the Gulf in years.

Al Jazeera condemned the blocking as an assault on freedom of expression but the Saudi government vigorously defended its position.

"The recent cooperation with Snapchat to remove Al Jazeera, a harmful, propaganda-pushing channel that supports extremism, should not be considered in isolation or interpreted as a crackdown on free media," the Saudi statement said.

Saudi Arabia, with its bulging youth population, is among the world's top per capita users of social media.

The internet represents a limited space for freedom of expression in a country with strict social codes.

More than half of Saudi Arabia's citizens are under 25, who spend much of their time on social media platforms, away from official strictures and traditions.

When Dan Leubitz needed a contractor for a project with his Israeli tech firm, one address in the list of tenders caught his eye: Gaza.

It was 2015, only a year after Israel fought a brutal war with Gaza's Islamist rulers Hamas, leaving 2,251 Palestinians killed and 74 dead on the Israeli side.

Leubitz's rapidly growing firm Innitel was scouting for a contractor in low-cost, highly skilled tech hubs such as eastern Europe and India.

But the Israeli-American had never considered looking in a territory just 50 miles away.

The Israeli and Gazan firms have since formed an unlikely alliance, doing business worth around $10,000 (8,300 euros) a month.

"Now friends at other companies ask me 'do you have the guy's number?'" said Leubitz, whose firm provides cloud-based call centre software.

It is not uncommon for hi-tech companies from the West Bank, the other part of the Palestinian territories run by Hamas's secular rival Fatah, to work directly with Israeli counterparts.

But in Gaza, which has seen three wars with Israel since 2008, it is almost unheard of.

Hamas executes Gazans for "collaborating" with Israel, while the Jewish state maintains a crippling blockade on the coastal enclave and designates Hamas a terrorist organisation.

Yet the online nature of the tech industry largely avoids the Israeli restrictions that limit trade in other sectors.

Leubitz's partner firm has now expanded to work with a number of Israeli companies.

Tech giant Mellanox -- which makes technology that connects computers, databases and servers -- employs 10 of the Gazan company's staff and plans to double that.

- 'We should benefit' -

AFP has chosen not to name the company in Gaza for security reasons, but did visit its offices in Gaza City.

Its CEO said that despite the potential gains, he believed it was the only Gazan tech company working with Israeli counterparts.

"It isn't an easy decision," he said. "But we have complete conviction to take our services to the Israeli market."

He stressed that the relationship was purely financial and didn't stray into politics, arguing that Gazans were simply looking to sell their services to Israel.

As Israel controls what enters the enclave, many Israeli products are imported and sold in Gaza.

"Where do we buy yoghurt from? From Israel. And the petrol, where does it come from? From Israel. Some of our fruit we buy from Israel," he said.

"Does anyone criticise this business? No. As they benefit from us economically, we should benefit from them by selling our services."

He pointed out that Palestinian companies in the West Bank now deal with Israelis with relative ease.

"At the beginning they had problems. Now there are companies that have dozens of employees," he said.

In theory, both sides have plenty to gain. Nearly three out of five young Gazans are unemployed, one of the highest rates in the world. Despite being well-educated, the population has few meaningful job opportunities.

Israeli firms meanwhile benefit from far cheaper labour. Hiring a Gazan engineer costs around a fifth of the price of hiring an Israeli once taxes and other costs are factored in, Mellanox CEO Eyal Waldman told AFP.

The firm also benefits from English-speaking staff in the same time zone.

"There is talent there and they have nowhere to work. So we thought, let's enjoy... the top talent in Gaza and have them work for us," Waldman said.

The Gazans, Waldman said, have worked on a variety of research and development projects.

He hopes even such small-scale coordination can have another impact.

"You have Palestinians talking to Israelis that are 20 to 30 years old. They have never talked to Israelis -- they see them as the enemy. Now they talk about soccer and joke."

- 'One missile' -

So far the Gazan company hasn't faced pressure from Hamas.

When Mellanox announced it was going to take on staff in Gaza, it was covered in both Israeli and Palestinian media.

Hamas, the Gazan CEO said, could reasonably guess the company but taking action would make dozens of people unemployed and their families poorer.

"Gaza is small and everyone saw the news. No one said anything," he said.

Yet having lost a family member in the 2014 war, he said he could understand that most Gazans were not ready to work with Israelis.

Waldman said right-wing Israeli politicians had spoken out against the idea.

"We also have some employees that have extreme right political views. They definitely voiced their views," he said.

None of the staff working in Gaza for Mellanox were willing to speak, even on condition of anonymity.

And while the 10 staff in Gaza are effectively employees of Mellanox, their salaries are paid through a Palestinian firm to avoid tensions.

"We felt it was too sensitive for them to have an Israeli company there," Waldman said. "One missile can blow the whole thing up."

EU defence ministers put to test in mock cyberattack
Tallinn (AFP) Sept 7, 2017
A major cyberattack targets European Union military structures, with hackers using social media and "fake news" to spread confusion, and governments are left scrambling to respond as the crisis escalates. This was the scenario facing a gathering of EU defence ministers in Tallinn on Thursday as they undertook a exercise simulating a cyber assault on the bloc - the first mock drill of its ki ... read more

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