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Electronic eye to track fire kites and balloons from Gaza

Israel deploys electronic eye to track fire kites and balloons from Gaza

STUART WINER


Sky Spotter can identify incoming airborne incendiaries, enabling drones to try intercept them, and giving firefighters advance warning; laser system also being developed

Screen capture from video of the Sky Spotter system, which is being used to track fire kites and balloons launched into Israel from Gaza, June 2018. (Hadashot news screenshot)

Facing a wave of airborne incendiary attacks from the Gaza Strip, Israel has deployed a system that can spot fire-starting balloons and kites in the sky, track their progress, and then direct firefighters to their landing spots, enabling them to more rapidly extinguish the flames and reduce damage.

Since March 30, Palestinians in the Gaza Strip have launched hundreds of kites and helium balloons bearing flammable materials, and occasionally explosives, sparking near-daily fires that have burned thousands of acres of land in southern Israel.

Israeli officials are concerned that if the fire attacks don’t stop — or aren’t foiled — they could push an escalation in violence that would lead to a major military confrontation with terror groups in the Gaza Strip.

The Sky Spotter system, built by Rafael Advanced Defense Systems, has been in operation along the Gaza border for several days, Hadashot TV news reported Thursday.

Originally developed to counter small drones, Sky Spotter can track the balloons or kites and pinpoint their location, where they are heading, and where they are likely to land. The operators then notify firefighters, who can then try to reach the landing points to put out the flames before they spread.

A cluster of balloons with a small explosive device attached to them, which landed and got stuck on a trampoline in a backyard in the Eshkol region of southern Israel on June 20, 2018. (Eshkol Security)

Sky Spotter can also be used to direct defensive drones that collide in midair with the kites or balloons, bringing them down.

Until now such drones have been flown by army reservists, experts in drone operation, but the system will soon be able to control the drones automatically, directing them to the threats.

The Israeli military has also carried out multiple warning strikes in recent weeks at groups of Gazans preparing to launch incendiary devices toward Israel, as well as retaliatory airstrikes against Hamas targets. The army has said repeatedly that it will act to prevent the launch of the airborne incendiary devices and explosives.

The arson assaults, in which Palestinians launch kites or helium filled balloons carrying flaming material to be blown by the wind into Israeli territory, have devastated large areas. In total, approximately 17,500 dunams (4,300 acres, or nearly 7 square miles) of land have been burned in more than 250 fires over the past two months, more than half of it in nature reserves, according to initial assessments.

A masked Palestinian man launches a balloon loaded with flammable materials toward Israel from the southern Gaza town of Rafah on June 17, 2018. (AFP Photo/Said Khatib)

Israeli leaders have been split on how to respond to those responsible for the airborne arson attacks, with some calling for the IDF to shoot the kite flyers and balloon launchers on sight, while others argued that it would be a step too far.

As well as Sky Spotter, testing has continued on a laser system that could be used to shoot down the balloons or kites in flight. Development is advancing, Thursday’s report said, and this system is expected to soon be deployed around Gaza.

Another concept under development aims at dealing with the potential danger of mini-drones carrying explosives. The system employs a drone that locks on to the bomb-carrying device and then fires aluminum strips at it, entangling the rotor blades and bringing it down.

Shoshanna Solomon contributed to this report.


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TURKEY’S JERUSALEM INCURSION

KNOW COMMENT: THWART TURKEY’S JERUSALEM INCURSION

DAVID M. WEINBERG


TURKISH PRESIDENT Tayyip Erdogan delivers a speech during a protest against the recent killings of Palestinian protesters on the Gaza-Israel border and the US embassy move to Jerusalem, in Istanbul, Turkey on May 18.. (photo credit: REUTERS)

Over one year ago, the advisers on eastern Jerusalem for the Jerusalem Municipality, Dr. David Koren and Ben Avrahami, sounded the alarm about a Turkish invasion of Jerusalem.

First in the Hebrew intellectual journal Hashiloach (Vol. 4) and then on the website of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies (JISS), Koren described the nefarious intensifying involvement of Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s Turkey and other radical Islamist actors in Jerusalem political and social affairs. This includes troublemaking on the Temple Mount and other subversive activities.

I highlighted the developing danger from Turkey in this column immediately afterwards (June 2017).

This month, the Israeli media finally caught on, with a number of exposes just published on Turkish muckraking in Jerusalem. The question is: Are Israeli authorities ready to act precipitously and aggressively to quash the Turkish infiltration?

According to Koren there has been very significant erosion of the status of veteran mukhtars (Arab-village leaders) and secular Palestinian leaders in eastern Jerusalem. Into the vacuum have stepped elements identified with Hamas; the northern faction of the Islamic Movement in Israel; the Muslim Brotherhood in its wider context; and especially Turkey.

They are investing tens of millions of dollars per year in Islamic missionary (dawa) activities, renovation of Moslem institutions, holiday handouts and social networking which glorifies terrorists and explicitly calls for violent resistance to Israel.

The Turkish consulate in Jerusalem and two Turkish quasi-governmental agencies (Mirasimiz and TIKA) are directly implicated in this seditious activity – by their own admission, to the tune of over $40 million. Erdogan’s former chief of staff personally oversees much of this activity, which includes trips for youth to radical Islamic conferences in Turkey, and the busing to Jerusalem of posses of men and women (known as the Murabitun and Murabitat) who heatedly harass Jewish visitors to the Temple Mount.

As a result, Turkish flags today fly everywhere in eastern Jerusalem and prominently on the Mount, too. Photos of the fiercely anti-Israel and openly antisemitic Erdogan adorn shops throughout the Old City.

The Turkish purpose is not at all innocuous. It is, rather, to weaken Israel’s hold in the holy city, and to bolster Erdogan’s claim to leadership of the Moslem world on a path to a global Islamic sultanate.

While it is important not to exaggerate the Turkish threat, Erdogan’s interference in Jerusalem clearly needs to be checked. His incendiary activities in Israel’s capital touch the deepest chords of Israeli sovereignty in the eastern part of the city.

At a minimum, the flow of Turkish money into Jerusalem must be blocked. The National Security Council and other security agencies are reportedly looking into this. I hope they are doing so with sufficient alacrity.

MEANWHILE, Erdogan continues to lead anti-Israel campaigns at every opportunity, including the global assault on Israel regarding recent Gaza border riots – following which Erdogan expelled the Israeli ambassador and consul general.

His favorite accusation is Israeli “genocide” against the Palestinians, and his favorite Palestinians are Hamas leaders. At a recent summit that he called in Istanbul of the Organization for Islamic Cooperation, Erdogan libeled Israel, claiming it tortured Palestinian children “like the concentration camps during World War II, with methods that would put Nazis to shame.”

All the while, Turkey continues to considerably weaken the Western strategic alliance by problematic collaboration with Syria, Iran, China and Russia – despite Turkey’s NATO membership. (Unfortunately, there is no mechanism for turfing Turkey out of the alliance).

Erdogan has sided throughout with Iran on the nuclear issue, declaring Turkish support for Tehran’s “peaceful nuclear program” and voting repeatedly against American-initiated sanctions against Iran. Turkish banks openly cooperate with Iranian banks to circumvent Western sanctions. In 2012, Turkey blew the cover of an Israeli spy network in Iran. More recently the unhinged Erdogan threatened Israel with war over gas fields in the Mediterranean.

At home, Erdogan’s regime has jailed more journalists, judges, generals and academics than that of any other country in the world, including China. He is building 40,000 new jail cells to handle the overload. He is creating an authoritarian system to suit his imperial ambitions, especially after the suspiciously overwhelming AKP victory in last month’s Turkish presidential and parliamentary election.

Israel should go on the diplomatic offensive against Erdogan by pressuring Washington to halt the provision of F-35 jet fighters to Turkey. As Prof. Efraim Inbar of JISS has written, with Turkey pursuing policies that are inimical to the American interest, it makes no sense to strengthen Turkish military capabilities.

Erdogan could use his upgraded air force to establish himself as arbiter of developments in the eastern Mediterranean, or to interfere with Israel’s regional air supremacy. There is also the real danger of sensitive technical information about this front-line American weapons system leaking from Ankara to Tehran, Moscow and Beijing.

In sum, Erdogan needs to be cut down to size. Israel should be defending itself against Erdogan by blocking his Jerusalem incursion and taking the offensive against Erdogan by impeding his military build-up.


The author is vice president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategic Studies, jiss.org.il. His personal site is davidmweinberg.com.


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Middle East’s largest natural history museum opens in Israel

Israel21cMiddle East’s largest natural history museum opens in Israel

Rebecca Stadlen Amir


The ark-shaped museum, located in Tel Aviv, houses 5.5 million specimens from around the world, from early human skulls to rare taxidermy pieces.

The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History in Tel Aviv. Photo by Oz Rittner

Upon entering the new natural history museum in Tel Aviv, visitors are greeted by a vivid re-enactment of the great avian migrations from Africa to Europe through northern Israel’s Hula Valley, complete with stuffed hawks, pelicans and vultures circling around the ceiling of the building’s entrance.

The 100,000-square-foot Noah’s Ark-shaped building, which houses more than 5.5 million specimens of species from around the globe, opened this week alongside the Tel Aviv University campus after more than two decades of planning.

As the biggest natural history museum in the Middle East and Israel’s national center for biodiversity studies, the Steinhardt Museum of Natural History highlights the country’s ecological diversity at the crossroads of the three continents, as well as the impact of urban development, climate change, and man-made devastation on the region’s ecosystems.

The main goal of the museum, according the curators, is to increase public awareness about the natural world and environment on a local and global scale.

The Steinhardt Museum of Natural History exhibit “Form and Function” showcases diversity of creatures from Israel and around the globe. Photo by Itay Benit

read more: Middle East’s largest natural history museum opens in Israel


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Israeli-led IBM system debates with humans, but who wins?

Israel21cIsraeli-led IBM system debates with humans, but who wins?

Israel21C


Project Debater, built out of IBM’s Haifa research lab, demonstrates its ability to deliver persuasive arguments in the first showcase of the AI technology.

Israeli expert debater Dan Zafir debates against the IBM Project Debater on June 18, 2018, in San Francisco. Photo via Facebook.

IBM’s new artificial intelligence (AI) system engaged in the first ever live, public debate with two Israeli student debating champions on Monday, demonstrating the computer’s ability to deliver persuasive arguments against humans on complex topics.

Named Project Debater, the AI was unveiled at IBM’s Watson West site in San Francisco, where it began by preparing arguments for whether governments should subsidize space exploration and whether the use of telemedicine should be increased.

Preparation for Project Debater began six years ago at the IBM’s Haifa research lab, but IBM Research principal investigator and creator of Project Debater Noam Slonim said the AI system only gained the ability to participate in debates with people two years ago.

 

During the first debate, the computer was pitted against 2016 Israeli national debate champion Noa Ovadia. Both sides delivered a four-minute opening statement, a four-minute rebuttal, and a two-minute summary in their arguments for each topic.

Project Debater delivered its opening argument in support of government subsidized space exploration by obtaining evidence from its massive database, comprised mainly of news articles and journals. After listening to Ovadia’s opposing argument, the computer delivered a rebuttal speech. Following closing summaries from each side, results from a snap poll showed that the majority of audience members thought Project Debater enriched their knowledge more than its human opponent.

The second debate between the computer and Israeli debate expert Dan Zafir featured opposing arguments on whether we should increase the use of telemedicine.

In both cases, IBM said Project Debater had not been trained on the topics and the debates were unscripted, with the exception of jokes which were added during the debates and greetings delivered at the start of a debate, to entertain the audience.

So who won the debates? The crowd judged that the AI system outperformed the human debaters in its ability to use a wide range of information in its arguments, but the humans had the edge when it came to delivery.

Project Debater is the latest AI innovation from IBM, whose “Deep Blue” system took on chess world champion Garry Kasparov in 1997 and Watson beat human champions on Jeopardy! In 2011. However debating takes on a different form of competition, one where language and persuasiveness play a role.

The ability of Project Debater to absorb massive and diverse sets of information and perspectives to help people build persuasive arguments and make well-informed decisions is new territory for AI, said Director of IBM Research Arvind Krishna.


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CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE ACCUSES ISRAEL OF ‘GENOCIDE’

CALIFORNIA STATE ASSEMBLY CANDIDATE ACCUSES ISRAEL OF ‘GENOCIDE’

by JTA


Maria Estrada, a candidate for California’s District 63 representing the southeast suburbs of Los Angeles, offered her support for anti-Semitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

The banners read: Stop the genocide in Gaza. Stop the occupation. Yesterday South Africa, today Palestine. Boycott Israel. Gaza bleeds. (photo credit: REUTERS)

A Democratic candidate for a seat in the California state assembly blames Israel for committing genocide against the Palestinians and has offered her support for antisemitic Nation of Islam leader Louis Farrakhan.

Maria Estrada, a candidate for California’s District 63 representing the southeast suburbs of Los Angeles, garnered the second most votes, some 28 percent, in a top-two primary on June 5 for the November election. She will run against incumbent and fellow Democrat Anthony Rendon, who also serves as Speaker of the California State Assembly.

In an op-ed published in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, Rabbi Abraham Cooper and Dr. Harold Brackman of the Simon Wiesenthal Center noted that Estrada posted last year on Facebook: “Democrats turn a blind eye to the genocide against Palestinians and justify it by bringing up the Holocaust. As if what happened 70 years ago justifies it. Anyone who believes they are one of ‘God’s chosen people’ automatically feels superior and justified in all they do. Religious fanaticism is used to justify apartheid and crimes against Palestinians and no one should be okay with it. #FreePalestine”

On Tuesday she posted a screenshot of a dictionary definition of the term genocide, and wrote: “Because some people are unsure of the meaning of the term genocide because the number of people being murdered isn’t enough for them. #FreePalestine.”

She added in a comment to her post: “The argument from Zionists is that the number of Palestinians has grown. Apparently they aren’t killing enough Palestinians for them to consider it a genocide.”

The op-ed also noted that Estrada tweeted that ““I, for one, enjoy listening to Farrakhan’s sermons.”

Earlier this month Estrada also used the hashtag #FreePalestine to show her support for five women who left their Birthright Israel tour early “to protest the program’s bias and attempts to hide the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”

In a July 6 statement, the Progressive Zionists of the California Democratic Party in a statement said it is “concerned” about Estrada’s “public support of notorious homophobe and antisemite Louis Farrakhan and her repeated and extreme antisemitism in the guise of ‘criticism of Israel.’”

The statement noted other antisemitic Facebook posts including one on May 10, 2017, in which she posted a cartoon replacing the Star of David on the Israeli flag with a swastika, a post for which she apologized the following day, and a more recent post, on May 14, in which she criticized California Democratic Chair Eric Bauman for not keeping “your party, your religion and your people in check.”

“While we are not endorsing any candidate in this race, we must conclude that Maria Estrada’s repeated expressions of antisemitism disqualifies her from seeking public office. We call on Maria Estrada to resign from this race, apologize for her blatant antisemitism, and take the necessary time to consider her harmful and hateful words,” the group said.

In a statement to the Forward regarding her social media posts Estrada said: “To be clear, I am anti-Zionism, not antisemitic. Listening to Farrakhan doesn’t equate to being antisemitic. There is no doubt he is wrong on many issues, including Judaism. Listen to him speak on the American media, imperialism and several other issues.”


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