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How the Israeli Way Can Elevate American Defense Tech

Source: Own work / DALL-E
Source: Own work / DALL-E

As someone who has navigated the complex intersection of technology and national security in the United States, I’ve been uniquely positioned to witness the inherent challenges that arise when attempting to merge these two sectors. Throughout my career, the overarching goal has been to foster a symbiotic relationship between defense needs and technological innovation. Yet, despite these efforts, the divide remains stark in the US, a country where the military and technological realms often seem worlds apart.

In the US, engaging with the defense sector can feel like stepping into a series of spartan conference rooms in quiet suburbs of Northern Virginia, where uniformed innovation officers and commercial relations personnel discuss strategies that often fail to resonate with the realities of warfighters—many of whom are far removed from these conversations. Moreover, the US military faces significant personnel shortages, and there is a noticeable disinterest among technologists to engage with military projects. This is evidenced by recent protests at companies like Google, which are not isolated incidents; similar protests previously targeted initiatives like Project Maven, the DoD’s AI initiative.

Contrast this with Israel, a nation sometimes dubbed [pejoratively] as “Jewish Sparta” or “a military with a nation.” Here, the fabric of society is interwoven with a profound understanding of military needs, nurtured by compulsory military service that instills a deep-seated appreciation and comprehension of defense requirements. This pervasive military ethos not only ensures a seamless fusion of defense and technology sectors but also breeds industries suffused with military acumen—industries as diverse as pharmaceuticals, which on the surface seem disconnected from defense.

Israel’s defense industry, though not the largest, tops the world on a per capita basis. Giants like IAI, Elbit, and Rafael dominate, with a substantial portion of the Israeli workforce involved in defense exports. The integration of seasoned defense experts into the tech sector fosters an environment ripe for innovation, not disruption. Unlike the Silicon Valley model that thrives on disruption, Israel’s defense primes innovate within a framework that enhances their global reputation and solidifies their leadership in the market.

The philosophy here is one of collective elevation—”when the water rises, so do all boats.” Israel’s approach, which emphasizes collaboration between burgeoning DefenseTech startups and established industry primes, serves to bolster the interests of both parties, ensuring that the nation’s defense capabilities continue to set global benchmarks. This strategy not only sustains growth, but also widens the gap between Israel and other nations in the defense sector.

The synergy between Israel’s military culture and its technological prowess offers profound lessons for the United States. Observe the support for Israel in the U.S., particularly among pro-Israel groups who proudly wave American flags. It should become clear that deeper cooperation between these two allies could enhance America’s own defense landscape. Both nations share a pioneering spirit and a historical commitment to being a “light unto the nations.” This is more than an observation; it’s a call to action for nations like the US to reevaluate and rejuvenate their strategies through stronger alliances and shared visions with the Jewish state.

About the Author
JJ Ben-Joseph is an oleh hadash, the founder and CEO of TensorSpace, a stealth-mode AI/ML startup, and Entrepreneur-In-Residence at AION Labs. JJ worked at the strategic venture capital firm In-Q-Tel, where he helped biosecurity and AI startups succeed with US government customers. He was also a technical contributor on drug discovery and pandemic response technologies that used AI. He's a former fellow at the American Jewish Committee, the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and the Foresight Institute.
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