Israeli consul looks to high-tech innovations in farming, water and defense to bolster Arizona trade
By Mike Sunnuks
Israeli Consul General David Siegel visited the state this week promoting new technology and investment opportunities in some traditional sectors — farming, defense and water resources.
Siegel touted Israel’s water-conservation efforts and high-tech agriculture and how it can be used by Arizona farmers and American Indian reservations. He spoke before the newly formed Arizona Israel Business Council today in Phoenix.
The Israel diplomat — who is based out of Los Angeles — said the Middle East has developed very sophisticated farming and water-reclamation techniques because of the region’s arid climate and geography.
“It’s all computerized and very sophisticated. It’s very high-tech. It’s not low-tech at all,” Siegel said of Israel’s agriculture sector.
That includes using unmanned aerial systems and drones to survey and track fields and crops. Arizona is looking to become a UAV and drone research and development hub for the U.S.
Siegel said two-thirds of the water used for farming in Israel is recycled, and the country reclaims and recycles 80 percent of its used water. That is the highest of any nation.
Agriculture is a big industry in Arizona with crops such as lettuce, citrus and cotton, but water always has been a challenge in the desert Southwest.
Native American tribes in the state are looking to improve their water infrastructure and find new economic development opportunities beyond gaming.
Siegel acknowledged current tensions and upheavals in the Middle East with political changes in Egypt and Libya, civil war in Syria and worries over Iran’s nuclear program. He said the Middle East geopolitical climate is part of what drives Israel’s technology and investments in a host of areas beyond defense.
“It probably drives our innovation,” Siegel said.
Siegel met with the AIBC and also has had meetings with Arizona congressional members,Arizona State University President Michael Crow, Raytheon Missiles Systems executives in Tucson, as well as Navajo Nation leaders. Representatives from the Salt River Pima Maricopa Indian Community and Gila River Indian Community also were at today’s AIBC meetings in Phoenix held at the law offices of Greenberg Traurig LLP.
The AIBC is being formed by Jonathan Breakstone. Breakstone wants to link more Arizona businesses, investors and entrepreneurs with counterparts in Israel via AIBC.
Trade representatives from the United Kingdom were in the Valley earlier this week hosting a reception at the Arizona Biltmore Resort & Spa for investors and business executives.
Siegel also talked about medical, technology and defense links between Arizona and Israel — old and new.
Raytheon’s Tucson division is doing work for Israel’s next generation missile defense system called David’s Sling.
Israel Defense Forces deployed the existing Iron Dome missile defense system during last year’s clashes with Hamas and other Palestinian forces in Gaza.
Boeing Co. makes Apache helicopters for Israel at its plant in Mesa. A Boeing representative at the AIBC meeting said the aerospace company has sent $500 million worth of Apaches to Israel over roughly the past decade.
Arizona companies have exported about $2 billion worth of goods to Israel over the past 10 years.
State exports to Israel totaled $148 million in 2011, according to the U.S. Commerce Department. That ranks 19th among state export markets.
While Israel has a high-tech economy with strong ties to U.S. and its technology, health care and defense sectors, its neighbors in the Palestinian territories economically are isolated and challenged.
Gaza has a 40 percent unemployment rate as Israel and Hamas have skirmished. The West Bank and Gaza combined have an $8 billion GDP, according to U.S. government figures. Israel has a $248 billion GDP.