Biden begins visit to Israel with laser beams, quantum computing

Besides cooperating on the Iron Dome anti-missile system, the U.S. and Israel agree to start new ‘high-level’ dialogue on artificial intelligence, medical innovation and a variety of technologies connected to climate change.

Israel Defense Ministry

Israel Defense Ministry

Defense Minister Benny Gantz shows President Joe Biden a fragment from a drone aircraft that was intercepted by the Iron Beam laser system

From missile-intercepting lasers to quantum computers, President Joe Biden sought to place technology – both for military and civilian use –— at the center of his three-day visit to Israel.

Within an hour of Biden’s arrival at Ben Gurion International Airport on Wednesday afternoon, he was posing for pictures with Israeli Prime Minister Yair Lapid and Defense Minister Benny Gantz in front of some of Israel’s most innovative weapons that were arrayed for him outside a hangar. One was the Iron Dome missile-interceptor, which was developed with U.S. funding and has been used for years against rockets fired from the Gaza Strip. The second was the new Iron Beam laser-defense system that is still being developed and for which Israel is seeking U.S. funds.

Biden and Lapid also issued a joint statement to initiate a formal new  “Strategic High-Level Dialogue on Technology,” which is aimed at “elevating the strategic partnership between the two countries to new heights.” Special mention was made of cultivating research in artificial intelligence and quantum information science, along with cooperation on technologies tied to health and climate change.

“We’re going to deepen our connections in science and innovation and work to address global challenges,” Biden said in his remarks at the arrival ceremony.

The emphasis on technology was welcomed by Avi Hasson, chief executive officer of Start-Up Nation Central, a nongovernmental organization that promotes Israeli technology companies. He was previously the Israeli government’s chief scientist. Hasson said the new level of cooperation could potentially give Israel access to equipment and shared data that may lead to significant advances in the fields of quantum computing and artificial intelligence.

“The ability of a superpower like the U.S. to build and maintain that sort of infrastructure is different than in Israel,” Hasson told The Circuit in a phone interview. “If we can make those assets accessible either in a collaboration mode or other types of engagement to the Israeli ecosystem, on the academic side as well as on the industry side, that could  potentially push things forward significantly.”

Gantz thanked Biden for the $1 billion in U.S. aid Israel received to replenish the Iron Dome missile batteries that had been depleted in the May 2021 conflict with Hamas in Gaza. He also expressed gratitude for U.S. efforts to integrate Israel into a broader regional defense network including the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain, its partners in the 2020 Abraham Accords.

“Security cooperation in the region has intensified and expanded in an unprecedented manner and Israel is grateful for this,” Gantz told Biden, according to a statement from his office. “Strengthening the security stability the United States is leading in the region, is a condition for both economic development and preserving human rights, and I am sure that under your leadership and together with all US security bodies, we will continue to develop it in all areas — air, sea, land and cyber,” he said.

Despite disagreement over Biden’s intention to revive the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement from which the Trump administration withdrew, Gantz said Israel is “confident that the president will continue to take the necessary steps to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons.”

Among the areas covered in the technology dialogue, according to the joint statement, are pandemic preparedness, including technology for disease surveillance and early warning, and for rapid medical countermeasures. It said cooperation would include making sure the artificial intelligence is trustworthy, as well as employing the technology  in the fields of transportation, medicine and agriculture.

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