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Beersheva—a Cyber Star Is Rising

August 4, 2016

by: Kathy DeGagne, BFP Staff Writer

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It started with the vision of one man—David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, who declared prophetically, “the future of Israel lies in the Negev.” From that pivotal moment, who would have guessed that, in a mere seventy years, Ben Gurion’s Negev desert would blossom into the fruitful exporter of 60% of Israel’s produce to the world.

Now, the citizens of the Negev are expanding on that dream and planning to export something much different to global markets. It’s called cybersecurity—and Beersheva is its launching pad.

A Star in the Making

Once a modest desert community languishing for centuries in the hot sun of the Negev, Beersheva was the place where Abraham covenanted with Abimelech:

And [Abraham] said, “You will take these seven ewe lambs from my hand, that they may be my witness that I have dug this well.” Therefore he called that place Beersheba, because the two of them swore an oath there (Gen. 21:30–31). (Beer means well; sheva means seven.)

Beersheva has now emerged as the urban heart of the desert—an energetic modern city that is taking the cyberworld by storm, with aspirations as the world’s capital in cybersecurity. In 2014 at the Israel Cyber Innovations Arena, Benjamin Netanyahu predicted that “Beersheva will not only be the cyber capital of Israel, but one of the most important places in the cybersecurity field in the world.” As farfetched as it sounds, this is not just political hype.

Israel has a global edge in cybersecurity. The nation is presently home to 430 cybersecurity companies, and because she is possibly the most besieged country in the world when it comes to cyberwarfare, out of pure necessity she has had to take the lead in combating virtual attacks in cyberspace. The rest of the world is also facing threats of cyberwarfare and terrorism and is looking to Israel for its cybersecurity expertise.

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev

Ben-Gurion University of the Negev (David Sarange/ Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)

Bringing in the Giants

Poetically, Ben Gurion’s namesake, Ben-Gurion University in Beersheva is at the center of this transformation, offering interested students a Master of Science degree in cybersecurity, and establishing the Cyber Security Labs. From these halls of academia, described as the “heart and brains of the Negev,” have sprung innovation and technology that would have made Ben Gurion’s heart proud.

The vision is not just for the university; it’s a vision for the entire south. The impetus was a decision by the Netanyahu government to launch a cybersecurity cluster in Beersheva called CyberSpark, bringing together government, military, academia, global multinationals and the private sector into a partnership designed to encourage the growth of a healthy cyber ecosystem.

Ben-Gurion University, the State of Israel, the municipality of Beersheva, Bayside and a Japanese–American company called KUD International are components of the dream team collaborating on the joint project for an Advanced Technology Park (ATP) that will provide office space and laboratories for cyber companies that locate to Beersheva.

The notion that Beersheva could be transformed from a desert community into a high-tech hub has piqued the imaginations of investors worldwide, and firms are showing up on Beersheva’s doorstep to check out the possibilities of setting up shop there. Giant multinational firms including Lockheed Martin, IBM, Oracle, AG, Deutsche Telekom and others have already claimed their office space.

cyber soldiers monitoring computer systems

Cyber soldiers monitor the IDF’s computer systems. (IDF Spokesperson’s Unit)

A Wealth of Tech-Savvy Specialists

Beersheva’s cyber momentum has been enhanced by a plan of the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) to relocate all of their technology units from Tel Aviv to Beersheva by 2021. The IDF is already scouting Israeli high schools for the best talent in the math and science disciplines, steering future fighters into positions with Israel’s military cyber defense—and offense. Israel displayed its cyber offensive capabilities when she, in cooperation with the United States, created Stuxnet, the computer worm that caused Iran’s nuclear centrifuges to run amok and then self-destruct.

One of the big perks for hi-tech firms relocating to Beersheva is that there will be a wealth of highly-trained tech-savvy specialists discharged into the private sector once IDF soldiers have finished their compulsory military service. Not only that, skilled graduates from the cybersecurity program at Ben-Gurion University will be seeking jobs and cyber firms will be there to snap them up. There will be no need for graduates to go elsewhere to find employment and Beersheva is banking on that. Estimates are that by 2025, 10,000 high-tech experts will be employed in the city, most with cybersecurity companies.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu taking part in an International Cyber Exhibit - CyberTech 2014 held at the The Israel Trade Fairs & Convention Center in Tel Aviv. Photo: Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd on the left) with President of Ben Gurion University Prof. Rivka Karmi (right), Vice President of IBM, Steve Mills (2nd on the right), and Mayor of Be'er Sheva, Rubik Danilovich. ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו נוטל חלק בתערוכת סייבר בינלאומית - סייברטק 2014 במרכז הירידים והקונגרסים בתל אביב. צילום: ראש הממשלה בנימין נתניהו (שני משמאל) עם נשיא אוניברסיטת בן גוריון פרופ 'רבקה כרמי (ימין), סגן נשיא י.ב.מ, סטיב מילס (שני מימין), וראש עיריית באר שבע, רוביק דנילוביץ'.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at CyberTech 2014 with Mayor of Beersheva Ruvik Danilovich, Vice President of IBM Steve Mills (2nd from right), and President of Ben-Gurion University Prof. Rivka Karmi. (Kobi Gideon/ Government Press Office)

The Future is Here

The influx of companies and hi-tech personnel into the community has already impacted every part of Beersheva’s life. The population is expected to reach a million by 2020, and the city has sprung into high gear to prepare for it—new infrastructure, a new hospital, new schools, new neighborhoods. As Beersheva’s Mayor Ruvik Danilovich declared, “The future is already here.”

From a vision that seemed hardly possible seventy years ago, to a current reality that would be unrecognizable even by Ben Gurion himself, Israelis have conceived a plan of urban growth for Beersheva, and the expansion of Israel’s cyber industry in the Negev, that is masterful in its scope and ingenuity. This once humble little desert community is now on the verge of global cyber stardom.

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