The 50s: Little Israel invents and devises

Malam Systems and Israel Aircraft Industries are established. The Israeli nuclear program begins.

All beginnings are always hard, even in the Jewish State. The newly formed country was mired in an economic crisis, known as the Austerity Period, which continued until 1959. We ate powdered eggs and developed and invented. Thats how the defense industry, which was the precursor of todays Israeli high-tech, was developed.

1951 - Malam Systems is established as the Ministry of Finance's computer division and eventually became a sister company to Israels first software houses. In 1984, Malam became a government company, was privatized ten years later, and subsequently sold to Clal Computers. Today Malam is controlled by the Zeevi Group.

1953 - Israel Aircraft Industries (IAI) is formed. In the beginning, IAI established a standards institute for air force planes in order to provide maintenance and rebuilding services to the air force. In 1959, the institute became a full-fledged plant that manufactured planes independently. The first plane manufactured by IAI was the Fouga Magister, or Snunit [swallow], and following a hiatus in the production of the plane, IAI began manufacturing the Arava transport plane.

In 1968, following the French embargo on weapons to Israel after the Six Day War, and the freeze on the delivery of 50 Mirage-5 planes manufactured according to Israeli Air Force specifications, IAI began manufacturing fighter planes for our air force. The first plane produced was the Nesher, an improved version of the Mirage-5, that entered service in 1971. Its next incarnation was the Kfir, first supplied to the air force in 1975. Several more advanced generations of the Kfir have been produced, enabling it to continue to constitute a key component in the air force until today. The Kfir has also since been sold to the U.S. Marines. The Kfirs next-gen was intended to be the Lavi aircraft.

Concurrently with the manufacture of fighter planes, the IAI has over the years engaged in the manufacture of executive planes (Astra and Galaxy), weapons and missile systems (Gabriel and Arrow), satellites (Ofek and Amos), and electronic and radar-based combat systems. The IAI is Israels largest employer and its biggest exporter of weapons systems, accounting for 50% of Israels entire defense exports in 1997.

1954 - WEIZAC is born. WEIZAC, Israels first electronic computer, and one of the first in the world, was completed at the Weizmann Institute.

1955 - Israels nuclear program. The Israeli and U.S. governments sign a cooperation agreement for the peaceful application of nuclear energy. In its wake the Sorek Nuclear Plant was built, parts of which were supplied by an American firm. The structure was 30 meters high, with a cement pool at its center containing enriched uranium. The plant is still used today for research and the export of radioactive isotopes for medical and industrial use.

At the same time, the second stage of Israels nuclear program began. In 1956, Foreign Minister Golda Meir and Shimon Peres met in Paris with French Defense Minister Maurice Bourges-Manoury to sign Israels most important treaty to date. The background: Operation Kadesh, in which Israel conquered half of the Sinai Peninsula. Two Israeli diplomats came to Paris with a message from David Ben-Gurion, stating that Israel agreed to withdraw from Sinai (under pressure from the Russians and the Americans) on the condition that the French, who could not promise to protect Israel against the Soviet threat, assist Israel in building a nuclear plant.

The French agreed, and supplied Israel with a plant for research purposes. The plant was built in Dimona, and, according to foreign sources, was eventually converted to the production of nuclear weapons. The French later withdrew their official support for the construction of the plant, and Israel continued to develop it independently.

1956 - Scientific conference. The Weizmann Institute holds a Macromolecular Chemistry Symposium, the first international scientific conference hosted by Israel.

1957 ECI Telecom, which eventually became Israels high-tech flagship, is established. In the 80s, the company gradually moved from producing military products to manufacturing civilian products, eventually focusing on the communications sphere.

1958 - Nuclear sciences. The Department of Nuclear Physics was established at the Weizmann Institute, with the top nine physicists in the world in attendance.

1959 - Unit 8-200 of the Intelligence Corps is formed. Its first commander was Avraham Aloni, who in 1952 became the commander of the Signal Intelligence Unit of the IDF Intelligence Corps. Also in 1959, the electronics division was established which served as a research and technology division of the Intelligence Corps, which in turn became 8-200. Ever since, graduates of 8-200 have gone on to hold leading positions in Israels high-tech industries, becoming entrepreneurs and executives in such companies as Checkpoint, Comverse, Taldor, ECI Telecom, Audiocodes, Jacada, Compugen, Nice, and others.

1959 - Mamram, the acronym for the IDFs Central Computing Facility, is formed. Mamram was the pioneer in computing in the IDF. Immediately upon its establishment, journalist Uri Avnery wrote an article in magazine HaOlam HaZeh headlined Brains We Have Its Common Sense We Lack, in which he criticized the growth craze of the defense establishment that incorporated a big computer into its ranks, whose capacity, according to Avnery, was enough not only for the IDF and for the entire country, but for the entire Middle East. The computer was comparable to an ordinary, modern PC.

At the beginning, Mamram supplied the IDF with computer services. Over the years, computer subdivisions opened in various units of the IDF, servicing the various branches of the army. In time, Mamram graduates, who now fill key positions in industry, became Israels high-tech pioneers. Today, Mamram continues to constitute a key element in computer infrastructures and army-wide projects, as well as providing training for personnel.

1959 - The beginning of the development of Shafrir 1, the first air-to-air missile to be manufactured by Rafael (an acronym for the Armaments Development Authority). Since then, Rafael has become a manufacturer and exporter of missiles, among them the Shafrir 2, the Python 3, and the Gabriel, as well as other weapons systems.

Published by Israel's Business Arena on 3 May 2001

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