Israeli companies flock to homeland security conference in Biloxi

Surrounded by Mississippi, U.S. and Israeli officials, Governor Phil Bryant addresses the media

Officially, the March 13 summit in Biloxi was called the International Homeland Defense and Security Summit, but in practical terms, it could have been referred to as the Israel Invitational.

In addition to representatives from India, South Korea and Taiwan, there were numerous Israeli officials and 16 Israeli companies for the day-long meeting at the Mississippi Coast Convention Center.

At the summit, Governor Phil Bryant announced that he will lead a trade delegation to Israel this November, his fourth such trip in five years.

In fact, the Biloxi summit was inspired by his 2016 trip to Israel, Bryant said. While he had dreamed about such an event for a few years, in 2016 he was invited to speak at a homeland security summit in Israel. “If there’s anyone who knows about homeland security, it’s the Israelis,” Bryant said.

At the 2016 event, “I was able to see the impact that kind of summit had,” he said.
Mississippi is a strong candidate for that kind of event, he said. “We have a niche right here on the Mississippi Gulf Coast,” with Ingalls Shipbuilding — which built three Sa’ar-5 ships for Israel in the 1990s — and over 120 aerospace manufacturers and suppliers in the state.

Among those is a pair of locations for Israel Aerospace Industries.

SpaceX rocket engines are tested at Stennis Space Center in Mississippi, so anyone looking to go to Mars “will have to go through Hancock County,” Bryant quipped.
Jim McIngvale of Ingalls said the event had a “strong delegation… from the Israeli government and defense industries,” and “we will all benefit from the collaboration.” He served as emcee for the summit.

While the event focused on defense and military applications, including a parking-lot exhibit of defense equipment, the commercial uses for some of the technology were also highlighted. The Mississippi Development Authority set up numerous one-on-one meetings between Israeli and Mississippi companies.

At the summit, several of the Israeli companies exhibited their technology. Vumii, which has an American office in the Atlanta area, specializes in night and all-weather thermal imaging for a wide range of security applications. They also have a device that transforms Android smartphones into high-resolution thermal cameras.

Israeli Consul General Lior Haiat said diplomacy is about building bridges, and “this event is one of the most solid bridges we are building with Mississippi.”

Not only is the door open, Haiat said, “there is a welcome sign.”

The connections are already bearing fruit. On March 16, Beeper Communications Israel and Kopis Mobile of Flowood announced a technology partnership to advance and improve safety and awareness for first responders and military personnel.

Moshe Levinson, senior vice president for business development and special situations for Beeper Communications, said “I am extremely pleased with the welcoming atmosphere and open exchange of ideas that the Governor, the Mississippi Development Authority and SIBAT provided throughout the Summit. I am even more pleased to have entered into our agreement with Kopis, as they are exactly the kind of partner we look for as we further commercialize our solution and deploy for U.S. law enforcement and military.”

Beeper’s system offers law enforcement and first responder personnel enhanced live video capabilities and can overcome overwhelmed communication links. Their “network in a box” analyzes and profiles existing cellular networks, determining the four best available channels and bundles the channels into a high-capacity virtual private network.

Beeper already has deployed their technology with police departments in Baltimore and Houston, including at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo.

They have an unmanned ground vehicle robot, using the cellular bonder, that can be controlled without being in the line of sight.

Among the Israeli officials at the event was Brigadier General (Ret.) Mishel Ben Baruch, who was appointed director of SIBAT, the International Defense Cooperation Agency of the Israeli Ministry of Defense, in 2014.

At the opening reception on March 12, held at the Beau Rivage, Ben Baruch thanked Bryant for hosting the event, “on behalf of the prime minister and the defense minister.”

The keynote speaker was Admiral Paul Zukunft, Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard. In recent decades, he said, the U.S. can no longer sit back and rely on wide oceans to protect the homeland.

He spoke of U.S. partnerships with other nations to jointly combat scourges, from terrorism to drug cartels. Terror groups in the Middle East are going to be “generational organizations,” destroying one “drives the hydra underground, and they are going to resurface.”

Zukunft said “there is no better example of a country that finds itself in the bullseye” than Israel. “There’s a lot we can learn from them.”

Rep. Steven Palazzo, who chairs the appropriations committee and serves on the homeland security committee, met with Israeli officials and attended the opening reception.

The morning was spent discussing border security, by water and by land. Saar Koursh, CEO of Magal-Israeli Security Systems, spoke about serving in Lebanon 25 years ago, and said Israel’s “border doctrine is based on barriers.”

He noted that Magal has secured roughly 80 percent of Israel’s borders, including a 220-kilometer stretch along the Sinai, which was completed in less than two years. Since it was completed, “the effect was immediate.”

He spoke of robot monitoring and buried fiber-optic sensors, and the range of border threats that include underground and above ground infiltration. Such border solutions also have to be protected against cyber threats, and have a minimum usage of infrastructure like electricity.

Border technology also has to have a high detection rate, but few false alarms. Israel mandates fewer than one false alarm per kilometer per month, Koursh noted.

Cyber-security was a recurring theme, with Bradley Hayes, executive director of the office of trade relations at the U.S. Customs and Border Protection Agency, saying “we’re moving in the direction of ones and zeroes over guns and ammunition.”

Mark Conroe, director of government sales for Airbus Helicopters, said Airbus computers receive 100,000 potential attacks each day.

Zukunft referred to cyber-security as “our fifth border.”

Israeli Defense Attache Major General Michael Edelstein said last year, Israel helped 40 countries in their fight against terrorism, because “many of the threats are trans-regional ones.”

He noted the discovery of an explosive device on the Gaza border, then seven weeks later he received a call from a colleague in Iraq who encountered the same Iranian-manufactured device.

“We found out, in many areas of challenges we faced, that we can learn a lot from our counterparts, and vice versa,” he said.

India Defense Attache Brigadier Ravi Murugan said India also is in a “tough neighborhood,” with 800 kilometers of contested border with Pakistan and the entire border with China disputed. They have dealt with a “state-sponsored proxy war” from Pakistan, a “death by 1,000 cuts.”

While India is 75 percent Hindu with about 200 million Muslims, home-grown violence is “few and far between,” and out of the 200 million Muslims, “fewer than 100” were attracted to try and fight for ISIS. “Terrorism that comes to us is state-sponsored” from elsewhere.

A huge challenge to international cooperation in fighting terrorism, Murugan said, is the reluctance by the United Nations to come up with a definition of terrorism.

Another topic was natural disaster response, and how climate change can affect borders and the intensity of natural disasters.

In his closing remarks, Bryant said if there is an eventual terror attack in Mississippi, “we have friends throughout the world who will come to our aid.”

The summit “has been a day that Mississippi will long remember,” Bryant added.

“This is just the beginning,” Haiat said. “When these agreements start to bear fruit, we will be able to say this was the beginning.”