A member of the Israel’s Knesset, MK Yaakov Perry has worn many hats. He’s a former minister of science, technology and space and a former director of the Shin Bet (Israel Security Agency), a post he held for seven years. During his term as director, he was Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin’s envoy to negotiate the security arrangements with the Palestinians after the signing of the Oslo Accords (1993). After retirement, he was Prime Minister’s envoy on POWs (prisoners of war) and MIAs (missing in action) under prime ministers Shimon Peres, Benjamin Netanyahu, and Ehud Barak.
In the private sector, Perry has served as president and CEO of the telecom company Cellcom and has chaired the board of several companies, including Mizrahi-Tefahot Bank.
He’s on a four day visit to India with Israel’s Minister of Science, Technology and Space Ofir Akunis.
Cyber security was one of the key areas of discussion. What partnerships is India seeking?
It is really impressive what we have in the level of cooperation between India and Israel in a variety of things. Security (partnerships) have been going along for almost 25 years. It’s getting bigger and bigger. Many industrial, army facilities are working, getting tenders and helping to upgrade arms.
Israel is one of the leading countries in defending civilian infrastructures from hostile penetration. When I say civilian infrastructure, I mean banks, communication, railways, electricity, water... In the last two years in Israel, more than 250 companies were founded only under the title of cyber security.
The director of the Israel Space Agency visited the Indian Space Research Organisation headquarters in Bangalore. Are we looking at joint projects?
We have a major coorperation in space with ISRO. We have been there, not to the launch (site) but the headquarters. The corporation in that sense is growing.
A couple of years ago, a large communication shuttle (recon sat TechSAR) was launched by India and I am sure there will be a lot others.
India and Israel are sharing the same values and are facing the same problems, seeing the present and looking for the future. And I think that Israel can learn a lot from India and India can learn a lot from Israel.
We have agreements in science and technology and Israel is known as the startup nation. We can contribute and we can get contributions from Indian researchers and universities, which works quite well.
India is facing huge water shortages. What are the technological solutions?
We are working on large joint agriculture projects, mainly on irrigation. Israel has been able to almost solve its water shortage water by desalination. With the Indian government, we are building centres of excellence and, if I’m not mistaken, we have 14. Every centre benefits thousands of farmers from Israeli know-how and technology.
Is desalination a solution? Or is it too expensive?
Israel has suffered from a shortage of water for many years. And it has been solved with the participation of the government, private sectors and clients -- meaning that the government is pushing private investors and global organisations to invest. We call it BOT project (Build–operate–transfer) which means that the private company gets concessions to build and operate projects, which are handed over to the government after the company has made adequate profits. And it works. Also, the technology is getting cheaper. It is not cheap but it is doable.
How is Israel fuelling the tech boom?
(For software development), you need programmers and a very, very large imagination. In Israel, people are serving obligatory in the army, being recruited to units that are technology-oriented. And when they get out, they come with ideas and experience that they put to commercial use.
I know of a numerous companies that get programming done in India. You have the manpower, you have the know-how. We can share the Israeli and the Indian know-how and go to really high heights.
How can governments nurture innovation and encourage start-ups?
The government has to understand that when we talk of encouragement, it is money because startups need financing, at least in the first stages. Most startups, be it in Israel or India, are facing all kinds of difficulties in the initial stages. So encouragement by the government is essential.
In order to finance, you need joint-venture funds that will finance and invest in start-ups. Governments have to institutionalise firms that are raising money from private investors because without this infrastructure, you cannot build a real start-up culture.
And of course, you have to invest a lot in education around science and technology at the elementary and high school-level. Because if people are not studying math, physics and sciences, they have no chance.
You have to build infrastructure – financial, educational and awareness – in India. And then, if not all, but more and more people will stay in India because they will see the future and the ability.