Fortnightly, 5 March 2019

Fortnightly, 5 March 2019

March 5, 2019


5 March 2019
28 Adar Aleph 5779
28 Jumada Al-Akhirah 1440




1.1  Israel & UK Sign Post-Brexit Trade Agreement
1.2  Israel’s Central District Court Backs Tax Authorities on Yachts


2.1  Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Closes $220 Million Fund
2.2  BMW to Open Tel Aviv Tech Center
2.3  Alooma Joins the Google Cloud Family
2.4  Rafael & Stolero Finalize Agreement to Acquire Aeronautics
2.5  Kryon Raises $40 Million
2.6  Curv Raises $6.5 Million
2.7  JFrog Acquires Shippable for Complete DevOps Pipeline Automation From Code to Production
2.8  Walmart Acquires Israeli Natural Language Processing Startup Aspectiva
2.9  Leading Plant-Based Dog Food Company Expands Availability to Israel
2.10  ZIM Announces a Strategic Investment in Ladingo
2.11  Asperii Announces $3 Million Investment from the Aman Group
2.12  Energean Begins Its Drilling Campaign in Israel


3.1  Beehive Raises Further $4 Million Investment as Part of a Series B Round
3.2  How Strong is the UAE Restaurants Scene?
3.3  Trella Raises $600,000 in Pre-Seed Round Led by Algebra Ventures
3.4  noon Officially Launches Its Beta Version in Egypt


4.1  ElectReon & Tel Aviv Municipality to Lay Pilot Electric Road
4.2  DEWA Seeks Developers for Fifth Phase of Giant Dubai Solar Park
4.3  Major Oman Wind Farm Project Set for Third Quarter 2019 Completion


5.1  Lebanese Consumer Prices Driven Up in January 2019 as Inflation Reaches 3.17%
5.2  Jordanian Task Force Launched Following London Initiative Outcomes
5.3  World Bank to Provide Jordan with 1.9 Billion Over Two Years to Support Reforms
5.4  Saudi Arabia Deposits JOD 236 Million in Jordan’s Central Bank
5.5  Jordan’s Unemployment Rate Hits 18.7% During the Fourth Quarter of 2018
5.6  Jordan’s National Exports Increase by 3.6% While Imports Decrease by 1.4%
5.7  Jordanian Tourism Revenues Amount to JOD 324 Million in January 2019

♦♦Arabian Gulf

5.8  Construction Starts on New $136 Million Dubai University Campus for RIT
5.9  Omanization Leads to Additional Drop in Oman’s Expat Numbers
5.10  Oman to Establish National Centre for Employment
5.11  Saudi Arabia to Boost Nationals Working in Restaurant Sector by 30%

♦♦North Africa

5.12  Egypt Issues $4 Billion in Foreign Currency Bonds
5.13  Egypt’s Natural Gas Output Increases by 21%
5.14  Egypt Launches Sat-A from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome


6.1  Turkey’s Annual Inflation Stands at 19.67% in February
6.2  Turkey’s Energy Import Bill Increases by 6% in January 2019
6.3  Cyprus Parliament Votes to Create a National Hydrocarbon Fund
6.4  Nicosia Renews Efforts to Protect Halloumi as EU Trademark Comes Under Attack
6.5  Unemployment on the Decline in Greece and Cyprus
6.6  Encouraged By Upgrade, Greece Plans 10 Year Bond Issue



7.1  Israel Ranks 10th Healthiest Nation in the World


7.2  Six Hundred Percent Rise in GCC Approvals for US Citizenship Scheme
7.3  New UAE Law Set to Save Lives
7.4  WHO Says Nearly 3 Out of 4 People in Turkey are Overweight


8.1  Valmont & Prospera Partnership for Autonomous Crop Management Technology
8.2  BiomX Raises $32 Million in Series B Financing
8.3  Emedgene Raises $6 Million to Scale Genomics-Based Care with AI
8.4  Evogene Announces Establishment of Subsidiary – LaVie Bio
8.5  Zsquare Secures $10 Million for Its Groundbreaking Single-use Imaging Endoscope
8.6  BIOCORP & DreaMed Diabetes Offer AI System for Diabetes Treatment Compliance
8.7  Teva Launches Authorized Generic of Flector Patch in the United States
8.8  Longliv Ventures Announces a $10 Million Strategic Investment in Sight Diagnostics
8.9  Aidoc Gets CE Mark for First AI-based Workflow Tool for Pulmonary Embolism
8.10  Stero Biotechs Commences Phase 2 Clinical Trial of ST-AH-01 Cannabidiol Formulation


9.1  XM Cyber Expands HaXM Automated Purple Team Platform With New Capabilities
9.2  Techmatrix & Bufferzone Provide Prevention-Based Virtual Container Security Solution
9.3  SAM Boosts Revenues for Israel’s Largest Telco, Prevents Thousands of Cyber Attacks
9.4  Curv Revolutionary Cryptography for Blockchain Keeps Digital Assets Secure
9.5  ASOCS Announces 5G Single Software Stack on Mobile Edge Cloud
9.6  BigID & Immuta Maximize Value from Data Science Initiatives While Protecting Information
9.7  CyberArk Named Best Privileged Access Security Solution
9.8  NanoLock and Micron Offer Flash-to-Cloud Management Solution for Security of IoT Devices
9.9  SecBI Launches Automated Threat Detection and Response Solution for MSSPs
9.10  AI Photo Scanning & Preservation Platform Photomyne Wins Red Herring Top 100 Europe
9.11  DustPhotonics Announces Availability of 400Gbps QSFP-DD Active Optical Cables
9.12  Optibus Adds Intelligent Route Planning Capabilities to its Disruptive Mass Transport Platform
9.13  Orbit Unveils Newest Dual-Band Maritime Satcom Solution
9.14  MTI Wireless Edge Announces New TV White Space Antenna Family
9.15  Wisdo Named One of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for 2019
9.16  PacketLight PL-2000T 800G Transponder for High Capacity Long Haul Applications
9.17  Voicesense Enhances Call Center Offering With Predictive Analytics
9.18  Foresight Completes Additional Sale of QuadSight Prototype


10.1  The Composite State of the Economy Index for January 2019 Increased by 0.3%
10.2  Israeli Startups Raised $550 Million in February


11.1  ISRAEL: Israel’s Foreign Trade in Goods, by Country – January 2019
11.2  ISRAEL: Israel’s Cannabis Revolution
11.3  EGYPT: Suez Canal Tunnels Expected to Bring New Life to Sinai
11.4  GREECE: Moody’s Upgrades Greece’s Rating to B1, Stable Outlook
11.5  CYPRUS: Cyprus Gas Discovery Could be an East Mediterranean Game-Changer


1.1  Israel & UK Sign Post-Brexit Trade Agreement

Israel’s Minister of Economy Eli Cohen and UK Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox signed a trade and cooperation agreement between Israel and the UK in late February.  The agreement provides for continuity in trade relations between the two countries after Britain leaves the European Union, which is scheduled to happen on 29 March.

The UK is Israel’s largest trading partner in Europe and its third largest worldwide.  Trade between the two countries was worth $11 billion in 2018, 15% more than in 2017.  The agreement will enable British and Israeli businesses, exporters and consumers, to continue trading between them freely and with complete security as Britain prepares to leave the European Union.  It is expected that trade and investment relations between the two countries will continue strengthening amid continued joint work in the future.

The agreement between Israel and the UK is based upon the existing infrastructure of agreements between Israel and the European Union.  Its aim is to maintain continued certainty on both sides and to ensure that trade continues to take place on the same terms as it takes place today under Israel’s agreement with the European Union.  (Globes 24.02)

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1.2  Israel’s Central District Court Backs Tax Authorities on Yachts

Owners of yachts imported to Israel must pay wealth tax initiated, the Central District Court recently ruled.  The court dismissed a petition for a class action lawsuit against the Israel Tax Authority demanding restitution of purchase tax and VAT paid on imports of private yachts anchoring in Israel’s marinas.  The court ruled that no purchase tax had been charged on yachts before August 2013, and that yacht owners were not obligated to pay purchase tax on yachts before that date.  After that date, however, the order instituting purchase tax on yachts applies to a yacht upon entering the Herzliya Marina for the first time after 12 August 2013.

Despite the unequivocal ruling that purchase tax and VAT on private yachts is justified, the court ruling also imposed a limit for the first time on the period in which the Tax Authority could require yacht owners to pay the wealth tax.  The party filing the petition argued that the Tax Authority had collected taxes illegally, including the wealth tax.  Globes revealed in 2017 that the wealth tax applied to Israeli yacht owners.  From the beginning of 2017, most yacht owners began receiving demands for payment of purchase tax, even when the yachts had been purchased 10-15 years previously.  The demands were based on the law that took effect for four years, starting in August 2013, imposing taxes on luxury items, including all-terrain vehicles, off-road vehicles, furs, antique furniture, yachts, jet skis, airplanes, etc.  The 15% purchase tax was imposed on imports of yachts and private airplanes.

Until early 2017, however, most owners of yachts more than five years old were not required to pay the tax.  The situation changed when the period of the wealth tax was about to expire; the yacht owners began to receive demands to pay the tax upon entering Israel.  The wealth tax was extended, and applies to this day.  The court’s recent ruling settled one of the disputed points: when a private yacht is regarded as having been imported into Israel and the time framework in which owners of private yachts can be taxed.

The party filing the request for a class action suit is a Finnish citizen, married to an Israeli, whose center of life is in Finland.  He owns a yacht anchored in the Herzliya Marina since 2010.  After he received a detaining certificate from a tax officer, he paid in March 2017 the tax demanded of him for importing the vessel into Israel.  (Globes 27.02)

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2.1  Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) Closes $220 Million Fund

Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP) announced the close of its latest fund, JVP VIII, with $220 million in commitments.  This new fund aims to invest in early through mid-stage technologies that are transforming key global markets, such as computer vision meets wellness, cybersecurity meets fintech and insurtech, artificial intelligence meets retail and media, big data meets healthcare IT and many more.

With investment hubs located in Jerusalem at the JVP Media Quarter in the heart of the city, home to JVP’s Corporate Headquarters, in Beer Sheva, the Southern Cyber-Epicenter, home to the JVP Labs alongside key universities and international corporations; and in New York in the recently launched Hub.NYC by JVP.  Each of these hubs serve as centers of innovation and entrepreneurship, bringing together key global corporations, best academic minds and JVP’s investment team, identifying the next international market leaders.

JVP VIII attracted leading investors from across the U.S., from Europe, such as France, Germany, Austria, Italy and the UK, and from Asia, including Japan. These included U.S. and European government sovereign funds, leading international insurance companies, endowments from universities and major global corporations, all of which turned to Israel’s tech ecosystem as a source of innovation.

Jerusalem Venture Partners (JVP), is an internationally renowned venture capital fund based in Israel.  Established in 1993, JVP has raised to date $1.4 billion across 9 funds, and has been listed numerous times by Preqin, and other rankings, as one of the top-ten consistently performing VC firms worldwide.  JVP has built over 130 companies, leveraging a broad network of partners and market expertise to help companies become global market leaders.  Among the pioneering firms of the Israeli venture capital industry, JVP has been instrumental in building some of the largest companies out of Israel, facilitating 12 Initial Public Offerings on NASDAQ.  (JVP 20.02)

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2.2  BMW to Open Tel Aviv Tech Center

German carmaker BMW has announced that it is opening a Tel Aviv tech center to tap into the talent in Israel’s startup scene.  BMW said that its Tel Aviv team will consist of experts from various disciplines who will network intensively with local startups, evaluate and drive forward relevant trends, technologies and innovations.  The full spectrum of technology enterprises based in Israel will be considered and the team will also seek to set up joint research projects with universities.  In addition to the existing Technology Offices in the USA, China, Japan and South Korea, the Technology Office in Tel Aviv will be the fifth of its kind within BMW Group’s global R&D network.

BMW already has several collaborations with Israeli companies.  In 2016, BMW teamed with Mobileye and Intel in the development of an autonomous car. BMW has also invested in Moovit and collaborates with car sensor developer Innoviz.

BMW joins a long series of auto manufacturers and tier-1 suppliers in the industry already operating R&D centers in Israel and offices to find investments in companies dealing in smart cars at some level.  These include Renault, Nissan, Daimler, Volkswagen, Skoda, Porsche and SAIC.  General Motors has hundreds of employees in its Herzliya development center while Volvo and Honda are operating an incubator for smart car startups, and share a center for finding investment opportunities with Hertz.  (Globes 20.02)

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2.3  Alooma Joins the Google Cloud Family

Alooma has entered into an agreement to join Google Cloud, subject to customary closing conditions.  This acquisition is the evolution of their long-standing partnership with Google Cloud.  It follows several native integrations, over the years, from Google Ads and Analytics to Cloud Spanner and BigQuery.

Alooma has always aimed to provide the simplest and most efficient path toward standardizing enterprise data from every source and transforming it into actionable intelligence.  Joining Google Cloud will bring it one step closer to delivering a full self-service database migration experience bolstered by the power of their cloud technology, including analytics, security, AI and machine learning.

Tel Aviv’s Alooma enables businesses to use all of their data to make better data-driven decisions.  With its Data Pipeline as a Service platform it provides Data Scientists and Data Engineers the ability to integrate, clean, enrich and bring together data from various data silos at any time to any destination.  Alooma’s secure modern Data Pipeline as a Service is designed to address the key data integration requirements of cloud data warehouses, modern analytics solutions, mobile, IoT, web and cloud apps.  (Alooma 21.02)

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2.4  Rafael & Stolero Finalize Agreement to Acquire Aeronautics

On 20 February, Aeronautics confirmed to the Tel Aviv Stock Exchange that it signed a deal to be acquired by defense contractor Rafael Advanced Defense Systems and Israeli businessman Avihai Stolero.  According to the filing, Rafael and Stolero will pay NIS 850 million ($235 million) for full ownership of Aeronautics, which will become a private company following the deal.  The sum is a premium of 23% on Aeronautics’ average stock price over the past 30 days.  The deal is still subject to approval from Aeronautics’ shareholders.  Aeronautics stated it expects the merger to be completed within four to six months.

Aeronautics rejected a NIS 430 million (approximately $116.6 million) offer from Rafael and Stolero in August.  The two increased their bid to $231 million in January, after Israel Aerospace Industries and others also started expressing interest in the company.

Heading an industry group focused on unmanned solutions, systems and subsystems, Yavne’s Aeronautics provides integrated turnkey solutions based on unmanned systems platforms, payloads and communications for defense and civil applications.  Designed as leading-edge UAS-based solutions, Aeronautics’ systems offer operationally proven solutions for Intelligence, Surveillance and Reconnaissance (ISR) systems requirements.  As a pioneer in the field of unmanned aerial systems, Aeronautics broad product portfolio has demonstrated excellent performance and operability. Backed by continuous research and development, these systems are built on three decades of technological and operational experience.  (Various 24.02)

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2.5  Kryon Raises $40 Million

Kryon announced the completion of its Series C financing round of $40 million led by OAK HC/FT.  Both Aquiline Technology Growth and Vertex Ventures – the firms that had led Kryon’s Series B round – have also exercised their option to expand their previous investments.  Kryon intends to use the funds to continue development of its innovative technology and penetration into new geographies by expanding its sales and marketing teams and opening additional offices around the globe.

Kryon Process Discovery has greatly impacted the automation landscape, proving to significantly accelerate the time it takes for enterprises to scale RPA deployment and reduce implementation time by up to 80%.  Process Discovery, in conjunction with Kryon’s RPA solutions, creates a unique end-to-end RPA experience – dramatically lowering the total cost of ownership and enabling enterprises to achieve continuous process optimization.  Since launch, Kryon Process Discovery has begun to fundamentally change the way enterprises view RPA – replacing subjective guesswork with objective analysis, while minimizing the work that a company’s employees must perform before they can start automating processes.

Tel Aviv’s Kryon is a leader in enterprise automation, offering the only platform on the market which encompasses both Process Discovery and Robotic Process Automation (RPA). This end-to-end solution maximizes ROI and cuts implementation time by 80%.  Powered by proprietary AI technology, Kryon Process Discovery™ automatically generates a comprehensive picture of business processes, evaluates them and recommends which ones to automate. Kryon offers attended (desktop) RPA, unattended (virtual-machine-based) RPA and a hybrid combination of both.  The company’s award-winning platform is used by enterprises worldwide, including AIG, Allianz, American Express, AT&T, Ernst & Young, Ferring Pharmaceuticals, HP, Microsoft, Santander Bank, Singtel Optus, Verizon and Wyndham Hotel Group. Interact with Kryon on Twitter, LinkedIn and Kryon Community.  (Kryon 26.02)

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2.6  Curv Raises $6.5 Million

Curv has announced $6.5 million in seed funding.  The round was led by Team8, and the world’s leading investor in digital asset companies, Digital Currency Group, with participation from Flybridge Capital, Jump Capital, Monex Group and Liberty City Ventures.

Curv’s Institutional Digital Asset Wallet Service: eliminates the concept of private keys by using proprietary multi-party computation (MPC) protocols; replaces the need for both cold and hot wallets; and offers a flexible, enterprise-grade policy engine.  The Curv service also includes the setup, management and maintenance of the Blockchain infrastructure.  This allows customers to adopt any cryptocurrency or Blockchain app they want, without having to worry about investing or scaling the underlying IT infrastructure.

Tel Aviv’s Curv Institutional Digital Asset Wallet Service to give financial institutions and enterprises strong security, instant availability, and total autonomy over all their digital assets.  (Curv 26.02)

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2.7  JFrog Acquires Shippable for Complete DevOps Pipeline Automation From Code to Production

JFrog announced the strategic acquisition of Shippable, a continuous integration and DevOps automation platform company.  Shippable’s portfolio of cloud-native and Kubernetes-ready CI/CD solutions will be incorporated into the JFrog platform, creating a complete, integrated DevOps pipeline solution.

With expertise in CI/CD pipeline automation and a drive to make DevOps an “assembly line” for software development, Shippable technology provides a leap forward for JFrog’s DevOps platform, Enterprise+.  Coupled with JFrog’s industry-leading artifact repository management binary management, distribution, and security vulnerability scanning solutions, Shippable technology will allow JFrog customers to automate their development processes from the moment code is committed through to production.

Following a Series D funding round of $165 million announced in October of 2018, JFrog’s acquisition of Shippable illustrates a promise to rapidly expand the JFrog technology portfolio across the DevOps pipeline.  Coupled with the recent announcement of JFrog’s incorporation of VulnDB security intelligence data from Risk Based Security, JFrog is now offering the most automated, complete, open and secure DevOps solution in the market.

Netanya’s JFrog is on a mission to enable continuous updates through liquid software, empowering developers to code high-quality applications that securely flow to end-users with zero downtime.  JFrog is the creator of Artifactory, the heart of the end-to-end Universal DevOps platform for automating, managing, securing, distributing, and monitoring all type of binaries.  JFrog products are available as open-source, on-premise, and on the cloud on AWS, Microsoft Azure, and Google Cloud.  As the leading universal, highly available enterprise DevOps Solution, the JFrog platform empowers customers with trusted and expedited software releases from code-to-production.  (JFrog 21.02)

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2.8  Walmart Acquires Israeli Natural Language Processing Startup Aspectiva

Walmart has acquired Aspectiva, an Israeli startup whose AI-based technology analyses consumer product reviews to make product suggestions to shoppers both online and in-store.  The world’s biggest brick-and-mortar retailer says that Aspectiva’s natural language processing capabilities will help it “further enhance the end-to-end shopping experience”.  Through the deal, Aspectiva will join Walmart’s incubation arm, Store N° 8, which aims to uncover new commerce-related technologies.  The financial terms of the deal were not disclosed and Aspectiva says it will continue to operate from its offices in Tel Aviv.

Last year, Walmart invested in Team 8, an Israeli think tank and tech incubator; launched a joint venture with Eko, an interactive media and technology company; and joined The Bridge, a technology startup community in Israel.

Using Artificial Intelligence technologies, Aspectiva analyzes consumer opinions, turning them into comprehensive and valuable insights, helping e-commerce visitors make informed decisions and resulting in increased online conversion rates.  (Various 25.02)

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2.9  Leading Plant-Based Dog Food Company Expands Availability to Israel

San Francisco’s V-planet, a leading international company committed to producing 100% vegan products for dogs, announced its availability in Israel through the online store Vegpet.  Current v-planet products available for purchase in Israel include their nutritionally complete and balanced vegan adult dog food in both regular size for medium to large dogs and mini-bites for smaller dogs.  Founded in 2018 as the international arm of San Francisco-based v-dog, v-planet first found success in Canada and Australia and is working on a steady rollout to more countries around the world.  (V-planet 28.02)

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2.10  ZIM Announces a Strategic Investment in Ladingo

ZIM announced on 27 February 2019 that it has made a direct investment in the technology company Ladingo, which just closed a $1 million funding round.  ZIM opted to invest in Ladingo as a strategic move, as the tech company is positioned to lead a global consumer revolution by enabling personal importation of large and bulky items to shoppers purchasing from international online-shops.  Ladingo’s technological platform offers a transparent digital integration of the entire process.

The price obstacle and regulatory requirements limit the variety of products that online shops can sell to international customers.  In view of recent developments in retail logistics, both ZIM and Ladingo sought to provide a technological solution to the complex logistical world of ocean freight.  They did so, believing that connecting such a solution to the world of e-commerce would at last enable retailers to sell all their products online, including their large and bulky items, with relatively low shipping costs.

Ladingo is currently piloting with several customers in the United States.

Since 1945, Haifa’s ZIM provides creative operational and logistical solutions to customers.  Over the years ZIM has grown to become a leading force in the shipping industry, by pioneering innovative technologies and expanding its vast geographical network while maintaining its tradition of excellence.

Hod HaSharon’s Ladingo enables e-commerce stores to sell large and heavy products to end-users across the ocean at attractive prices, thanks to technology founded upon the principles of container sharing among end-users, and the digitization & automation of the fulfillment process.  (ZIM and Ladingo 27.02)

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2.11  Asperii Announces $3 Million Investment from the Aman Group

Asperii, a global Salesforce and ClickSoftware partner announced it has secured a $3 million investment from Aman Group, in order to support its rapid worldwide expansion.  Asperii specializes in implementing workforce management and field service solutions such as Salesforce’s Field Service Lightning and ClickSoftware’s Field Service Edge for large organizations.  These solutions improve the efficiency and effectiveness of field service organizations, while connecting the entire organization to the customers in order to deliver exceptional service.

Asperii plans to use the funds to open new offices in Europe and Australia.  The company is also expanding its workforce of 40 consultants and developers and is already in the process of recruiting an additional 30 staff members.  Many of Asperii’s team members were among the first employees of ClickSoftware, which spearheaded the field worldwide.

Asperii was established in 2011 and operates globally from its current offices in New York and Tel Aviv.  The company’s customers, which include many Fortune 500 companies, are located across the USA, Europe and Asia.  In Israel, where the company started out, Asperii’s customers include IKEA Israel, Cellcom and Strauss Water.

Bnei Brak technology and IT leader Aman Group operates subsidiaries in Israel and around the world. With some 2,500 employees, the group leads extensive global operations including R&D centers, in 7 countries, from Europe to the Far East.  Aman Group specializes in data analysis and BI, data security, Blockchain, knowledge management, and outsourced expert services for major end-to-end projects.  Aman Group’s clients include some of the world’s largest insurance companies and banks, government ministries and authorities, industry and technology companies, in Israel and around the world.  (Aman Group 28.02)

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2.12  Energean Begins Its Drilling Campaign in Israel

Energean Oil & Gas began its 2019 drilling program in Israel, which will consist of three development wells and Karish North.  The drilling ship is called Stena DrillMax, a sixth generation drillship capable of drilling in water depths of up to 10,000 feet.

Energean commenced with exploratory drilling at the Karish North field, which according to estimates has a 69% possibility of containing 33.5 billion cubic meters (BCM) of natural gas.  This is a similar amount that was found in Israel’s very first natural gas field the Mary-B off the coast of Ashkelon.  The Karish North field is also likely to contain 14 million barrels of condensate (light oil).  This is the first offshore exploratory drilling that has been carried out in Israel since the Tamar-South-West field in 2013.

After DrillMax has completed the Karish-North drilling it will move onto the Karish-Central field where it will conduct three drillings.  The agreement with Stena includes an option for up to six other drillings in other parts of the Karish and Tanin licenses.

Energean plans to invest about $1.8 billion in developing the Karish and Tanin fields, which it bought from Delek Drilling and Noble Energy as part of the government gas outline agreement to ensure competition in gas production.  The main investment in developing the field will be for construction of a floating production storage and offloading (FPSO) rig, which is currently being built in China and is expected to reach Israel towards the end of next year.  This will allow Energean to begin producing gas in the first quarter of 2021.  The FPSO will be anchored about 90 kilometers off the coast of Israel, west of Haifa.  (Energean 04.03)

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3.1  Beehive Raises Further $4 Million Investment as Part of a Series B Round

Beehive has secured $4 million of follow on investment from Riyadh TAQNIA Fund (RTF) as part of a Series B funding round.  This latest round brings the total raised by Beehive to $15.5m since its launch.  Beehive has continued to deliver strong growth and successfully facilitated funding approaching $100 million to more than 450 business funding requests and registered nearly 10,000 international retail and institutional investors.  The investment follows the recent announcement of Beehive’s partnership with Thanachart Bank in Thailand to provide a new Value Chain Financing Program for SMEs.

Dubai’s Beehive P2P is the first peer to peer lending platform in MENA to be regulated by the DFSA.  Beehive directly connects businesses looking for finance with investors, creating mutually beneficial partnerships for growth.  Beehive’s digital platform provides smarter finance solutions to businesses, financial institutions and investors.  By combining financial market experience with technology, we accelerate efficiency and functionality to deliver market innovation.  (Beehive P2P 03.03)

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3.2  How Strong is the UAE Restaurants Scene?

KPMG’s 2018 F&B Report said the food and beverage operators in the UAE have responded to headwinds facing the industry by enhancing operations and rationalizing costs to maintain margins, while opting to exit loss-making outlets and struggling brands.  The added that the UAE continues to lead the market in the Middle East region, stimulated by a growing number of tourists. The sector’s growth is further supported by the entry of new international and regional brands.  The restaurant footprint – the number of restaurants per million residents – in Dubai remains high, second only to Paris.

According to the report, among all formats in the UAE, quick-service restaurants were more popular in 2018 due to value-seeking customers.  For premium dining outlets, relatively steady patronage for certain popular brands and concepts continued, with hotel-based premium licensed offerings facing increased competition from licensed non-hotel outlets.  The report also found that the delivery segment witnessed year-on-year growth and use of rental kitchens is a trend that is picking up in the UAE.  As many as 32% of operators (versus 21% last year) attribute more than a quarter of their revenue to the delivery channel.

As opposed to 2017, when operators’ attention was focused on expansion into new markets and geographies, the broader theme for 2018 was to put the house in order.  At the same time, with the introduction of value added tax in the UAE, most F&B operators continued to focus their attention on pricing strategy, the report noted.  More than half of operators believe Expo 2020 will have a favorable impact and the event has the potential to provide a much-needed fillip to the industry.  Further, more than one third of operators currently plan to directly participate by establishing a presence at the site.  (AB 02.03)

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3.3  Trella Raises $600,000 in Pre-Seed Round Led by Algebra Ventures

Trella, the trucking marketplace that connects shippers with carriers, announced that it has raised more than $600,000 in a pre-seed funding round led by Algebra Ventures, with participation from strategic investors, global VCs and other notable angel investors.  The tech platform/marketplace empowers drivers and reduces costs for shippers by improving load utilization and efficiency, offering transparent pricing schedules, and enabling shipment tracking in real-time.

Egypt’s Trella, founded in 2018, is a platform that connects shippers to carriers.  Trella offers services and technology to empower drivers, improve their efficiency, boost their earnings and utilization as well as creating job opportunities.  Trella aims to reduce costs for shippers, introduce a transparent pricing structure and provide them with a more reliable source of carriers.  All the while allowing them to track their shipments in real-time as well as report key insights on their transportation trends and performance.  (ArabNet 25.02)

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3.4  noon Officially Launches Its Beta Version in Egypt

noon, the Middle East’s digital marketplace created in the region and powered by the region’s retailers, has announced its imminent expansion into Egypt.  The move will mark a significant step in noon’s growth journey since its successful launch in KSA and UAE just over a year ago.  As it prepares to enter its 3rd regional market, noon promises to bring customers in Egypt more choice, affordability and convenience across a wide range of products including electronics, fashion, beauty, baby, home and kitchen, as well as free, fast delivery and free returns.  Customers in Egypt are welcome to try noon’s offering via desktop or app, shopping across a wide range of products at incredible prices, during this initial test period.

noon Egypt is based in Smart Village, Cairo’s technology and innovation led business district, and the team on ground is currently in the testing phases prior to the official launch.  The ecommerce platform also has a fully operational Customer Fulfillment Center (CFC) in Greater Cairo’s Abu Rawash area, with plans to include 5 additional CFCs to ensure service to all cities and governorates is quick and efficient.

A vast amount of Egypt’s retailers have zero or limited online presence.  By using noon as their online platform, large and small retailers will enjoy more visibility, access to a wider customer base, an opportunity for increased sales, and a larger share of the ecommerce market.  They will also have access to noon’s logistics services to reach their customers across the country more effectively.

With a large percentage of the population below 30, and the highest number of internet users in the Arab world, Egypt’s youth has tremendous potential to build a vibrant tech-based economy.  (ArabNet 19.02)

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4.1  ElectReon & Tel Aviv Municipality to Lay Pilot Electric Road

The Tel Aviv municipality will conduct a pilot of an electrified road section for passenger buses developed by ElectReon Wireless.  The pilot includes deployment of at least one kilometer of electrified road infrastructure and testing the economic viability of operating a bus on the company infrastructure.  The pilot is in cooperation with Dan Bus Company.

ElectReon uses smart road technology for wireless charging of electric vehicles.  The company installs coils beneath the surface of roads for charging electric vehicles while they are traveling.  This can extend the vehicles’ traveling range, while saving time spent on charging them and significantly reducing their weight.  The cars will be equipped with a small battery to enable them to travel on road sections that lack ElectReon’s coil infrastructure.  ElectReon recently reported the conclusion of an initial trial of its electric road system, and presented a vehicle traveling continuously on a 25-meter road section in the company’s test area in Beit Yannai.

Founded in 2013, Beit Yannai’s ElectReon strives to revolutionize E-mobility with the ultimate goal of eliminating the dependency on oil. ElectReon is paving the way for future green e-mobility solutions with a unique “Smart road technology”, by developing a Dynamic Wireless Electrification System for electric transportation.  ElectReon’s revolutionary technology reduces the need for a large battery in the vehicle and powers it wirelessly via minimal infrastructure located under the driving lane.  Once the system has been deployed in the main roads for public transportation then it can serve as a platform for all kind of vehicles eliminating the initial costs.  In addition, ElectReon can harvest energy due to vehicle braking and transfer it back to the electricity grid, it reduces the total amount of energy consumed by the transportation sector.  (Globes 24.02)

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4.2  DEWA Seeks Developers for Fifth Phase of Giant Dubai Solar Park

The Dubai Electricity and Water Authority (DEWA) has issued a request for qualification for developers to build and operate the fifth phase of the Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park, with a capacity of 900 MW.  The phase will use photovoltaic solar panels based on the independent power project and will be commissioned in stages starting from Q2/21.  DEWA said the move supports the Dubai Clean Energy Strategy 2050 to provide 75% of Dubai’s total power output from clean energy.

The Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum Solar Park is the largest single-site strategic solar park of its kind in the world.  It will generate 5,000 MW by 2030 with investments worth AED50 billion.  The 13 MW photovoltaic first phase became operational in 2013 using photovoltaic solar panels while the 200 MW photovoltaic second phase of the solar park started operations in March 2017.  The 800 MW photovoltaic third phase will be operational by 2020 while the fourth phase of the solar park will feature the tallest solar tower in the world at 260 meters and the largest thermal storage capacity of 15 hours.  (AB 02.03)

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4.3  Major Oman Wind Farm Project Set for Third Quarter 2019 Completion

The 50 MW Dhofar Wind Farm in Oman, the GCC’s first utility-scale wind farm, is fully funded by the Abu Dhabi Fund for Development (ADFD), but reflects Oman’s commitment to diversify its energy sources.  The project is being implemented by Masdar on behalf of ADFD, through an EPC consortium of GE Renewable Energy and TSK.  On completion in Q3/19, the wind farm is expected to generate enough electricity to supply 16,000 homes, equivalent to 7% of the Dhofar Governorate’s total power demand.  Construction began in Q1/18 and four of the project’s 13 wind turbines have now been installed and virtually all of the project’s infrastructure has been completed.  The remaining wind turbines will be in place by the end of March, before being connected to the grid.  OPWP will be the off-taker, or purchaser of the generated power, from the Rural Areas Electricity Company of Oman (Tanweer), which is responsible for operating the wind power plant upon completion.

GE Renewable Energy is providing the project’s 3.8MW wind turbines that are tailor-made for hot and arid desert conditions, while TSK is responsible for the remainder of the wind farm’s infrastructure and electrical transmission facilities connecting the plant to the grid.  Power demand in the Dhofar Governorate, the largest of Oman’s 11 Governorates, is growing at around 10% annually.  Besides helping to meet this demand, the Dhofar Wind farm will offset an estimated 110,000 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually, while reducing reliance on natural gas for domestic power generation.  (AB 22.02)

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5.1  Lebanese Consumer Prices Driven Up in January 2019 as Inflation Reaches 3.17%

According to the Central Administration of Statistics (CAS), Lebanon’s consumer prices rose by an annual 3.17% in the first month of 2019, compared to an average inflation rate of 5.55% in January 2018.  The rise is attributed to increases in prices across all components of the Consumer price index (CPI), except Transportation given the average price of oil retreated from $69.08/barrel in January 2018 from $60.24/barrel in the same period this year.  Accordingly, the price of the CPI component Transportation (13.1% of the CPI) declined by an annual 2.70%.  Meanwhile, the prices of Food and non-alcoholic beverages (20% of CPI) recorded an annual growth of 7.67% in January 2019.  In their turn, the costs of Housing and utilities (which include: water, electricity, gas and other fuels) grasped a combined 28.4% of the CPI and climbed by 2.83% year-on-year (y-o-y) in the beginning of 2019.  In fact, the breakdown of the component reveals that Owner-occupied rental costs composing 13.6% of Housing and utilities increased by 2.69% y-o-y, while the average prices of Water, electricity, gas and other fuels, making up 11.8% of the same category, rose by an annual 2.78% over the same period.  In addition, the sub-indices of Health (7.7% of the CPI) and Education (6.6% of the CPI) recorded the respective upticks of 2.51% and 5.4% y-o-y in January 2019.  The prices of Clothing and footwear (5.2% of CPI) also added 7.45% y-o-y.  (CAS 21.02)

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5.2  Jordanian Task Force Launched Following London Initiative Outcomes

The London initiative has launched the “Jordan Task Force”, which represents a clear follow-up mechanism to ensure that commitments made in London are delivered.  The task force will be a joint effort between the UK, Jordan, donors and private sector, civil society and international financial institutions, which will be jointly chaired by the governments of Jordan and by the UK, according to a statement by the co-chairs of the London initiative 2019.

The conference, held on 28 February to support the Jordanian economy and investment, outlined the international community the Kingdom’s reform and growth plans and highlighted Jordan’s opportunities for investment.  Several countries pledged during the conference concessional loans, grants and technical assistance for Jordan.  The aim is to help stimulate economic growth, create jobs in the country and help it deliver on its commitments.  As a sub-objective, the group would also act as a regular staging post for communicating progress in reform initiatives and their real-world impact to the wider international business community and the Jordanian population.  In the private sector, the UK and Jordan will work closely together to follow up with business interests that were raised in London in order to turn them into investment in the medium-term.

Under the initiative, Jordan is committed to achieve economic transformation and economic growth is a priority area for support.  Bilateral, multilateral, NGO and private sector implementing agencies should look to significantly enhance their work on growth, creating stable conditions for reforms to mature and actively crowding in the private sector.  (JT 02.03)

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5.3  World Bank to Provide Jordan with 1.9 Billion Over Two Years to Support Reforms

The World Bank will provide $1.9 billion in financial support to Jordan over the next two years, almost as much as it has provided to the country over the last five years, citing its commitment to the Kingdom and the “strong” reform momentum in the country, according to Kristalina Georgieva, interim president of the World Bank Group and chief executive officer of the World Bank.  The financing is subject to the approval of the board of director and the reforms steadily moving forward.

The World Bank is aiming at $1.9 billion over two years.  The Bank has a very advanced preparation of development policy loan for Jordan that would be in the border of $1 billion, in addition to two loan guarantees; one from Saudi Arabia of $200 million and another from the UK of $250 million.  Of the remaining amount, there is a $100 million loan, a highly concessional one that is close to a grant.  The remaining sum also includes a project finance for which discussions are under way with Jordan to determine the targeted areas.

The World Bank is also working very hard through its private sector arms such as the International Finance Corporation as well as its Multilateral Investment Guarantee Agency to be more present in Jordan.  The World Bank is working with Jordan on the reform matrix making sure that it is implemented but also making sure that the Kingdom can tap into technical capacities in areas that are more complicated and require more efforts.  (JT 03.03)

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5.4  Saudi Arabia Deposits JOD 236 Million in Jordan’s Central Bank

Saudi Arabia has deposited $334 million (around JOD 236 million) in the Central Bank of Jordan.  Furthermore, Saudi Arabia is working with Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates to provide Jordan with additional financial support, Saudi Finance Minister Mohammed Al Jadaan said.  Jadaan added that “we negotiated last year, and announced two weeks ago the Aqaba-Ma’an railway and the Ma’an dry port project with an investment value of $700 million.”

Saudi Arabia alongside Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates put together a package worth $2.5 billion (around JOD 1.8 billion) in June to help shore up Jordan’s struggling economy.  The package includes a deposit at the Central Bank of Jordan, guarantees to be presented to the World Bank in favor of Jordan, budget support for five years and funding of development projects by development funds.  (Roya 04.03)

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5.5  Jordan’s Unemployment Rate Hits 18.7% During the Fourth Quarter of 2018

Jordan’s Department of Statistics issued its quarterly report on the Unemployment Rate in the Hashemite Kingdom for the fourth quarter of 2018.  The results show that the Unemployment Rate has reached 18.7% during Q4/18, representing an increase by 0.2% over Q4/17.  The unemployment rate for males has reached 16.9% during Q4/18 against 25.7% for females.  It is clear that the unemployment rate increased for men by 0.8% and decreased for women by 1.8%, compared with the fourth quarter 2017.  (DoS 03.03)

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5.6  Jordan’s National Exports Increase by 3.6% While Imports Decrease by 1.4%

The statistical data issued by Jordan’s Department of Statistics indicate that the value of total exports reached JOD.5518.5 million during 2018 [i.e., an increase by 3.5% compared with 2017].  Meanwhile, the national exports value reached JOD.4668.4 Million during 2018 [i.e. an increase by 3.6% compared with 2017].  The value of re-exports reached JOD 850.1 million during 2018 which indicates an increase by 2.6% as compared with 2017.  The imports value reached JOD.14353.2 million during 2018, thus decreasing by (1.4%) compared with 2017.

The deficit in the trade balance, which is calculated by deducting the value of imports from the value of total exports, has reached JOD.8834.7 million, meaning the deficit has decreased during 2018 by (4.2%) compared with 2017.  The imports coverage by total exports has become 38.4% during 2018 while it was 36.6% for the same period of 2017, which means an increase by 1. 8%.  (JDoS 27.02)

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5.7  Jordanian Tourism Revenues Amount to JOD 324 Million in January 2019

Jordan’s tourism revenues in January 2019 increased up by 9.1%, amounting to JOD 324.7 million, compared with JOD 297.7 million in the same month of last year, according to data released by the Central Bank of Jordan (CBJ).  The CBJ attributed the revenue increase to a 4.8% rise in inbound tourism, compared with January 2018.  (Roya 20.02)

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►►Arabian Gulf

5.8  Construction Starts on New $136 Million Dubai University Campus for RIT

Sheikh Ahmed bin Saeed Al Maktoum, chairman of Dubai Silicon Oasis Authority (DSOA), laid the foundation stone of the new campus of Rochester Institute of Technology – Dubai (RIT Dubai), a satellite campus of RIT New York, at Dubai Silicon Oasis (DSO).  The symbolic act marked the commencement of the construction works on the AED500 million ($136 million) project.  Phase one of the project, set to span 30,000 square meters, is scheduled for completion by the first quarter of 2020 at an estimated cost of AED200 million.  Phase two is slated for handover in 2023 at a projected cost of AED300 million, adding a further 116,000 square meters to the campus.

With the capacity to accommodate 4,000 students, the new campus will house five colleges – Electrical Engineering and Computing, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, Business Administration, Sciences, and Humanities.  The campus will also feature a central courtyard, a landscaped residential area, an innovation and entrepreneurship center, an interactive education center, a theatre, and a library, in addition to food courts and dedicated spaces for extracurricular activities.  It will also feature sports facilities, including football fields, basketball courts, tennis courts, and cricket fields.  (AB 23.02)

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5.9  Omanization Leads to Additional Drop in Oman’s Expat Numbers

Expats in Oman now make up 43.7% (2,040,274) of the country’s total population, marking the lowest level since July 2015, according to the National Centre for Statistics and Information.  In February 2018, the number stood at 45.1%, having decreased from 45.9% in 2017.  In the same period in 2016, expats accounted for 45.1% of Oman’s total population.

Indian nationals account for 36.9% of expat workers in Oman, followed by Bangladeshi nationals at 36.8%.  The number of Indians, Bangladeshi and Pakistani nationals in Oman dropped by 4.1%, 4.8% and 7.3% respectively compared to the same period in 2018.  However, expats continue to rate the sultanate as a good place to work in the Quality of Life Ranking in the Expat Insider 2018 survey.  It was ranked third across the GCC after the UAE and Bahrain, with Saudi Arabian and Kuwait trailing behind.

Oman’s Labour Law requires companies to employ Omanis to the maximum possible extent, prohibiting them from employing expats unless they have obtained a permit from the Ministry of Manpower to prove that they have employed enough nationals in compliance with Omanization.  (AB 27.02)

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5.10  Oman to Establish National Centre for Employment

Oman’s government has announced the establishment of a new National Centre for Employment (NCE), a plan to replace expats with Omanis in various sectors.  The center – which will become active on 1 January 2020 – will open branches in various parts of Oman.  It will propose qualified Omani jobseekers for various positions before the Ministry of Manpower approves requests for labor permits to fill those places.  The move means that if a company files a request for an expat visa, the center will first determine whether there are any qualified Omanis to fill the roll.  The center will also provide work counselling services for Omanis, and will coordinate with SMEs to help them find employees and give them access to databases of potential employees.  (AB 04.03)

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5.11  Saudi Arabia to Boost Nationals Working in Restaurant Sector by 30%

Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Labour and Social Development has signed an agreement with the kingdom’s Association of Restaurants and Cafes and the Human Resources Development Fund that will see 50,000 Saudis receive support to work in the sector.  The agreement will see the number of Saudi nationals employed in restaurants and cafes increased by 30%.  The Ministry said that there are currently 36,542 Saudis employed in the sector, of whom 13% – 1,156 – are women.  The ministry and its partners are working to bring the number of Saudis in the sector to 86,542.  There are currently 289,491 people employed in restaurants and cafes across the Saudi kingdom, 87% of whom are expatriates.

Additionally, some 11,498 Saudis work as managers in the sector, compared to 6,707 who work as specialists, 10,840 who work as ‘professionals’, 4,385 who work as technicians and 3,112 who work as laborers.  Of the non-Saudi employees employed in the sector, 43.4% – 109,898 – work as laborers, while another 21,591 work as managers, 25,052 as specialists, 24,651 as technicians and 71,757 who work as professionals.  (AB 03.03)

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►►North Africa

5.12  Egypt Issues $4 Billion in Foreign Currency Bonds

Egypt has issued $4 billion in dollar denominated bonds with maturities of five, 10 and 30 years in a sale that was five times oversubscribed, the Finance Ministry announced.  The issue included $750 million in five-year bonds with a return of 6.2%, $1.75 billion in 10-year bonds with a return of 7.6% and 1.5 billion in 30-year bonds, with a return of 8.7%.  The issue attracted $21.5 billion in bids, the ministry said.  The money raised will be used to finance the state budget.

Most bids were for longer maturity 10- and 30-year bonds.  The yield on the bonds “very good” for Egypt, in line or lower than prevailing yields.  Egypt struggled through years of political and economic turmoil after its 2011 uprising.  It has borrowed heavily from abroad since it began an economic reform program backed by the International Monetary Fund (IMF) in late 2016.  (FM 20.02)

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5.13  Egypt’s Natural Gas Output Increases by 21%

Egypt’s natural gas output increased by 21% year-on-year (YOY), reaching 4.178 million tons in December 2018, up from the 3.453 million tons produced in December 2017, Egypt Oil & Gas reports.  The monthly bulletin published by the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics (CAPMAS) reveals that Egypt’s consumption of natural gas grew by 1.9% YOY to reach 3.705 million tons in December 2018, up from the 3.636 million tons consumed in the same month a year earlier.  Monthly figures show that Egypt’s natural gas output grew by 2.73% in December 2018, from the 4.067 million tons produced in November 2018.  (EO&G 25.02)

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5.14  Egypt Launches Sat-A from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome

On 21 February, Egypt launched its EgyptSat-A spacecraft from Kazakhstan’s Baikonur Cosmodrome space port.  Egypt’s third Earth observation satellite (EgyptSat-A) was launched with Soyuz-2-1b/Fregat rocket following the EgyptSat 1 spacecraft launched in 2007 and EgyptSat 2 launched in 2014.  This satellite’ 11-year mission will be to replace EgyptSat 2 Earth-imaging satellite, which failed in orbit in 2015.

The satellite, which costed approximately $100 million, weighs more than a ton when fully fueled.  EgyptSat-A was announced to feature several improvements over the EgyptSat 2 design, including improved solar batteries and a high-speed radio link with ground stations.  EgyptSat-A, which arrived its orbit after 11 minutes of the launching, is expected to serve both of the environmental and agricultural sectors in Egypt.

Compared to EgyptSat-2, EgyptSat-A incorporates modernized electrical and flight control systems, an improved imaging payload, a higher-throughput communications system and more efficient solar arrays.  EgyptSat-A will also benefit from a more powerful carrier rocket, allowing it to be placed into a sun-synchronous orbit more suited to Earth imaging than the lower-inclination orbit in which EgyptSat-2 operated.  The EgyptSat-A Earth’s remote sensing satellite was developed by the Russian Energia Space Rocket Corporation along with Egypt’s National Authority for Remote Sensing and Space Sciences (NARSS).  (Egypt Today 21.02)

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6.1  Turkey’s Annual Inflation Stands at 19.67% in February

Turkey saw an annual hike of 19.67% in consumer prices in February, TUIK announced on 4 March.  Last month, the annual inflation went down 0.68%age points from 20.35% in January.  TUIK said the highest price increase on a yearly basis was recorded in food and non-alcoholic beverages with 29.25% in February.

Last week, an Anadolu Agency survey showed that a group of 19 economists forecast an average annual climb of 20.02% in consumer prices.  The economists also forecast that Turkey’s year-end annual inflation would be 15.78% on average – lowest at 13.50% and highest at 17.60%.

TUIK said consumer prices surged 0.16% in February on a monthly basis.  The highest monthly increase was 2.48% in health,” it said, adding that the highest monthly decrease was 4.81% in clothing and footwear.

According to the official figures, the 12-month average hike in consumer prices was 17.93% as of this February.  In January, Central Bank of Turkey revised its year-end inflation forecast, dropping to 14.6% from 15.2%.  Over the last decade, annual inflation saw its lowest level at 3.99% in March 2011, while it peaked at 25.24% in October 2018.  As noted in Turkey’s new economy program announced in September 2018, the country’s inflation rate target is 15.9% this year, 9.8% next year, and 6.0% in 2021.  (TUIK 04.03)

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6.2  Turkey’s Energy Import Bill Increases by 6% in January 2019

Turkey’s energy import bill increased by 6% to nearly $3.85 billion in January compared to the same month in 2018, according to data released by the Turkish Statistical Institute and Trade Ministry on 28 February.  The data shows that Turkey’s overall import bill, including energy and other items, reached $15.67 billion in January, with energy accounting for 24.56%.  The country’s crude oil imports showed almost a 48% increase over the same period compared to January 2018.  Turkey imported approximately 2.18 million tons of crude oil in January, up from 1.47 million tons for the same period in 2018.  (AA 28.02)

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6.3  Cyprus Parliament Votes to Create a National Hydrocarbon Fund

Cyprus’ Parliament has approved legislation creating a National Investment Fund to manage revenue from the exploitation of the country’s hydrocarbon resources.  With a vote of 43 in favor and 7 against, the House of Representatives passed the legislative framework for the establishment and operation of the wealth fund and the Cyprus Investment Management Organization which is to manage it.  Amendments to the bill passed by DISY and AKEL prevent the Fund from being linked directly to the public debt.  The description of the law indicates that the creation of the Fund must be institutionalized in a way that ensures its proper operation and performance through investments for the benefit of all Cypriots.

According to the law the “Investment Fund” aims to create an alternative steady stream of income for the State Budget, which allows for a safety margin for public finances and the economy against large fluctuations in hydrocarbon prices, with the accumulation of assets at high yield periods.  Surpluses can be invested in international financial assets with sufficient diversification to secure future generations or other long-term goals.  A prudent and sustainable balance on outflows should be introduced between the reduction of the Government debt and the accumulation of assets for stability purposes, in accordance with the government’s fiscal strategy.

The bill also provides for the establishment of an independent “Cyprus Investment Management Agency”, which will primarily provide investment management services and establish and maintain a Permanent Risk Management Unit, the work of which may be outsourced.  (FM 01.03)

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6.4  Nicosia Renews Efforts to Protect Halloumi as EU Trademark Comes Under Attack

Nicosia aims to speed up slow-moving procedures regarding the registration of halloumi cheese as a product of Protected Designation of Origin with the European Commission, as its European trademark comes under fire.  Cyprus, which lost its halloumi trademark in the UK last November after a blunder by the authorities, is now asking EU officials to intervene to unblock the PDO procedure which has been stuck for almost four years, because of its connection to the Cyprus problem.

President Anastasiades has called on European Commission President Juncker to intervene in order to unblock Cyprus’ application to register Halloumi as a product with a Protected Designation of Origin.  In a letter sent to Juncker, Anastasiades said the cheese’s PDO file has been pending since it was submitted on 28 July 2015.  Following the loss of the trademark in Britain and the rejection of the appeal by the Legal Service, the EU trademark is the now only protection the traditional product of Cyprus has left.

While the expected time for a PDO file to be examined by Brussels does not exceed 10 months, halloumi cheese has got bogged down in politics and disagreements between Greek and Turkish Cypriots regarding the Green Line trade.  Despite the initial consensus achieved between the two sides in 2015, the matter has got stuck as there was no agreement on trade involving products produced by livestock.

A European Commission spokesman said Brussels is in the process of examining objections submitted against halloumi’s certification as a PDO on the basis of the understanding reached on the issue in 2015 after the relevant meetings with the President of the Republic and the leadership of the Turkish Cypriot community.  The spokesman did not answer whether and how the process would be speeded up, simply stating that the Commission is currently going through objections filed.

The UK is the biggest market for the popular soft cheese, absorbing 40% of halloumi exports generating around €80 million a year.  Cyprus expects to garner €300 million in exports from halloumi by 2023.  (FM 20.02)

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6.5  Unemployment on the Decline in Greece and Cyprus

According to data released by Eurostat on 1 March, Cyprus has recorded the largest annual decrease of unemployment anywhere in the EU — and Greece came in second in that regard.  Unemployment in Cyprus fell further in January, 2019, to 7.4%, down from the 10.1% which was seen exactly one year earlier.

The latest Eurostat figures for Greek unemployment are from November of 2018, when the rate was 18.5%.  These figures were a decrease from the level of 21.1%, seen one year prior.  According to Eurostat, Greece still has the largest unemployment levels in the EU, at 18.5%.  Spain comes in second, at 14.1%, and Italy third, with 10.5% unemployment.  Compared to the rates a year ago, unemployment rates fell in all EU member states except Denmark and Malta, where it remained stable.  In January, 2019, a total of 3.375 million young EU citizens under the age of 25 were unemployed, with the highest rates being recorded in the nations of Greece, Italy and Spain.  (Eurostat 01.03)

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6.6  Encouraged By Upgrade, Greece Plans 10 Year Bond Issue

Greece plans to issue a 10-year bond soon following Moody’s decision to raise the country’s rating by two notches, with the state mandating six international banks for the issue.  It will be the second debt sale since Greece exited its third international bailout in August and the first 10 year bond in a decade.

In a regulatory filing, Greece said it has mandated six international banks as joint lead managers for the issue of a benchmark 10-year bond “in the near future,” subject to market conditions.  The banks are BNP Paribas, Citi, Credit Suisse, Goldman Sachs, HSBC and JP Morgan.  Bankers earlier said the bond would be issued in coming days with the aim to raise about €2 billion.  (Reuters 04.03)

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7.1  Israel Ranks 10th Healthiest Nation in the World

Israel ranked 10th in the 2019 edition of the Bloomberg Healthiest Country Index.  The survey ranks 169 economies according to factors that contribute to overall health, such as life expectancy, obesity rates, access to clean water, sanitation, mental health and vaccination coverage.  Israel came in ninth in the previous index in 2017, dropping one spot. Its current overall score was 88.2.

Spain was crowned the world’s healthiest country in the latest survey with an overall grade of 92.8, climbing five spots from 2017 and overtaking Italy.  Italy came in second followed by Iceland, Japan, and Switzerland to round out the top five.  The US ranked 35th in the index.  (NoCamels 25.02)

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7.2  Six Hundred Percent Rise in GCC Approvals for US Citizenship Scheme

The number of Arabian Gulf residents approved to take part in an American scheme offering the chance to earn citizenship in return for a minimum investment of $500,000 surged nearly six-fold last year, according to official data.  The EB-5 visa for Immigrant Investors was created by the US Immigration Act of 1990 as a way of encouraging foreign investment in projects across the United States.  For a minimum investment of $500,000 investors can apply to be part of the scheme, which can lead to a green card and the chance of full American citizenship after five years.

According to the official data from the US Citizenship and Immigration Services, the number of people participating in the scheme has risen over the last few years, up from 1,369 approvals in 2010 to 9,602 last year.  The maximum number of participants is currently capped at 10,000.

While China dominated the list, with 4,642 approvals issued – or 48.3% of the total – 54 residents from the United Arab Emirates were approved, a 350% increase year-on-year compared to 2017.  Approvals from Saudi Arabia rose 1,400% from a single approval in 2017 to 15 in 2018. Qatar’s approvals rose from one in 2017 to 16 in 2018.  The other three Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) states had no approvals in 2017, while in 2018 Bahrain and Oman had two each and Kuwait had four.  Overall, the six GCC states recorded 93 approvals last year, a 564% rise compared to 2017.

Other prominent countries in the region to receive EB-5 approvals include Syria with 32 (a year-on-year rise of 33%), Lebanon with 18 (a year-on-year rise of 200%), Iraq with 29 (compared to none in 2017), Iran with 53 (a year-on-year rise of 32.5%) and Jordan with 16 (a year-on-year rise of 166%).  (AB 03.03)

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7.3  New UAE Law Set to Save Lives

The UAE’s new “Good Samaritan” law, which is expected to be approved by the Cabinet soon, can help save lives and turn members of the public into heroes, according to legal experts.  The Rescuer Protection Law is meant to actively encourage bystanders to rush to the aid of accident or medical emergency victims by removing the threat of prosecution when things go wrong.  Recently approved by the UAE Ministry of Health and Prevention, the Rescuer Protection Law is expected to be approved by the Cabinet soon, although it may be subject to changes when it comes into force later this year.

“While the UK, US, and other European countries actively advise people to provide assistance during emergencies, especially if they have some form of experience or qualification, the UAE has until now advised people to avoid doing so due to the lack of legal protection.  Having a specific law in place which sets out and provides appropriate protection to Good Samaritans is necessary.  (AB 27.02)

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7.4  WHO Says Nearly 3 Out of 4 People in Turkey are Overweight

Nearly three in every four people in Turkey are inactive and overweight, a recent World Health Organization (WHO) report sent to the Turkish Parliament revealed.  The report stated that Turkish people on average exercise less than 150 minutes a week, a threshold set by WHO, and the number of obese people has been rising.  There are 7.5 million obese people in Turkey while 2.4 million suffer from morbid obesity.  There is an obesity plague that threatens the world, and Turkey is no different.  The percentage of childhood obesity is also on the rise.

The report also indicated that obesity has been one of the most widespread diseases in Turkey, costing the country more than TL 70 million ($13 million) to treat the diseases directly related to obesity.  The biggest reason for the increase in the number of obese and overweight people is widespread fast food consumption.  Also, nine in every 10 people in Turkey are at risk of developing cancer, high blood pressure and diabetes.  According to WHO, people should not consume more than 5 grams of salt a day but the average is 9 grams in Turkey.  Six in every 10 people consume high-fat diets.  (DAILY SABAH 04.03)

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8.1  Valmont & Prospera Partnership for Autonomous Crop Management Technology

Omaha, Nebraska’s Valmont Industries, a global provider of engineered products and services for infrastructure and irrigation equipment for agriculture and the parent company of Valley Irrigation, and Prospera Technologies announced their global partnership.  The collaboration sets the course to provide growers with autonomous crop management solutions generating greater returns, while requiring fewer production inputs and resources.

This exclusive global partnership integrates artificial intelligence technologies with center pivot irrigation.  Valley Irrigation leads the industry with more than 60,000 connected devices globally and carries distribution strength through the industry’s largest network of more than 500 dealers worldwide.  The intelligence shared between these connected devices and the pivot, along with the integration of data science, machine-learning and AI, enables the two companies to develop real-time crop diagnoses and irrigation recommendations, resulting in greater returns for the grower.

Tel Aviv’s Prospera, founded in 2014, is a leading force in ag tech, committed to bringing advanced machine learning (ML) technology to the agriculture sector.  Backed by strategic investors including Cisco, Qualcomm and Bessemer, Prospera has developed proven analytics, algorithms and data layering to provide growers with irrigation and crop growth recommendations.  Prospera currently monitors over $5 billion of greenhouse production.  The partnership between the two companies will build on Prospera’s unique technology, expanding application to large-scale fields.

Prospera Technologies is a developer of machine vision technologies that continuously monitor and analyze plant development, health and stress.  Prospera captures multiple layers of climate and visual data from the crop yield and provides actionable, easy-to-read insights to growers via mobile and web dashboards.  (Valmont Industries 20.02)

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8.2  BiomX Raises $32 Million in Series B Financing

BiomX Ltd. announced the closing of a $32 million series B equity financing.  The financing was led by existing investors OrbiMed, Johnson & Johnson Innovation – JJDC, Takeda Ventures, 8VC, MiraeAsset, Seventure Partners’ Health for Life Capital I, SBI Japan-Israel Innovation Fund and additional European investors and included new investors led by RM Global Partners (RMGP) BioPharma Investment Fund, with participation from Chong Kun Dang Pharmaceutical Corp., Handok, KB Investment Co. and Consensus Business Group.  Proceeds from the financing will be used primarily to advance the Company’s leading drug candidates for the treatment of acne and Inflammatory Bowel Disease (IBD) to the clinic.

Ness Ziona’s BiomX is a microbiome drug discovery company developing customized phage therapies that target and destroy harmful bacteria in chronic diseases such as inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and cancer.  They discover and validate proprietary bacterial targets and customize their natural and engineered phage compositions against these targets.  (Biomx 20.02)

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8.3  Emedgene Raises $6 Million to Scale Genomics-Based Care with AI

Emedgene raised a $6 million dollar round led by health-focused OliveTree Ventures, to scale genomics-based care with AI.  Emedgene provides solutions that interpret genetic tests automatically, helping geneticists manage their growing workload faster and with higher accuracy.  This is achieved with an AI engine that has learned to perform genomics research, after training with millions of data points from patient cases, databases, and the most recent genomics publications.

Emedgene’s decision support platform can pinpoint causative genetic variants along with supporting evidence for exome, genome, and panels, in diverse applications such as rare disease identification, healthy population screening, carrier screening, and pharmacogenomics.  Using Emedgene, health organizations can improve patient outcomes by offering personalized care throughout a patient’s life.  Emedgene will use the funds to expand sales operations in the US.

Tel Aviv’s Emedgene is the world’s first completely automated genetic interpretation platform. While sequencing is becoming easier, interpreting results is a manual and lengthy research process that forms a bottleneck to the adoption of genetic-based care.  Emedgene uses NLP to ‘read’ new genetic publications, and incorporate them into an always up-to-date knowledge base. We then run machine learning discovery algorithms that pinpoint pathogenic variants, for a clear path to clinical decisions.  Clinical labs using Emedgene improve dry lab efficiency, reduce time spent on interpretation and reporting and increase yield without increasing headcount.  Research organizations using Emedgene accelerate genomic-driven discovery.  (Emedgene 19.02)

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8.4  Evogene Announces Establishment of Subsidiary – LaVie Bio

Evogene announced the establishment of a new subsidiary – LaVie Bio (LaVie).  The new company will focus on improving food quality, agriculture sustainability and productivity through the introduction of novel microbiome based ag-biological products.  Evogene’s ag-biological assets, capabilities and pipeline focusing on the discovery, optimization and development of sustainable ag-biological products are being transferred to the new subsidiary, along with access to Evogene’s Computational Predictive Biology (CPB) platform.  In addition, Evogene’s existing co-development collaboration with Corteva, the agricultural division of DowDupont, in the field of corn bio-stimulants will be transferred to LaVie.

The assets and capabilities being transferred to LaVie are a result of Evogene’s Ag-Biologicals division’s activity initiated in 2015 and include a substantial pipeline focusing on bio-stimulant and bio-pesticide product programs.  LaVie’s microbiome based product candidate pipeline addresses major needs in row crops such as corn and wheat as well as specialty crops such as vineyards.  This pipeline, with its promising results, was established through the use of Evogene’s CPB platform, a well-established disruptive technology harnessing the power of Big Data and advanced computational capabilities.

Lavie, a wholly owned subsidiary of Evogene, focused on the improvement of food quality, agriculture sustainability and productivity through the introduction of microbiome based ag-biological products.  Utilizing proprietary computational predictive technologies, LaVie is developing ‘next generation’ bio-stimulants and bio-pesticides.  The company is establishing its go-to-market strategy both independently and through collaborations, as demonstrated by the collaboration with industry leader, Corteva, for the joint development of corn bio-stimulants.

Rehovot’s Evogene is a leading biotechnology company developing novel products for major life science markets through the use of a unique computational predictive biology (CPB) platform incorporating deep scientific understandings and advanced computational technologies.  Today, this platform is utilized by the Company to discover and develop innovative products in the following areas (via subsidiaries or divisions): ag-chemicals, ag-biologicals, seed traits, integrated castor oil ag-solutions and human microbiome based therapeutics.  Each subsidiary or division establishes its product pipeline and go-to-market, as demonstrated in its collaborations with world-leading companies such as BASF, Corteva, Bayer and ICL.  (Evogene 26.02)

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8.5  Zsquare Secures $10 Million for Its Groundbreaking Single-use Imaging Endoscope

Zsquare, developer of the MultiPly single-use endoscopic platform, has secured $10 million in financing for further development of its revolutionary MultiPly Mini 0.45mm fiber endoscope, towards expedited FDA 510K clearance.  This $10 million round of new financing was led by Chartered Group, who previously invested in Zsquare, and who have a strong presence and broad networks in East Asia and Japan, signaling full confidence in Zsquare’s technology and abilities going forward.

Zsquare’s platform offers the only ultra-thin, flexible, high-resolution, single-use endoscope that enables access to unserved indications and improves usability and diagnosis quality in commonly practiced indications.  The endoscope’s unique single-use properties eliminate the risk of infection caused by contaminated, reused endoscopes, and dramatically reduce healthcare costs.

At the core of Zsquare’s endoscopes are its unique 0.45mm square fibers, which provide a distinctive building-block-style modularity.  Starting from a single-fiber imaging endoscope, additional medical indications can be addressed as more fibers are bundled in, with enhanced functionality and performance that include higher resolution, 3600 angulation, 3D capabilities, extended depth of field, extended field of view and more.  Zsquare’s special combination of single-use, flexibility, tiny dimensions, and high-resolution imaging is a breakthrough in endoscopic technology, delivering higher performance in a smaller package than any current endoscope, giving the physician, for the first time, the best of all worlds.

Tel Aviv’s Zsquare, a privately-held medical device company, develops single-use, high-performance endoscopes to enable access to unserved indications, improve performance in current practices, and solve the industry’s cross-contamination problem.  (Zsquare 27.02)

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8.6  BIOCORP & DreaMed Diabetes Offer AI System for Diabetes Treatment Compliance

BIOCORP, a French company specializing in the development and manufacturing of medical devices and smart drug delivery systems, and DreaMed Diabetes announced that they are partnering concerning a global solution for diabetes compliance.

Since 2015, BIOCORP has been developing a smart cap for pen injectors newly renamed Mallya (formerly known with the project name Easylog).  The device is now taking an important step forward since attending an introduction to the market by end of H1/19.  For the record, Mallya automatically captures data (dose, date and time) and sends the information in real time to a companion software thanks to Bluetooth technology, with a very high level of accuracy and repeatability.

For its part, DreaMed Diabetes has developed DreaMed Advisor Pro, a cloud-based digital solution generating insulin delivery recommendations by analyzing information from CGM, self-monitoring blood glucose, and insulin pump data.  Applying event-driven adaptive learning, Advisor Pro refines its understanding for each individual and sends recommendation to the healthcare provider on how to optimize a patient’s insulin pump settings for basal rate, carbohydrate ratio and correction factor.  DreaMed intends to expand the capabilities of DreaMed Advisor to include decision support tools for healthcare professional treating persons with diabetes under basal or multiple daily injections therapy.

Mallya is therefore completing the DreaMed Advisor concept by providing data related to insulin injections.  Mallya will be integrated to DreaMed Advisor for basal or multiple daily injections delivery by data collection, analysis and generating recommendation for the healthcare professional and person with diabetes. Mallya will be used in clinical trials of DreaMed during 2019.

Petah Tikva’s DreaMed spun out of Schneider Children’s Medical Center in 2014, following seven years developing its artificial pancreas technology.  Since then, DreaMed Diabetes develops solutions and personalized decision support solutions for the optimization of insulin therapy for people with Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.  The Company’s first product, GlucoSitter, was developed for closed-loop insulin therapy and was licensed to Medtronic Diabetes.  The Company then developed Advisor, a portfolio of decision support solutions for patients and healthcare providers dedicated to transform dynamic, real-world patient data into actionable treatment insights with its unique, cloud-based cognitive technology.  (BIOCORP 21.02)

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8.7  Teva Launches Authorized Generic of Flector Patch in the United States

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries announced the launch of an authorized generic of Flector®1 Patch, 1.3 %, in the U.S.  Diclofenac Epolamine Topical Patch, 1.3%, a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID), is indicated for the topical treatment of acute pain due to minor strains, sprains and contusions.  Diclofenac Epolamine Topical Patch, 1.3% is indicated for the topical treatment of acute pain due to minor strains, sprains and contusions.

With nearly 500 generic medicines available, Teva has the largest portfolio of FDA-approved generic products on the market and holds the leading position in first-to-file opportunities, with over 100 pending first-to-files in the U.S.  Currently, one in eight generic prescriptions dispensed in the U.S. is filled with a Teva generic product.  With the launch of Diclofenac Epolamine Topical Patch, 1.3%, Teva now has over 16 medicines in the Analgesics and Antipyretics, Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs (NSAIDs) therapeutic area in the U.S.

Teva Pharmaceutical Industries is a global leader in generic medicines, with innovative treatments in select areas, including CNS, pain and respiratory.  They deliver high-quality generic products and medicines in nearly every therapeutic area to address unmet patient needs.  Teva has an established presence in generics, specialty, OTC and API, building on more than a century-old legacy, with a fully integrated R&D function, strong operational base and global infrastructure and scale.  Headquartered in Israel, with production and research facilities around the globe, Teva employs 45,000 professionals, committed to improving the lives of millions of patients.  (Teva 01.03)

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8.8  Longliv Ventures Announces a $10 Million Strategic Investment in Sight Diagnostics

Herzliya’s Longliv Ventures, the consumer digital health fund, has announced the completion of a $10 million strategic investment in Sight Diagnostics, a cutting-edge company that’s transforming point-of-care diagnostics.  Based in Tel Aviv, Israel, Sight Diagnostics provides patients with affordable, lab-grade complete blood count (CBC) test results in minutes rather than days by combining advanced image processing with artificial intelligence, analyzing blood samples taken by finger prick rather than by venous blood.

Established in 2018, Longliv Ventures focuses on investments in early stage ventures that seek to address significant health and wellness issues capable of producing global impact.  Longliv Ventures is a member of CK Hutchison Holdings Group (“CKHH”).  Longliv Ventures led the Sight Diagnostics round of a total of $27.8 million in Series C funding.  Other participants in the round include Jack Nicklaus II, a healthcare philanthropist and board member of the Nicklaus Children’s Health Care Foundation, Steven Esrick, a healthcare impact investor, and an additional major medical equipment manufacturer, as well as existing investors OurCrowd, Go Capital, and New Alliance Capital.

Sight was created to provide patients with access to accurate, convenient and pain-free diagnostic testing that delivers results in minutes instead of days, in order to transform healthcare.  To do so, Sight has developed an artificial intelligence-driven platform for blood analysis and infectious disease diagnostics based on its revolutionary methods for ‘digitizing’ blood.  The company’s platform was first deployed in 2014 to detect malaria, for which over 600,000 tests have been sold across 25 countries.  The company’s newest offering, OLO, brings lab-grade Complete Blood Counts (CBCs) to the point-of-care and is now available for purchase in the EU.  (Longliv Ventures 28.02)

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8.9  Aidoc Gets CE Mark for First AI-based Workflow Tool for Pulmonary Embolism

Aidoc announced the commercial release of its CE-marked product for the identification and triage of pulmonary embolism (PE) in CT pulmonary angiograms.  By flagging obstructions in blood-flow to the lungs, Aidoc prioritizes radiologists’ work-queues and helps them detect critical conditions faster, leading to quicker treatment and saving lives.

In the United States alone, up to 600,000 people are diagnosed with PE annually and it is estimated to be responsible for 100,000 annual deaths, making it the third most common cause of cardiovascular death.  PE diagnosis can be highly challenging due to its variable and non-specific presentation, making the case that it can truly benefit from AI-driven workflow triage.

Tel Aviv’s Aidoc is the leading provider of artificial intelligence solutions that support and enhance the impact of radiologist diagnostic power – helping them expedite patient treatment and improve quality of care.  The company’s solutions reduce turnaround time and increase quality and efficiency by flagging acute anomalies in real time.  Radiologists benefit from state-of-the-art deep learning technology that is “Always -on”, running behind the scenes freeing them to focus on the diagnosis itself.  Aidoc’s healthcare-grade deep learning algorithms benefit from large quantities of data, making their solutions the most comprehensive in the field, and enabling them to provide diagnostic aid to the broadest set of pathologies.  (Aidoc 28.02)

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8.10  Stero Biotechs Commences Phase 2 Clinical Trial of ST-AH-01 Cannabidiol Formulation

Stero Biotechs has received Ethics Committee approval by Israel’s Ministry of Health and will soon enroll the first patients in a ground-breaking study to use CBD to reduce steroids in patients with liver disease.  Stero discovered that by introducing CBD to patients treated with steroids on regular basis, as their standard of care, allows physicians to lower the dose of the steroids prescribed, and by extension, the steroid’s unwanted harmful side effects.  The treatment will also bring back the therapeutic effect to those who are currently resistant and do not respond to steroids treatments.  Stero will commence Phase 2 Clinical Trial of ST-AH-01 Cannabidiol formulation for maintenance therapy and steroid reduction in 15 patients with autoimmune hepatitis in the near future at the Rabin Medical Center, near Tel Aviv.

Stero is planning an additional study for a different indication during Q2/19.  Additionally, Stero is looking for more funding during 2019 in order to initiate additional studies for other indications, from its one hundred optional indications that are available to Stero under its proprietary patent.

Bnei Brak’s Stero Biotechs, is a clinical-stage company committed to the research and development of novel Cannabidiol (CBD) based treatment solutions that will potentially benefit millions of patients by reducing the side effects and the need of steroid therapy.  STERO was granted a U.S. patent on over 100 potential indications and is planning to commence more clinical trials in 2019 on various indications.  (STERO Biotechs 28.02)

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9.1  XM Cyber Expands HaXM Automated Purple Team Platform With New Capabilities

XM Cyber unveiled new capabilities and features for its fully automated purple team platform HaXM.  XM Cyber has significantly expanded the capabilities of HaXM, which now enables customers to perform real exploits on demand, conduct automated social engineering, integrate directly with their SIEM systems and more.  The company has also achieved ISO/IEC 27001:2013 certification.

HaXM, the leading breach and attack simulation (BAS) platform, continuously exposes attack vectors from breach point to any organizational critical asset.  This continuous loop of automated red teaming is completed by ongoing and prioritized actionable remediation of security gaps.  In effect, HaXM operates as an automated purple team that fluidly combines red and blue teams’ processes to ensure that organizations are always one step ahead of the attack.

XM Cyber provides the first fully automated breach and attack simulation (BAS) platform to continuously expose attack vectors, from breach point to any organizational critical asset.  This continuous loop of automated red teaming is completed by ongoing and prioritized actionable remediation of security gaps.  In effect, HaXM® by XM Cyber operates as an automated purple team that fluidly combines red team and blue team processes to ensure that organizations are always one step ahead of the attack.  XM Cyber has already received over 16 industry awards, including being recognized as a “Technology Pioneer” by the World Economic Forum.  XM Cyber was founded by the highest caliber of security executives from the elite Israeli intelligence sector.  Together they bring a proven track record in both the offensive and defensive cyber security domain.  The company is headquartered in Herzliya. Israel and has offices in the US, UK and Australia.  (XM Cyber  20.02)

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9.2  Techmatrix & Bufferzone Provide Prevention-Based Virtual Container Security Solution

BUFFERZONE has partnered with Japan’s Techmatrix to provide its patented virtual container security solution.  Through this partnership, Techmatrix will offer Bufferzone’s solutions to its enterprise customers, as well as represent the product in marketing activities in the Japanese market.

BUFFERZONE protects organizations from a wide range of threats with patented containment, bridging and intelligence technologies.  Instead of blocking these threats, BUFFERZONE isolates potentially malicious content from web browsers, email and removable storage into a virtual container that keeps the application separate from the real memory, registry, files and network resources of the computer.  BUFFERZONE maximizes user productivity with seamless, unrestricted access to information, while empowering IT with a simple, lightweight and cost-effective solution for thousands of endpoints both inside and outside the corporate network.

Givatayim’s BUFFERZONE endpoint security solutions protect enterprises from advanced threats including ransomware, zero-days, phishing scams and APTs. With cutting-edge containment, bridging and intelligence, BUFFERZONE gives employees seamless access to internet applications, mail and removable storage – while keeping the enterprise safe.  (Techmatrix and Bufferzone 20.02)

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9.3  SAM Boosts Revenues for Israel’s Largest Telco, Prevents Thousands of Cyber Attacks

SAM Seamless Network has successfully created a new revenue stream for Israel’s largest telecommunications company, Bezeq, via a premium subscription offering.  SAM also announced its expansion into Europe and USA with new offices in Berlin and New York.  SAM prevents an average of 67.4K DoS attacks, 15,6K Malware attacks, 18K spyware and 2.5K router takeover hacks to Bezeq’s customer base on a weekly basis.  Over the past 12 months, Bezeq has installed SAM’s seamless, core cybersecurity software in over 1.5 million households with 100% of their customers benefiting from this.  In addition, over 35% of the Israeli telco’s customers have subscribed to SAM’s premium enterprise-grade security service, opting to pay an extra few dollars per user per month to protect LANs, home or small office networks.  SAM’s cybersecurity offering creates an entirely new, additional revenue stream for telecoms companies.

Bezeq’s additional security service includes extra IoT protection, network segmentation and parental control through SAM’s app which is branded as part of the telecom’s premium upgrade offering.  Bezeq has experienced a significant increase in total revenue and substantially decreased churn rate by around a third as a result of the premium offering.  In total, SAM is protecting over four million smart home devices through Israel’s largest telecom, creating retention hooks for users and increasing user experience.

Tel Aviv’s SAM provides a software-based security solution that integrates seamlessly with any platform and protects local area networks by securing the gateway and all of its connected devices. Installed remotely on existing gateways, SAM doesn’t require any additional hardware or a technician to provide comprehensive network security. The solution is offered as a service, allowing users to have the enterprise-grade protection including virtually patching vulnerabilities such as KRACK and other high-level, targeted attacks. SAM works with leading chipset manufacturers, including Intel, to provide network security from the source.  (SAM 20.02)

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9.4  Curv Revolutionary Cryptography for Blockchain Keeps Digital Assets Secure

Curv unveiled the industry’s first Institutional Digital Asset Wallet Service to give financial institutions and enterprises strong security, instant availability, and total autonomy over all their digital assets.  Many financial institutions have been hesitant to fully embrace digital assets within their portfolios because of the lag, operational complexity, and single point of failure associated with the private keys needed to sign Blockchain transactions.  Curv eradicates the concept of private keys to eliminate these issues, introducing revolutionary cryptography that delivers a simple, distributed way to secure and sign transactions.

The Curv service also includes the setup, management and maintenance of the Blockchain infrastructure.  This allows customers to adopt any cryptocurrency or Blockchain app they want, without having to worry about investing or scaling the underlying IT infrastructure.

Curv is setting a new institutional standard for digital asset security, using revolutionary cryptography to deliver the industry’s first cloud-based Institutional Digital Asset Wallet Service that makes it easy to manage and secure all digital assets.  Curv’s unique, mathematically-secure, distributed approach gives organizations bulletproof protection, instant access, and total autonomy over digital assets, so they can embrace the digital economy.  Curv is headquartered in New York with R&D offices in Tel Aviv, Israel.  (Curv 26.02)

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9.5  ASOCS Announces 5G Single Software Stack on Mobile Edge Cloud

ASOCS announced its plan to launch a 5G in-building solution this year.  ASOCS’ solution delivers 5G and an edge cloud in a single software stack.  The solution is designed for the in-building market and the needs of enterprises.  A crucial aspect of 5G is its effect on the Internet of Things.  5G is expected to take Industry 4.0 to the next level. Capabilities like URLLC, Time Sensitive Networks, EMBB for Extended Reality and the ability to share licensed and unlicensed spectrum on the same network will enable many new applications in industrial settings.  ASCOS has also integrated its Cyrus platform with VMware’s vCloud NFV platform.

Rosh HaAyin’s ASOCS is a pioneer in virtual Radio Access Networks (vRAN) and a provider of fully virtualized, NFV-compatible virtual Base Station solutions for In-Building Wireless and macro-networks.  Their on-premise mobile edge cloud, Cyrus, transforms the traditional base station into a software centric solution, providing full virtualization of all base station layers and functions.  It delivers on the promise of openness and scale at a lower TCO and its being deployed by operators around the world.  ASOCS is working with leading carriers to support the move to 5G with full network virtualization, while implementing open interfaces such as xRAN, TIP and ONAP.  (ASOCS 27.02)

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9.6  BigID & Immuta Maximize Value from Data Science Initiatives While Protecting Information

BigID and College Park, Maryland’s Immuta, a leading provider of enterprise data management solutions for artificial intelligence (AI), have partnered to deliver an integrated solution for the automation of privacy-centric data science initiatives.  The partnership leverages BigID’s platform to inventory, map and index personal data with Immuta’s dynamic policy enforcement capabilities, enabling enterprises to seamlessly integrate policies for compliance with data privacy regulations into their data science operations.

Many organizations find themselves at a crossroads as they look to embrace data-driven business strategies: data scientists are tasked with maximizing the value of advanced analytics, while contending with new requirements for accountability and transparency in accordance with data privacy regulations such as the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) and the California Consumer Privacy Act (CCPA).  The BigID and Immuta partnership is driven by the market need to balance the objectives of deriving business value from data analytics, while ensuring that data access and privacy policies are consistent with urgent privacy concerns.

The BigID platform allows organizations to discover, inventory and index personal information by data subject, residence and sensitivity without data copying across the enterprise infrastructure.  In turn, the Immuta data control plane leverages BigID’s data intelligence to natively enforce rules on data to comply with any regulation.  The Immuta platform takes the business metadata identified by BigID and allows the customer to automatically enforce role-based, attribute-based and purpose-based controls on it.

Based in New York and Tel Aviv, BigID uses advanced machine learning and identity intelligence to help enterprises better protect their customer and employee data at petabyte scale.  Using BigID, enterprises can better safeguard and assure the privacy of their most sensitive data, reducing breach risk and enabling compliance with emerging data protection regulations like the EU’s General Data Protection Regulation and California Consumer Privacy Act.  (BigID 25.02)

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9.7  CyberArk Named Best Privileged Access Security Solution

CyberArk announced it is an Info Security Products Guide Global Excellence Awards winner – recognized for the Best Privileged Access Management Solution.  The Info Security Products Guide Global Excellence Awards recognize advanced, ground-breaking security products, solutions and services.

The CyberArk Privileged Access Security Solution is the industry’s most comprehensive solution for protecting against the exploitation of privileged accounts, credentials and secrets anywhere – across on-premises, cloud and DevOps environments, and on the endpoint.  CyberArk helps eliminate the most advanced cyber threats by identifying existing credentials across networks, locking them down, and leveraging continuous monitoring to detect and isolate anomalous behavior to stop attacks early on.

This is the latest accolade for CyberArk.  The company was named a Leader in the first-ever Gartner Magic Quadrant for Privileged Access Management, positioned highest for ability to execute and furthest for completeness of vision. CyberArk was also named a CRN Tech Innovator, while CyberArk Vice President of Channels and Alliances Scott Whitehouse was honored as a CRN Channel Chief.

Petah Tikva’s CyberArk is the global leader in privileged access security, a critical layer of IT security to protect data, infrastructure and assets across the enterprise, in the cloud and throughout the DevOps pipeline.  CyberArk delivers the industry’s most complete solution to reduce risk created by privileged credentials and secrets.  The company is trusted by the world’s leading organizations, including more than 50% of the Fortune 500, to protect against external attackers and malicious insiders.  (CyberArk 25.02)

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9.8  NanoLock and Micron Offer Flash-to-Cloud Management Solution for Security of IoT Devices

NanoLock Security is collaborating with Idaho’s Micron Technology, an industry leader in innovative memory and storage solutions, to provide a Flash-to-Cloud management solution for security of Internet of Things (IoT) and connected devices.  The combined solutions comprised of NanoLock’s Management of Things platform (MoT) and Micron’s Authenta-enabled flash memory will provide organizations the ability to manage, securely update and protect IoT devices, regardless of their computation power or operating system requirements.  Operators and OEMs can leverage standard silicon trust anchors in flash memory to enhance firmware authentication and integrity of IoT devices to achieve additional revenue opportunities.

The combined solutions provide a significant value proposition to operators, IoT service providers and enterprises by minimizing the complexity and accelerating the time-to-market of IoT devices based on silicon-level cryptographic roots of trust in standard flash memory components.  Extending this trust to the NanoLock MoT and FOTALock management platforms enables much richer device-level protection and makes enterprise grade management much more affordable.  The resulting services will enable service providers the ability to now trust a broadened ecosystem of IoT devices much sooner while protecting and managing fleets of devices in a much more unified ecosystem.

Nitzanei Oz’ NanoLock Security was founded in 2016 by seasoned industry executives and formed around the founders’ and senior management’s deep understanding of how to manage and secure the new generation of connected and IoT devices.  The company provides the industry’s only lightweight, ironclad, low-cost security and management solution for connected and IoT devices.  Using virtually zero computing or power resources, NanoLock Security protects firmware and sensitive information stored on connected and IoT devices, preventing attacks ranging from ransomware to malicious manipulation of stored code.  (NanoLock 25.02)

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9.9  SecBI Launches Automated Threat Detection and Response Solution for MSSPs

SecBI announced an automated threat detection and response solution designed to help managed security service providers (MSSPs) maximize their productivity and scalability.  The SecBI MSSP offering automates both threat hunting, based on comprehensive network traffic analysis, and breach response. SecBI provides full scope detection, creating a comprehensive view of each cyber incident by combining disparate alerts, events, and logs into a single narrative that shows all the affected entities and kill chain.  Finally, the solution delivers gap analysis that identifies network security blind spots and implements fixes.

Tel Aviv’s SecBI has developed a revolutionary approach to network traffic analysis (NTA) to deliver automated threat detection and investigation for security operations centers (SOCs) and managed security service providers (MSSPs).  Its value is best understood in contrast to solutions that generate sporadic alerts and anomalies requiring manual correlation and investigation.  SecBI’s Autonomous Investigation technology incorporates machine learning to uncover the full scope of every suspicious incident, including all affected entities, within minutes.  Without the need for special appliances or agents, the solution can be deployed on premise or in the cloud, and is currently used by financial institutions, telecoms, retailers, and manufacturing enterprises worldwide.  (SecBI 27.02)

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9.10  AI Photo Scanning & Preservation Platform Photomyne Wins Red Herring Top 100 Europe

Photomyne has won the Red Herring Top 100 Europe award at the conference held in Amsterdam (18-20 February 2019).  The Red Herring Top 100 Europe conference highlights the most exciting startups from Europe, and its editorial team “analyzes hundreds of cutting-edge companies and technologies and selects those who are positioned to grow at an explosive rate”.

Bnei Brak’s Photomyne facilitates the way people around the world save, share, and enjoy their life memories, by harnessing the power of Machine Learning/AI technology to bridge between the past, present, and future of one’s personal legacy.  With its mobile application on iOS/Android and supporting cloud services, Photomyne aims to create the largest indexed photo collection of the pre-digital era through its easy to use photo scanning app.  The app is offered in 15 languages including Western European languages, Chinese, Japanese, Thai, Korean and Arabic, to name a few.  (Photomyne 27.02)

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9.11  DustPhotonics Announces Availability of 400Gbps QSFP-DD Active Optical Cables

DustPhotonics announced sampling availability and pre-production ramp of 400G Active Optical Cables in QSFP-DD form factor.  The 400Gbps AOC incorporates DustPhotonics’ AuraDPTM optical engine with unique fiber integration and manufacturing technology and is the industry’s highly competitive solution for short reach, high-density applications over multi-mode optical fiber.

DustPhotonics 400G QSFP-DD AOCs incorporates a revolutionary light engine (AuraDPTM) that enables reduced power consumption, higher reliability, and superior module performance.  The innovative optical packaging design results in improved sensitivity and efficient coupling.  The QSFP-DD AOC supports data transmission rates up to 400Gbps for lengths up to 100m and is compliant with the latest CMIS management interface and QSFP-DD Multi-Source Agreement standards.  The cables are offered in standard lengths from 5 to 100 meters with an option to customize firmware and lengths to meet individual customer requirements.  The 400G QSFP-DD AOC is part of the DustPhotonic’s family of 400G multimode transceiver and AOC product line. The 400G QSFP-DD AOC is expected to release to production in the second half of 2019.  DustPhotonics is currently sampling and accepting orders for evaluation of 400G Active Optical Cables­.

Modi’in’s DustPhotonics designs, builds and markets high performance optical transceivers, Active Optical Cables (AOC) and future Silicon Photonics scalable solutions for enterprise data centers, high performance computing and hyperscale cloud markets.  DustPhotonics innovative optical packaging and manufacturing technologies enable scalability, reduced power consumption, increased reliability, and superior module performance for short to mid-range optical communications.  DustPhotonics’ Silicon Photonics technology combined with next generation patented laser and fiber packaging technology overcomes the limitations of copper interconnects for 400Gbps and beyond data rates.  (DustPhotonics 27.02)

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9.12  Optibus Adds Intelligent Route Planning Capabilities to its Disruptive Mass Transport Platform

Optibus announced the launch of Optibus Route Planning, a new set of capabilities within the Optibus Platform.  Together with the previously announced Optibus Timetables, Optibus Route Planning brings modern, cloud-native solutions to transportation agencies and operators around the world, giving them the ability to quickly and more flexibly plan mass transportation on one holistic platform from routes and timetables, vehicle and crew scheduling, to weekly rosters (rotas).

The Optibus Route Planning module extends the power of Optibus’ software-as-a-service (SaaS) and cloud-based planning and scheduling platform, allowing for quick and simple route creation and modification.  The Optibus platform is an end-to-end, SaaS offering that intelligently powers mass transportation. It creates an operational plan and schedule that orchestrates the movements of every vehicle and driver in a city-wide transportation ecosystem, choosing the best options available to transit operators and agencies and creating better service for passengers with lower operating costs.

This announcement comes on the heels of the closing of Optibus’ $40 M Series B financing round, led by Insight Venture Partners with a strategic investment by Alibaba Group.

Tel Aviv’s Optibus’ software-as-a-service (SaaS), cloud-native planning and scheduling platform leverages artificial intelligence and powerful algorithms to rapidly reduce labor, fuel and vehicle costs as well as improve passenger service and grow ridership for mass transportation operators and agencies.  With the most intelligent platform in the industry, Optibus ensures an improved rider experience through expertly planned and controlled core operations. Optibus has been chosen by more than 300 cities to drive some of the most complex and large-scale transportation operations worldwide, streamlining operations while reducing congestion, emissions and costs.  (Optibus 26.02)

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9.13  Orbit Unveils Newest Dual-Band Maritime Satcom Solution

Orbit Communication Systems unveiled its latest dual-band Ku/Ka terminal extending Orbit’s multi-band maritime satellite communications solutions.  Developed in close cooperation with SES Networks, Orbit’s dual-band Ku/Ka terminal augments the existing dual-band C/Ka terminal, supporting a multi-band terminal product range.  The expansion of the frequency ranges and flexibility of the OceanTRx terminal enables ease of switching between SES’s multi-orbit Geostationary (GEO) and Medium Earth Orbit (MEO) satellites.

Orbit’s 2.2m (87″) OceanTRx 7 Multiband C/Ka- and Ku/Ka-band stabilized maritime satcom terminals provide high-speed, cost-effective connectivity to Cruise vessels, offshore platforms, and Navy vessels, in even the most severe offshore conditions.  This rugged and compact maritime terminal offers outstanding performance for its size, with the equivalent performance of a 2.4m dish contained within a small 2.7m radome footprint – significantly smaller and lighter than alternative systems.  The OceanTRx terminal is fully tested and continues to set the standard for ease of integration in half a day. It is also small enough to come fully assembled in a standard 20-foot shipping container.

Netanya’s Orbit Communication Systems, a leading global provider of airborne communications and satellite-tracking maritime and ground-station solutions, is helping to expand and redefine how we connect.  Orbit systems are found on cruise ships and navy vessels, airliners and jet fighters, ground stations and offshore platforms.  They deliver innovative, cost-effective, and highly reliable solutions to commercial operators, major navies and air forces, space agencies and emerging New Space companies.  (Orbit 26.02)

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9.14  MTI Wireless Edge Announces New TV White Space Antenna Family

TV White Space refers to the gaps between frequencies used for TV broadcast and are shared for high speed wireless communications.  The frequency band is between 470- 700 MHz.  Utilizing these relatively low frequencies allows coverage of remote areas thus making broadband more affordable and accessible for underserved and unserved customers in the rural.  In order to enable this developing market, MTI introduced a family of Base Station antennas between 11 – 13 dBi and CPE antennas between 7.5 – 11 dBi.

Being the first to market with these antennas MTI secured a significate order from one of the largest fixed wireless broadband service provide in the USA, positioning itself as the market leader in the TVWS arena.  They are committed to enhance this product family with additional antenna models.

Rosh HaAyin’s MTI Wireless Edge Limited develops and produces High Quality antennas for Commercial, RFID and Military applications. Commercial applications include LTE, CBRS, TVWS, Wi-Fi, Point-to-Multipoint (PtMP), Point-to-Point (PtP), 5G and Small Cell Backhaul.  Antenna types include MIMO, Dual Slant, Double Dual Slant, Omni, Base Station & CPE antennas.  For the RFID market, MTI offers antennas for RFID readers and terminals.  Military applications include a wide range of broadband, tactical and specialized communications antennas, antenna systems and DF arrays installed on numerous ground, airborne, naval and submarine platforms worldwide.  (MTI Wireless Edge 26.02)

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9.15  Wisdo Named One of Fast Company’s Most Innovative Companies for 2019

Wisdo has been named to Fast Company’s prestigious annual list of the World’s Most Innovative Companies (MIC) for 2019 in the social media category.  The list honors the businesses making the most profound impact on both industry and culture, showcasing a variety of ways to thrive in today’s volatile world.  By connecting individuals and groups around shared life experiences, rather than shared friends or interests, Wisdo is forging a new path within the social media landscape by creating a support network specifically designed to help users navigate all of life’s challenges with everything from getting married to dealing with loneliness.

Wisdo provides the world’s first map of human wisdom, or experienced-based knowledge, collecting the key touchstones and critical steps in the thousands of life experiences and applying its proprietary machine learning technology to cluster and connect the people who have “been there.”  This results in a “Wisdom Graph” filling the gap left by Google’s Knowledge Graph and Facebook’s Social Graph – namely, a network that supplies timely and forward-looking insights and services that reduce anxiety, increase social support and build self-esteem.

Ramat Gan’s Wisdo is a self-care platform that provides users encountering life’s challenges and meaningful events with experience-based wisdom from others who have lived through similar experiences.  Wisdo encourages learning from other people’s experiences: It crowdsources the structure of human experiences to help people prepare for what’s coming, connect to those who have been there, and share what they know.  (Wisdo 01.03)

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9.16  PacketLight PL-2000T 800G Transponder for High Capacity Long Haul Applications

PacketLight Networks launched the PL-2000T, a modular and cost-effective transponder solution for high capacity metro and long haul applications, designed to support multiple 100G services, increase existing network capacity and provide secure transport.  The device has four 200G pluggable coherent optical modules to enable pay-as-you-grow architecture, and delivers the entire optical layer solution in a 1RU with up to 800G capacity for metro applications and 400G for long haul applications.

The PL-2000T is a fully integrated solution, offering mux/demux, amplifier, optical switch and embedded Layer-1 optical encryption.  It provides a full demarcation point between the service CPE side and the uplink DWDM side, and is interoperable with any third party switch or router.  This enables full visibility and performance monitoring of both the line optical transport layer (OTN) and the 100G LAN/OTU4 service interfaces.

Tel Aviv’s PacketLight Networks offers a suite of leading 1U metro and long haul CWDM/DWDM and OTN solutions, as well as Layer-1 optical encryption for transport of data, storage, voice and video applications over dark fiber and WDM networks.  PacketLight provides the entire optical layer transport solution within a highly integrated compact platform, designed for maximum flexibility, easy maintenance and operation, with real pay-as-you-grow architecture, while maintaining a high level of reliability and low cost.  (PacketLight 28.02)

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9.17  Voicesense Enhances Call Center Offering With Predictive Analytics

Voicesense announced that the company has added predictive analytics to its call center offering.  In this new version, Voicesense provides call center operators with an automated framework for predicting the behaviors of customers and agents during live operations.  For each voice-based customer interaction in the call center, the Voicesense technology builds an AI-driven personal profile for each customer and predictive score for the customer’s potential behaviors.  The technology creates this personal profile and predictive score by analyzing over 200 prosodic parameters of a person’s speech, which are the non-content features of speech, such as intonation, pace and emphasis.

For outbound call center activities, the Voicesense application provides marketing and sales agents with immediate go/no-go indications regarding each customer’s purchasing probability, allowing agents to focus on those customer interactions with high revenue-generating potential.  For each customer, the Voicesense application also provides the agent with guidance on sales approaches based on the customer’s individual buying preferences, such focusing on pricing, product strengths or brand quality.

During inbound call center operations, the Voicesense application provides real-time indicators of customers that are dissatisfied and at risk of churning.  These indicators can be leveraged by agents and managers to initiate retention activities.  The application also provides predictions for a customer’s loyalty style, such tendencies for long term value or inclinations for short term promotions, which can be leveraged by agents in their retention efforts.  These predictions can also be used to identify up sales opportunities and personalize offers.

Herzliya’s Voicesense specializes in speech-based predictive analytics with a groundbreaking approach to forecast individuals’ behavioral tendencies.  Voicesense applies signal processing techniques to extract and analyze over 200 prosodic vocal parameters.  These are, the non-content features of a person’s speech, such as intonation, energy, pace and emphasis.  Using AI algorithms, Voicesense generates a personalized prediction of a person’s behavior for numerous use cases.  (Voicesense 28.02)

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9.18  Foresight Completes Additional Sale of QuadSight Prototype

Foresight Autonomous Holdings announced an additional sale of a prototype of its flagship product QuadSight, a four-camera vision system targeted for the semi-autonomous and autonomous vehicle market.  The prototype system was ordered by one of Israel’s leading defense companies. Revenue from the prototype system sale is expected to total tens of thousands of dollars.

For the first time, the QuadSight prototype was tested by the customer prior to placing the order.  The system was successfully evaluated over multiple days in both controlled and uncontrolled environments, including off-road driving conditions.  The customer intends to use QuadSight in its future unmanned vehicles for the defense industry.  Customer satisfaction following initial installation may lead to additional sales of prototype systems for further evaluation and testing purposes.

By selling additional prototypes, Foresight intends to increase awareness of its unique solutions, address potential customers, and expand its presence with vehicle manufacturers and Tier One automotive suppliers.  Foresight believes that closer evaluation of the technology by potential customers may lead to future collaborations in research and development, integration, production and other areas.

Ness Ziona’s Foresight Autonomous Holdings is a technology company engaged in the design, development and commercialization of stereo/quad-camera vision systems for the automotive industry.  Foresight’s vision systems are based on 3D video analysis, advanced algorithms for image processing, and sensor fusion.  The company, through its wholly owned subsidiary Foresight Automotive Ltd., develops advanced systems for accident prevention which are designed to provide real-time information about the vehicle’s surroundings while in motion.  The systems are designed to improve driving safety by enabling highly accurate and reliable threat detection while ensuring the lowest rates of false alerts.  (Foresight 04.03)

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10.1  The Composite State of the Economy Index for January 2019 Increased by 0.3%

The Bank of Israel’s Composite State of the Economy Index for January increased by 0.28%, similar to the average rate of increase during 2018.  The Index was positively impacted by the increase in the import of manufacturing inputs. In contrast, the declines in goods exports and the imports of consumer goods in January and the decline in services revenue in December moderated the Index’s rate of growth this month.  There were no significant revisions to the index readings for previous months.  (BoI 24.02)

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10.2  Israeli Startups Raised $550 Million in February

Israeli startups raised nearly $550 million during February, according to press releases issued by companies that have completed financing rounds.  The figure may be more as some companies prefer not to publicize the investments they have received.  After raising $450 million in January, Israeli startups have now raised $1 billion in the first two months of 2019.

This figure is below the pace for 2018, when according to IVC-ZAG, Israeli startups raised a record $6.4 billion, up from $5.24 billion in 2017.  However, it is better than the sluggish start to 2018, when Israeli startups only raised $760 million in the first two months of the year.

Most of the money raised in February was in large financing rounds by a small number of companies.  Some $420 million was raised by just nine companies.  Telco network company DriveNets led with a $110 million financing round. Big data company Redis Labs raised $60 million, and cybersecurity company PerimeterX raised $43 million. Robotic process company Kryon Systems, fintech company Rapyd and AI assisted CRM company each raised $40 million.

Three healthcare startups also completed handsome financing rounds in February.  The microbiome firm Biomx raised $32 million, medical imaging company Cathworks raised $30 million and AI blood testing company Sight Diagnostics raised $27.8 million.  (Globes 03.03)

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11.1  ISRAEL:  Israel’s Foreign Trade in Goods, by Country – January 2019

In January 2019, Israel’s imports of goods (gross, excluding diamonds) totaled NIS 22.7 billion.  Some 39% were imports from the EU countries, 25% from the Asian countries, 17% from the USA and 19% from the Other Countries.

Exports of goods (gross, excluding diamonds) totaled NIS 14.8 billion and the trade deficit of goods (excluding diamonds) totaled NIS 7.9 billion.  EU countries received 36% of the exports, 26% went to the USA, 18% to the Asian countries and 20% to the Other Countries.

Trade Balance:  January 2019

Israel’s trade deficit in goods (excl. diamonds) with the EU countries totaled NIS 3.5 billion in January 2019 compared with NIS 4.2 billion in January 2018.

The trade deficit of goods (excl. diamonds) with the Asian countries totaled NIS 2.9 billion in January 2019 compared with NIS 0.9 billion in January 2018.

The trade deficit of goods (excl. diamonds) with the Other Countries totaled NIS 1.5 billion in January 2019 compared with NIS 0.7 billion in January 2018.

The trade deficit of goods (excl. diamonds) with the USA totaled NIS 36 million in January 2019, compared with a trade surplus of NIS 1.5 billion in January 2018.

Main Trading Country Groups  (NIS million) Import January 2019 Import January 2018 Export January 2019 Export January 2018 Trade Balance January 2019 Trade Balance January 2018
Total (gross, 22,728.5 19,126.8 14,829.1 14,787.9 -7,899.4 -4,338.9
European Union 8,803.5 9,127.3 5,314.4 4,946.5 -3,489.0 -4,180.8
USA 3,811.3 1,829.7 3,775.1 3,289.4 -36.1 1,459.7
Asia 5,627.8 4,494.0 2,704.8 3,546.8 -2,923.1 -947.2
Other Countries 4,486.0 3,675.9 3,034.8 3,005.3 -1,451.2 -670.6


Imports of Goods: November 2018 – January 2019

The trend data calculated by the Central Bureau of Statistics show that imports of goods (excluding ships, aircrafts, diamonds and fuels) increased by 4.1% at an annual rate in November 2018 – January 2019, following an increase of 5.2% in August – October 2018.

Trend data indicate that imports (excluding diamonds) from the USA increased by 4.2% at an annual rate in November 2018 – January 2019, following an increase of 17.6% in August – October 2018.

Trend data indicate that imports (excluding diamonds) from the Asian Countries increased in the last three months by 13.2% at an annual rate, following an increase of 15.5% in August – October 2018.  Since the beginning of 2019, imports (excluding diamonds) from Hong Kong, China and Singapore increased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

Trend data indicate that imports (excluding diamonds) from the “Other Countries” increased by 5.5% at an annual rate in the last three months, following an increase of 19.4% in August – October 2018 . Since the beginning of 2019, imports (excluding diamonds) from Australia, Russian Federation, Switzerland and Turkey increased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

In contrast, trend data indicate that imports (excluding diamonds) from the EU countries decreased by 13.4%, at an annual rate, in November 2018 – January 2019, following a decrease of 12.6% in August – October 2018.  Since the beginning of 2019, imports (excluding diamonds) from Ireland, United Kingdom and Slovakia decreased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

Exports of Goods:  November 2018 – January 2019

The trend data show that exports of goods (excluding ships, aircrafts and diamonds) decreased by 2.1% at an annual rate in November 2018 – January 2019, following a decrease of 2.1% in August – October 2018.

Trend data indicate that exports (excluding diamonds) to the USA decreased by 5.0%, at an annual rate in November 2018 – January 2019, following an increase of 9.9% in August – October 2018.

According to trend data, exports (excluding diamonds) to the Asian Countries decreased by 17.1% in the last three months, at an annual rate, following a decrease of 33.5% in August – October 2018 (3.3% monthly average).  Since the beginning of 2019 exports (excluding diamonds) to Japan, China and South Korea decreased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

According to trend data, exports (excluding diamonds) to the “Other Countries” decreased by 4.0%, at an annual rate, in November 2018 – January 2019, following an increase of 5.7% in August – October 2018.  Since the beginning of the year exports (excluding diamonds) to South Africa, Mexico and Russian Federation decreased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

In contrast, trend data indicate that exports (excluding diamonds) to the EU countries increased by 4.5%, at an annual rate, in November 2018 – January 2019, following an increase of 0.5% in August – October 2018. Since the beginning of 2019, exports (excluding diamonds) to Ireland, Belgium, Poland and Malta increased significantly compared with the same period in 2018.

Data on all exports and imports of goods and services are published as part of the Balance of Payments, every quarter. 2018 and 2019 data are provisional. Final data for 2018 will be released April 2019 and final data for 2019 will be released April 2019.  (CBS 20.02)

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11.2  ISRAEL:  Israel’s Cannabis Revolution

Mordechai Goldman posted on 20 February in Al-Monitor that Israel has authorized the sale of medical cannabis in pharmacies and is experimenting with fines and community service in lieu of jail time for recreational users.  Israel loosened its laws on medical and recreational marijuana, raising stock prices and attracting former government ministers to the industry.

There’s no doubt about it: 2019 is the “Year of Cannabis” in Israel.  On 27 January, the government approved the export of medical marijuana, causing the stock of eight companies producing cannabis and its byproducts to skyrocket hundreds of points on the local exchange.  Meanwhile, on 1 April, two important reforms go into effect.

First, some 100 specially trained physicians will be able to write prescriptions allowing patients to purchase the drug at Super-Pharm, Israel’s largest pharmacy chain, positioning Israel as a pioneer in the sale of marijuana in pharmacies.  Second, in a move toward decriminalization, the current law mandating up to three years in prison for marijuana use will be overturned as a temporary measure — for three years to study the effects — and users caught with up to 15 grams would be required to pay a fine of NIS 1,000 ($274) for the first offense and NIS 2,000 ($548) for the second offense (if committed within five years of the first offense) and neither instance would result in a criminal record.  A user caught for a third time would be offered a conditional arrangement and sent to rehab.

“There is no doubt that this is another step toward the full legalization of recreational marijuana in Israel,” Oren Lebovitch, head of Ale Yarok (Green Leaf), a party advocating the legalization and standardization of the marijuana market, told Al-Monitor.  “We’re on our way there.  As soon as the stock market realizes that there is money to be made, and the state realizes that it can earn a lot of revenue from it, it will only be a matter of time before the dearth of easily available marijuana passes from the world.”

According to Lebovitch, the most important change is primarily one of image.  “When we see people like former Police Commissioner Yohanan Danino, former Health Ministers Haim Ramon and Dan Naveh and former Prime Minister Ehud Barak entering the industry, even if only for medical marijuana, it advances cannabis one more step forward in the legitimate public discourse,” he said.  “Marijuana is no longer ominously labeled as a ‘drug.’  Instead, it is considered a medicinal substance with health benefits.  According to our own poll, 71% of the public support the standardization of a legal marijuana market along the same lines as the alcohol market.”

The percentage of marijuana smokers in Israel is among the highest in the world.  According to a 2017 poll for the Authority for the War on Drugs, 27% of Israelis use marijuana.  The full results of the poll showed that almost half, 41%, of young people aged 18 – 25 and 33% of people aged 26 – 40 had used marijuana the year the poll was taken.

Knesset member Ilan Gilon from Meretz, one of the most prominent advocates for the full legalization of marijuana, is not totally satisfied with the current reforms.  “Obviously, I’m pleased, but the truth is that we don’t have the patience for any additional small steps,” Gilon told Al-Monitor.  “As a party, we demand full legalization so that cannabis is treated like alcohol.  The only thing blocking this is aggressive lobbying by the drug companies, who want a monopoly on pain killers.  We have to put an end to this hypocrisy.”

On the other side of the issue is Raphael Meshulam, a professor and Israel Prize laureate trying to dampen some of the enthusiasm.  Meshulam was the first to identify THC, the active chemical in marijuana.  “I am seeing significant progress in our understanding of the contribution made by medical marijuana and the standardization of formal processes for its use, but I do not think that Israeli society is ready for recreational marijuana just yet,” Meshulam told Al-Monitor, firmly refusing to divulge his personal position on the issue of recreational marijuana in general.  “As Israelis, we tend to be rather conservative.  Despite the policy of decriminalization, I don’t foresee full legalization in Israel over the next 10 years.”

Yehuda Baruch was the first doctor in Israel authorized to prescribe medical marijuana to patients, in 2002.  He believes that recent developments represent advancement toward full legalization, but suggests that the process not be rushed.  “Israel is a pioneer in recognizing the benefits of medical marijuana, but it sits on the fence when it comes to free use, while waiting to see what the social significance of that will be,” Baruch told Al-Monitor.

While discussing a few places where the drug is legal, Baruch observed, “In Colorado, for example, there has been a significant rise in the number of people showing up in the ER due to the side effects of marijuana usage.  Colorado has also identified a rise in the number of drivers involved in traffic accidents who have cannabis in their bloodstream.  Nevertheless, the meaning of all this is not quite clear yet. And there are questions about the long-term implications, which have yet to be answered.  What are the implications on the workforce, for example, or the family or society at large?”

Baruch further stated, “We know that alongside the positive uses of cannabis, it is a psychoactive drug that damages judgment capabilities and the perception of reality.  From what we know, long-term use causes a syndrome of motivation loss.  Users are less motivated to advance at work and less functional at home.  All they care about is the next joint.”

Research published in late 2018 in the American Journal of Psychiatry reinforces this position.  The study found that smoking cannabis may have a negative effect on cognition in teenagers and on inhibitory control, enhancing risks for other addictions.

Lenny Cohen, an actor, put the issue of possible addiction back on the public agenda, opening a support group for people addicted to cannabis.  “You get the feeling that everyone is doing that [smoking marijuana], but nobody really talks about the less glamorous side of smoking cannabis,” she told Al-Monitor.  “At the beginning, I smoked from morning to night and I had a lot of fun because it suddenly brought me peace of mind.  But then it became less pleasant.  I went into debt and depression, suffering from anxiety attacks.  Many people thank me for opening up the whole issue.  I think we must be vigilant, not forgetting that beside the medical advantages, marijuana is not necessarily recommended for healthy people.  Lack of public debate on this results in psychological addictions without us even noticing.”

Despite the clear distinction between medical and recreational marijuana, some experts believe or argue that the more marijuana becomes available for medical use, the greater the legitimacy for its recreational use will become and with that possible increased use.  With medical marijuana still in its earliest stages, the question that remains unanswered concerns whether the medical benefits in the long run outweigh any possible negative consequences to health and society from an increase in recreational use if any.

Mordechai Goldman has served for the past few years as the diplomatic and military analyst of the ultra-Orthodox daily Hamevaser.  He attended ultra-Orthodox rabbinical colleges and studied psychology at the Israeli Open University.  He also participated in the national civil service program.  Goldman lectures to ultra-Orthodox audiences on the diplomatic process and on the Israel Defense Forces and consults with companies in regard to the ultra-Orthodox sector.  (Al-Monitor 20.02)

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11.3  EGYPT:  Suez Canal Tunnels Expected to Bring New Life to Sinai

Hagar Saeed Mohammed posted on 26 February in Al-Monitor that Egypt is expected to complete the construction of four tunnels under the Suez Canal, which will boost economic growth in the marginalized Sinai Peninsula.

Egypt’s sparsely populated Sinai region is expected to breathe new life after decades of neglect as four new tunnels being constructed under the Suez Canal to connect the Sinai Peninsula to the Egyptian mainland are near completion and set to open soon.  The four new vehicle tunnels — two of them are north of Ismailia and the others are south of Port Said — are set to open in March or April, Ahmed El Abd, board chairman of Egypt’s Concord for Engineering and Contracting, which is in charge of constructing the north Ismailia tunnels, told local media on 24 November 2018.

Building the four tunnels is part of the Suez Canal Area Development Project, which was launched in August 2014 by President Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.  The project aims at transforming the Suez Canal from being a mere waterway to an integrated development zone that includes commercial, industrial, logistic and residential areas, which contribute to supporting the Egyptian economy.

Before digging of the tunnels started less than three years ago, the Armed Forces Engineering Authority (AFEA), which is supervising their construction, had signed a contract with German firm Herrenknecht to manufacture and supply four giant tunnel boring machines.  In November 2015, parts of the machines arrived in Egypt and the assembling process was completed in March 2016.  Then, the AFEA contracted with four Egyptian companies to implement the four tunnels project.  The tunnels of north Ismailia were assigned to Petrojet and Concord. Meanwhile, Arab Contractors and Orascom were assigned to implement the tunnels of south Port Said.  The companies started the actual excavation work of the tunnels in June 2016.

The two vehicle tunnels — each tunnel serves a one-way route — north of Ismailia have a total length of 5,820 meters (3.6 miles) each., while the two other vehicle tunnels south of Port Said have a total length of 3,920 meters (2.4 miles) each.  Economic experts expect that the four new tunnels, which will facilitate the movement of people and merchandise to Sinai, will boost economic development in Sinai.

Ahmed el-Shami, an expert of maritime economics, told Al-Monitor, “The construction of the Suez Canal 149 years ago created a divide between the land of Egypt in Sinai and the land of Egypt to the west of the canal and in the Delta.  So building these tunnels — which connects Sinai to the Egyptian mainland — contributes to building new life in the region.”  He added, “The tunnels are set to take travel times from hours or even days to just a few minutes, as vehicles will no longer need to cross the water on ferries or across Al-Salam Bridge, about 2.5 miles north of Ismailia.”

Shami stressed that the tunnels are considered a more secure transportation alternative for Al-Salam Bridge — the main gateway crossing over the Suez Canal to Port Said’s east terminal.  The bridge is often closed by the state authorities to protect it from any expected militant attacks.

Al-Salam Bridge, which was inaugurated in 2001 by then-President Hosni Mubarak, connects north Sinai with the rest of the country.  In June 2013, the state had to close Al-Salam Bridge due to security concerns following an upsurge in militant attacks after the ouster of Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated President Mohammed Morsi in June 2013.  But the bridge was reopened in January 2016.  “The closure of Al-Salam Bridge has badly influenced the movement of goods traveling to Sinai from the Nile Delta across the Suez Canal.  Vehicles heading to Sinai had to cross the Suez Canal water using ferries instead of Al-Salam Bridge, and so they had to wait for hours, and even days, on the west bank of the Suez Canal to be ferried across the canal, as the low number of ferries could not absorb the congestion of vehicles,” Shami noted.  “Consequently, agricultural crops traveling to Sinai used to rot before they could reach their destination in Sinai,” he added.

Shami said the new tunnels are expected to facilitate Egypt’s domestic trade movement, and at the same time increase the volume of its trade with Arabian Gulf countries through easing the movement of products manufactured in the Suez Canal region into Sinai, and then onward to Jordan and Gulf countries such as Saudi Arabia.

Sinai, which suffered neglect by the successive Egyptian governments since 1973, has been a fertile ground for extremism.  The surge of militant attacks in Sinai after Morsi’s ouster has pushed the state to launch massive military operations in the peninsula to cut off militants operating there.  But at the same time, the state, under the leadership of Sisi, has prioritized development plans there to counter terrorism.

In August 2018, Egypt unveiled a $15 billion development project for Sinai.  The project, which is expected to be completed by 2022, includes plans for a comprehensive network of roads, residential and industrial developments, hospitals and sewage networks.  “Development of Sinai is considered the best counterterrorism strategy,” Rashad Abdo, an economic expert and head of the Egyptian Center for Economic Studies, told Al-Monitor.  “But this development cannot be fulfilled without a strong infrastructure — created by the building of new roads, tunnels and bridges — which attracts investment opportunities to the area.”

He added, “Hence, the Suez Canal tunnels, which are considered fast means of transportation from the west of the Suez Canal to Sinai, can encourage local and foreign investors to execute development projects there and thus entice millions of Egyptians to move from the densely populated Nile Delta and Valley to the Sinai Peninsula.”

Ms. Hagar Saeed Mohammed is a Cairo-based journalist and local editor at the Egyptian Gazette, Egypt’s oldest English newspaper.  She has been writing articles pertaining to social affairs, arts and culture since 2011.  (Al-Monitor 26.02)

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11.4  GREECE:  Moody’s Upgrades Greece’s Rating to B1, Stable Outlook

On 1 March 2019, Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Government of Greece’s local and foreign currency issuer ratings to B1 from B3 previously.  Moody’s has also upgraded the local currency senior unsecured debt rating to B1 from B3, as well as the foreign currency senior unsecured MTN program and senior unsecured shelf ratings to (P)B1 from (P)B3.  The local currency Commercial Paper rating and the foreign currency other short-term rating have been affirmed at Not Prime (NP) and (P)NP respectively.

The outlook has been changed to stable from positive.

The key drivers for this rating action are the following:

-The reform program appears firmly entrenched and reforms implemented are starting to bear fruit. A strengthening economy in conjunction with creditor surveillance should further reduce risk of reform reversal.

-The track record of strong fiscal performance is now firmly established and is likely to be sustained, as most of the fiscal improvement is due to structural measures;

-Public debt sustainability is materially enhanced over the medium term by last June’s debt relief package. Sovereign has successfully re-established market-based funding, supported by very large cash cushion and strong creditor support.

Moody’s has also raised the foreign-currency and local-currency bond ceilings to Baa1 from Ba2 previously.  The foreign-currency short-term bond ceiling has been raised to Prime-2 from Not-Prime.  The foreign-currency and local-currency deposit ceilings have been raised to B1 from B3.  The foreign-currency short-term deposit ceiling has remained unchanged at Not-Prime (NP).

Ratings Rationale

Rationale for the Upgrade to B1:  FIRST DRIVER: Reform Program Appears Entrenched, Reforms Implemented Are Starting To Bear Fruit, Low Risk of Reversal

One key factor in the improvements of Greece’s credit profile in recent years has been the progress made in the adjustment program of reforms agreed with Greece’s official-sector creditors.  While progress has been halting at times, with targets delayed or missed, the reform momentum appears to be increasingly entrenched, with good prospects for further progress and low risk of reversal.

In Moody’s view, as well as speaking to the gradual strengthening of Greece’s institutions, the ongoing reform effort is slowly starting to bear fruit in the economy.  Greece’s economy has become significantly more open in recent years, with exports now accounting for 37% of nominal GDP as of Q3/18 compared to 22% back in 2010.  Competitiveness has markedly improved, due to a significant reduction in labor costs, and exports of both goods and services have accelerated strongly during 2018.

Reforms in the labor market are starting to be reflected in strong employment growth, which has been running at 2% or above for the past three years, ahead of average nominal GDP growth for the period.  According to data from the Bank of Greece and the Labor Ministry, employment contracts are becoming more flexible and wage bargaining is increasingly at the firm level, rather than at the sector or industry level as was historically the case.  Making the labor market more flexible, shifting towards decentralized wage bargaining and reducing the traditionally high employment protection that acted as an obstacle to hiring in the first place have been key objectives of the labor market reforms enacted under the adjustment programs.

Privatizations have recently been gaining pace and are a positive step towards bringing in foreign expertise, capital and investment as well as improving competition in domestic markets.  The Hellenic Financial Stability Fund and the Bank of Greece have presented new proposals for accelerating the reduction of non-performing exposures in the banking sector, which – if implemented – could provide an important component for dealing more aggressively with the banks’ key weakness.

Moody’s positive assessment comes despite some recent government decisions that were not fully in line with commitments.  In particular, the decision to increase the minimum wage by 11% exceeds the Experts Group’s recommendation of 5-10% and will damage Greece’s competitiveness if it translates into high wage increases more generally.  Also, the recently released second post-program review report by the European Commission points out that despite overall good progress, Greece is lagging behind in enacting some of its specific commitments, and discussions on the important revision of the household insolvency law (so-called Katseli law) are ongoing.  Continued delay could put the euro area’s promised transfer of close to €1 billion to Greece at risk.

That said, Moody’s considers the risk of a material reversal of already enacted reforms to be low irrespective of the outcome of the general elections which have to be held by October at the latest, but might be advanced by a few months.  The most politically painful measures have already been enacted, with the economy finally showing signs of recovery, reducing the incentives for any future government to jeopardize the hard-won gains.  Continued creditor surveillance should further reduce the risk of reform reversal.

SECOND DRIVER: Fiscal Track Record Well-Established, Mostly Due to Structural Measures

Reforms enacted, alongside recovering growth, have allowed Greece to achieve substantial fiscal consolidation over the past few years, with the primary balance now firmly in a large surplus position and the overall balance also in surplus for the past three years.  Targets agreed with Greece’s euro area creditors have been exceeded and by a wide margin since 2015.  An important part of the fiscal improvement is due to structural measures undertaken during the third adjustment program that ended in August 2018, including important pension and health care reforms as well as efforts to contain the public-sector wage bill and employment.

Moody’s also considers positively the establishment of the independent tax revenue administration IAPR in early 2017, which has already achieved important progress in improving tax compliance and raising tax revenues.  An important contribution to the overall fiscal performance has come from the interest bill, which declined by over 16% since 2015, thanks to the debt relief measures granted by the euro area.  Even assuming some market funding at higher rates going forward, the interest bill will remain broadly stable in the coming years at around 3% of GDP.  All of these measures give confidence that Greece’s recent solid fiscal track record can be maintained over the coming years.

THIRD DRIVER: Debt Sustainability Materially Enhanced Over Medium Term Following Debt Relief Last June

Recent fiscal consolidation is underpinned by the debt relief package agreed with Greece’s euro area creditors last June, which materially reduces Greece’s debt repayments for the next decade and beyond.  The package extended both the average maturity of EFSF loans (the largest part of Greece’s euro area funding, amounting to close to €131 billion or 70% of GDP) and the grace period on interest due by ten years. Greece will only have to start making payments on EFSF loans in 2033.  This package in conjunction with continued solid fiscal performance will ensure that Greece’s gross financing needs will be low in the coming years, at around 10% of GDP until 2032.  In addition, the euro area creditors committed to reviewing Greece’s debt profile again in 2032 and to provide further relief if needed (provided that Greece remains on track with its commitments).  No other sovereign benefits from similar levels of support.

The Greek government subsequently returned successfully to the international bond markets.  The proceeds of that issuance, along with a cash buffer of €26.8 billion or 14.5% of GDP as of end-2018, provide a sizeable cushion against amortizations of medium and long-term debt of a total of €22 billion over the coming three years.  Debt sustainability is materially enhanced over the medium-term, with the public debt ratio declining even under Moody’s standard stress assumptions.  In the rating agency’s baseline scenario the debt ratio will stand below 167% of GDP in 2020, compared to 181% last year. Moody’s forecasts a further decline in the debt to below 154% in 2022, assuming that the primary surplus targets are met.

Rationale for a Stable Outlook

The stable outlook balances the relatively low risk of policy or fiscal reversal against the limited upside to Greece’s credit profile.

Despite the significant improvements to date, Greece’ credit metrics are likely to remain commensurate with a rating in the B category in the coming years, absent significant, unexpected, further improvements in the country’s institutional strength and its economic performance.  Medium term growth prospects will remain low unless investment accelerates significantly.

Higher investment in turn requires further reforms to improve the business climate and secure property rights as well as to move towards a more growth-friendly tax regime, while maintaining prudent fiscal policies at the same time.  While the new proposals to clean up the banking sector’s non-performing exposures are promising, they need further detailed work before they can be implemented; more measures are needed clean up the sector’s balance sheet to promote lending to the real economy.

Also, while Greece managed to legislate many important reform measures over the past three years, those focused on institutional and behavioral change in particular will take time to be fully embedded and reflected in a more efficient and professional public administration, consistently strong tax compliance and more generally a change in the payment culture by the population at large.

What Could Change the Rating Up/Down

The rating could ultimately be upgraded if a strongly reform-minded government were to emerge from the upcoming elections and put in place a clear and credible agenda for further growth-friendly economic policies.  A positive rating action would also require a faster-than-expected reduction in the public debt ratio – probably linked to sustained vigorous economic growth on the back of stronger investment – and a material improvement in the banking sector’s health.

Conversely, the rating could ultimately be downgraded were it to become clear that the reform momentum had dissipated, with previously enacted reforms being reversed or other policy steps being taken that lead to materially weaker fiscal outcomes or put in danger the hard-won competitiveness gains and institutional improvements.  Moody’s will pay particular attention to the next government’s policy on public employment, given the importance of creating a less politicized public administration.  Renewed tensions with Greece’s euro area partners would also be negative as this could, inter alia, put the prospect for further debt relief after 2032 – if needed – into doubt.  (Moody’s 01.03)

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11.5  CYPRUS:  Cyprus Gas Discovery Could be an East Mediterranean Game-Changer

Simon Henderson posted in The Washington Institute for Near East Policy on 1 March that Cyprus’ latest success will encourage more exploration in the area, but probably more regional rivalry as well.

ExxonMobil has just announced the discovery of Glafcos, an offshore field located deep underwater more than 100 miles southwest of Cyprus and estimated to hold between 5 and 8 trillion cubic feet (tcf) of natural gas.  A more precise figure will emerge after further appraisal drilling by the company, which is working in a 60/40 partnership with state-owned Qatar Petroleum.

The discovery will likely prompt further work on the Calypso field to the east, discovered by ENI (Italy) and Total (France) a year ago and estimated to contain 6 to 8 tcf.  The first discovery in Cyprus waters was Aphrodite, found in 2011 by Houston-based Noble Energy.  That field partially overlaps Israel’s exclusive economic zone, but its estimated 4.5 tcf have yet to be exploited.

The total figure for Cyprus gas reserves is now as high as 20 tcf, a figure that could change the island’s fortunes despite not being particularly large in regional terms.  Israel has twice as much gas and Egypt even more, along with an established infrastructure for exporting it as liquefied natural gas (LNG) using special tankers.  All of these players are dwarfed by Russia (1,230 tcf), Iran (1,170 tcf), and Qatar (880 tcf).

Cyprus and Israel’s main challenge in exploiting this gas potential has been the cost of discovery (around $100 million per hole drilled) and the political and logistical complexity of reaching markets.  Most of Israel’s domestic electricity production is now fueled by its own gas, but finding an export route has been difficult, with talks continuing on arrangements to send some of it to Egypt.

Cyprus has an even greater need to find export options given its very small domestic market.  The most obvious route is via pipeline to an Egyptian LNG plant with spare capacity.  A more expensive alternative would be a floating LNG plant anchored above the field, from which tankers could be loaded to take the gas anywhere in the world.

Meanwhile, Turkey continues to contest the boundaries of the exclusive economic zone surrounding Cyprus.  Glafcos does not lie in an area claimed by Ankara – but the Turks do claim it belongs to Egypt.  Even if the two governments work that particular disagreement out, Ankara will no doubt demand that any revenues from the field benefit all Cyprus residents, including those in the Turkish-occupied northern part of the island.  The Cypriot government readily acknowledges responsibility for most citizens, but it has balked at the large number of immigrants who have arrived since Turkish forces invaded in 1974.  The fact that ExxonMobil is partnering with Qatar, a regional ally of Turkey, adds another wrinkle to these issues.

Going forward, international energy exploration companies will probably be more incentivized to focus on the East Mediterranean.  There is already interest in blocks off Lebanon’s coast, where some drilling will start this summer.  Yet Israel will likely find itself largely sidelined, in part because such companies still hesitate to imperil their relations with Arab countries, but also because Israeli legal and political barriers have delayed Noble Energy’s efforts to exploit its existing discoveries.

Finally, the Glafcos discovery should boost the recently established East Mediterranean Gas Forum, a Cairo-based multilateral organization nicknamed “Club Med” and encompassing Cyprus, Egypt, Greece, Italy, Israel, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority.  Further discoveries could increase the feasibility of proposals for an undersea pipeline to transport their gas to Europe.  Coupled with greater efforts to export LNG, such a development could create an energy hub that transforms the regional economy.

Simon Henderson is the Baker Fellow and director of the Bernstein Program on Gulf and Energy Policy at The Washington Institute.  (TWI 01.03)

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