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Israeli Invents Anti-Terrorist Robot

A former Shin Bet agent, Amos Goren, has invented a robot that can be deployed as an anti-terrorist operative at any civilian installation. The robot, Amstaff, is designed to work in groups to detect and defuse threats over large areas: four or five of them would be able to handle Ben Gurion Airport, for example.

When they spot a threat, they move quickly towards it, transmit photos to a remote control room, and shout via loudspeaker to the suspects to stop. While this is happening, they share data with each other in real time to coordinate their responses. All of this is done without human direction. Amstaffs are equipped to fire on suspects, but won’t do so until authorized by a person in the control room; that is the only action that requires human intervention. “The smart robots can detect any threat long before the human brain would,” Goren said. “This is thanks to artificial intelligence features of the devices that enable them to operate autonomously.”

Amstaffs are attracting interest among defense and security agencies abroad, as well they should. As Goren points out, “The outstanding advantage of a system like this is that the robots have no mother and no father.” Neatly put. Anything that stops bad guys without putting good guys in danger is aces in my book. Same reason I admire the minds who put together the Stuxnet virus.

Whoever they may be.

Iron Man In Seattle

This worries me.

Yes. My gently curling locks make me very, very happy.

Robert Downey, Jr. is looking alarmingly like Meg Ryan here, is he not? Check it:

I am pensive. I am thoughtful. My coif inspires great actors to risk ridicule in my honor.

I respect you, Robert; really I do. But I don’t believe this was what God intended.

IDF Resumes Targeted Assassinations

Yesterday, in a joint operation conducted by the Shin Bet and the Israeli Air Force, Israel killed 27-year-old terrorist Mohammed Namnam, identified by the Jerusalem Post as “a top operative with the Army of Islam, a radical Palestinian terror group affiliated with al-Qaida and involved in the 2006 abduction of Gilad Shalit.” IDF spokeswoman Lt.-Col. Avital Leibovitz called Namnam, who had been an active terrorist for years, a “ticking bomb”: intelligence indicated that he was preparing assaults on American and Israeli targets in the Sinai.

Two elements of this assassination are intriguing. One is the suggestion of consultation between Israel and the Americans about it ahead of time. The IDF spokeswoman, asked directly about this, said rather coyly that “[w]ithout getting specifically into more details, I can tell you there is very good cooperation between us and the Americans.” There’s also some interesting subtext to Hamas’s unhesitating — and as yet uncomplaining — identification of the dead man: he was a senior aide to Mumtaz Dughmush, commander of the Army of Islam and top dog of the Dughmush clan, which has been fighting an undeclared war with Hamas pretty much non-stop since Hamas seized power in the Strip. The Dughmush clan is al-Qaida’s local branch in Gaza and as such is a rival to Hamas. They kidnapped BBC correspondent Alan Johnston in 2007 as well as many other foreign nationals, and they regularly attack Palestinian targets, including Christians. They take no notice of Hamas directives regarding the timing and constitution of violent confrontation with Israel and act on their own initiative, come what may. The enmity between them has led to ample intra-Palestinian bloodletting.

(The Dughmush connection could very well explain, by the way, why Gilad Shalit is still locked in a cellar in Gaza, four years after his abduction, without the slightest movement forward towards his release: if Hamas isn’t holding him, they can’t free him. And the conditions of Shalit’s captivity are so far beyond the pale — not so much as a single Red Cross visit to confirm he’s in one piece or even a letter from his own mother to comfort him in four years — as to suggest that it is indeed the al-Qaida freakshow that unfortunately is holding him and not the relatively more mainstream Hamas freakshow, which has in fact battled the Dughmush clan in the past specifically to get them to release kidnap victims.)

I expect we’ll hear less of the usual “Israel, with her insatiable lust for blood, has slaughtered another innocent Palestinian civilian” this time around (at least from within Gaza; we’ll surely get it from the usual suspects in Europe). We will never know who Namnam’s next target was to have been — Israelis, Americans, or Europeans; Jews, Christians or Muslims. We can all breathe a little easier today, at least for the moment. And to Khaled Mashaal, leader of Hamas, on behalf of the IDF: You’re welcome.

Thank you, Hannes

Many years ago (it was during the first Gulf War, and doesn’t that seem a lifetime ago now?) I spent a year living on French Hill in Jerusalem. Several of my friends at the time were German exchange students, and I spent more time than I ever had before listening to the German language. To this day, the sound of German (and the smell of Joop cologne) takes me back to an intense and strangely wonderful moment in my life. I remember finding German beautiful to listen to, possibly because I was listening for the most part to Freiburg-accented German, which I remember as having a graceful, gentle cadence. I never learned any of the language — I was too busy trying to get my head around Hebrew — but it was lovely to listen to, a kind of music.

Fast forward. A German journalist named Hannes Stein read my Iran post below and did me a singular honor: he translated it into German and posted it on his own site. I’d never before seen my own writing in a language I don’t know. I stared at it with awe (and not only because the site is gorgeous): there’s something splendidly delirious about seeing your own thoughts rendered in a way you can’t penetrate.

I’m indebted to Hannes for taking the time to translate the post and for getting it in front of a readership I would never have been able to reach otherwise. If you’d like to see the piece in German, here it is.

Type it, baby, one more time

I’m on a quest for the perfect external keyboard to use with my Mac laptop. Being me, I’ve embarked on a full-scale, grant-worthy research project into the subject. I can now converse with ease on such subjects as mechanical keyswitches, buckling springs, rubber domes versus scissor switches, bottoming out, tactile bumps, tenkeyless designs, n-key rollover support, Cherry browns versus Cherry blues, and that all-important X-factor: clickyness.

I’ve thus spent a good deal of my limited free time of late deep in geek country. And wow. These boys take their hardware very, very seriously. And they love their gear. Deeply.

I was amazed to discover that there are sites on the Internet where you can, if you’re so inclined, just listen to keyboards being typed on. You scroll down lists of keyboards, find your dream girl, press the audio file, sit back, close your eyes and listen to her click. And if you need some visual stimulation, there’s the vast world of “unboxing”: endless videos on YouTube of boys (they’re always male, always young, and almost always white) opening packages of hardware they’ve ordered and tenderly pulling out their treasures for the first time.

It’s geek porn, basically. A commenter on one YouTube video that showed a pair of thin white hands typing on a Filco Majestouch implored the kid to please, please post more typing videos because his keyboard sounded “delicious.” On a comments thread about peel-off screen protectors, one guy wrote:

Just took off the Griffin protector i was using, and will never go back to anti-glare. Love being naked. Love the smooth feel under my fingers. Love the appearance…It’s beautiful, even when sleeping..

To his credit, he could hear himself. He followed that reflection with:

Jesus, am i talking about an iPad or a woman?

It’s a whole new male province. Who knew? And the unnerving part isn’t the full-frontal glimpse of hardware lust.

It’s that I kind of get it.

Alarm

[This is a piece I wrote in September, at a time when chatter about Israel striking Iran had reached something of a fever pitch.]

A few days before Rosh Hashanah, I was sitting at my Hebrew teacher’s dining room table with five other students learning holiday-related vocabulary when a siren went off. I’m not talking about a police siren; I’m talking about the unnervingly loud and penetrating whoo-whoo-whoo-whoo get-in-the-shelters-now! kind of siren. We all instinctively looked at our watches: if the alarm was going off on the hour, it was probably a drill we hadn’t heard about. It was 11:07.

Embarrassingly, my hand, like that of a silent-movie heroine, clapped over my heart. My mind raced: Did we hit Iran today? Is this a retaliatory strike? The student to my left glanced at me, eyes wide. The student to my right pulled out her cell phone to call her husband. A student across the table said, matter-of-factly, “I think this is real.” I felt around under the table for the shoes I’d kicked off, in part because we might have to start moving at any second, but also because it felt vaguely unseemly to face possible annihilation while not completely dressed.

Within a few minutes, it was clarified that it was, after all, a drill of the city alarm system that had for some reason gone off a little late. Our teacher, an unflappable Israeli, smiled: our years here, in some cases amounting to decades, had not been sufficient to prevent our getting the vapors over a non-event. We went back to our discussion of the grammatical explanation for the tradition of eating beets on Rosh Hashanah.

In the space of what in retrospect must have been a matter of seconds, I’d imagined – in weirdly specific detail — that we were about to experience a full-scale attack. I didn’t imagine dying, but did imagine not being able to get to, or even communicate with, my kids. I imagined no one outside the country knowing what had happened to us or how to reach us. The fear was not being crushed or gassed or exploded; it was that we were about to be pushed inside a kind of isolation tank with no exit. We would be, to all intents and purposes, erased, our personalities and individual voices replaced by the generic “missing,” “victims,” “collateral damage,” “presumed dead.”

Now, my particular voice is hardly representative of Israel or the United States. Nor does it represent all mothers or secular Jews or political independents. All it represents is me. But if a real attack does occur and I’m unlucky enough to be in the middle of it, my particular slant on things – my unique Judithness, for whatever that may be worth – will be a thing of the past. And my new facelessness – the erasure of my identity, as well as the identities of all the others buried beside me under the rubble – will serve other people’s agendas.

We in Israel are forever being lumped together, and not only by those who wish to malign us. Israel is one of those subjects, like vaccinations or Jennifer Aniston’s love life, about which most people feel qualified to have an opinion, no matter how minute their actual knowledge of it. We’re all soldiers, all victims, all occupiers, all heroes, all redeemers of the land, all Nazis. That strategy of argument works well at cocktail parties and in graduate seminars, but its distortion of reality could ultimately come at a massive cost to those of us who live here.

Reducing the arguments to their essences, there are two schools of thought about Israel. One holds that we are morally obliged to concede everything it’s possible to concede in exchange for the right to live at all, since our very existence as a nation is an affront to the natural order. The country was stolen; it is therefore illegitimate, and any attempt to wrest it out of the hands of the thieves and restore it to the displaced is morally justified, no matter how barbaric the methods of restoration might be. We have forfeited our right to be considered human beings – creatures with a right to defend ourselves, and to be offended by double standards concerning violence against us – by callously blinding ourselves to the plight of those we have collectively wronged. Israeli children are as guilty as Israeli adults – as inhuman – since they are the product of a sinful enterprise. We are a monolith that offends the sensibilities of all decent people and are thus not entitled to be differentiated as people worthy of individual concern. Israeli Jews can earn readmission to the human race by agreeing, humbly and without insolent reciprocal demands, to deny our national and religious history, and to turn our backs on everything we’ve built on the stolen, sacred land.

The other school of thought is deeply sympathetic to Israel. We are the sole beacon of enlightened Western thought in an ocean of repressive Islamic theocracies and corrupt Arab “republics”. We are the standard-bearers for progress out of the darkness. We are the brave nation that rose out of the ashes of the murdered six million to give meaning to their destruction, and to give the Jews the home they have been denied for generation upon generation. We are indomitable in the face of relentless condemnation of all our attempts to safeguard our lives and those of our children. We are uncowed by the poison of salon anti-Semitism, which winkingly delegitimizes us from Oxford to Berkeley. We are both the first line of defense and the last stand against radical Muslim tyranny, which is at war with every freedom the West has grown too complacent to value. We are the army of the free. We are the army of the Lord.

That’s all very flattering, but that argument too depends on a monolithic, inherently dehumanized view of Israelis. And it can conceal opinions that are not in anyone’s interest, least of all ours. It’s possible, after all, to simply dump responsibility for ridding the world of the Islamist menace on our shoulders while hiding behind admiration of our plucky fortitude, all the while retaining the right to condemn us in public. Statements of allegiance with our struggles also provide socially acceptable cover for an otherwise unpalatable enjoyment of Arab- or Persian-bashing fantasies (“Israel will take them out” re Iran; “Israel should throw them all out” re the Palestinians). Just like the argument of the Israel-haters, it denies our individual realities.

This will come as a surprise in some precincts, but it is no easier for Israelis to take on the moral burden of killing than it is for any other civilized people. In fact, any honest investigation into the history of the Israeli army suggests exactly the opposite. It‘s an unfortunate fact that we have to defend ourselves often; it does not follow that we have become congenitally inured to the moral weight of every action we must take to do so. We have no more desire to send our children and husbands into harm’s way, or to burden them with the weight of ethical responsibility they must bear in the heat of battle, than anyone else does. Nor do we have any desire to punish people, and peoples, who are as individual as we are.

I therefore resent it when pundits abroad urge us, steam rising from their laptops, to strike Iran some time within the next ten minutes, apparently judging on our behalf that the moment is ripe. Part of my resentment stems – I admit it – from the evident lack of concern for the blowback we would inevitably suffer here. But there’s more to it than that. Perhaps because we know the feeling so well, most of us do not view the population of Iran as a faceless block of opinion-less inconveniences. Some of them are certainly our enemies, but some – perhaps many – are nothing of the kind. We do not wish to be compelled, either by genuine circumstances on the ground or by distant cheerleaders with interests of their own, to rain destruction on anyone.

If Iran does genuinely threaten this nation – these living six million – Israel will not turn the other cheek. She does not have that luxury. But if Israel must act, it will be with a heavy heart. And if I happen to get caught in the crossfire, let it be known that there was a Judith once – an American, an Israeli, a Jew, a mother, but most of all, a Judith. She had a certain slant on things, and it wasn’t quite like anybody else’s.