Israel’s Edge, a new book authored by CNBC executive producer Jason Gewirtz, sheds light on the strategically vital and secretive Talpiot IDF program, which trains select groups of soldiers in how to conduct cutting edge defense research and development.
Gewirtz, who is the executive producer of Power Lunch at CNBC, told The Jerusalem Post recently about the process of writing the book, which began when he became fascinated by the remarkable program.
Power Lunch is broadcast live daily from the New York Stock Exchange, Nasdaq, and CNBC’s Global Headquarters.
Gewirtz has worked at CNBC for 15 years, focusing mainly on financial markets, but has also covered the 2006 Second Lebanon War from northern Israel.
“I also followed Warren Buffett on his trip to Tefen when he made his first overseas purchase, buying ISCAR. In addition, I produced a documentary for CNBC called Beyond the Barrel, which focused heavily on Israeli alternative energy companies,” he said.
In recent years, his attention became focused on the Talpiot program.
Created following the Yom Kippur War, after Syria, Egypt and many of Israel’s other enemies closed a major technology gap with it, Talpiot has for more than three decades helped advance Israel’s arsenal through the brain power and imagination of the young, Gewirtz said.
“Instead of being trained to fight immediately, the few soldiers each year selected for Talpiot are taught how to think. In order to join this unit they have to commit to being in the army for 10 years, rather than the three years a normal soldier serves. Talpiot members are taught advanced level physics, math and computer science as they train with soldiers from every other branch of the IDF. The result: young men and women who can take their classroom experience and combine it with battlefield experience in order to become research and development machines,” he added.
According to Gewirtz, Talpiot members take science courses at the Hebrew University for their first three years in the army – while simultaneously learning from and training with many ground force units including artillery, special forces, infantry and the paratroopers.
“They also spend time with naval units at sea and do some training with the air force. They then take their academic learning and combine it with their military experience.
After the first three years of studying and military training, they are then matched up with an opening in their area of interest and expertise.
Sometimes this is with the conventional branches of service, but sometimes it is with other intelligence agencies, such as Sigint Unit 8200, or with a defense company, where they often act as an agent for the Ministry of Defense, “making sure that everything is built as it should be built,” he explained.
“Others go on to work in the Israeli space industry, helping to develop satellites and the high resolution imaging equipment that allows Israel to see what is going on in other parts of the region and world.
“Talpiot graduates are also encouraged to delay a good part of their research and development and go into fighting units instead. Many have become pilots in the air force flying F-16s in combat and others have gone on to train new pilots.
One in fact teaches dog-fighting.
Several have gone on to command naval ships. A few are in Shaldag which is the special forces unit of the Israel Air Force. Others go into ground units,” Gewirtz said.
Asked why he chose to write about this particular topic, the CNBC executive said, “There is no other program like Talpiot in the world and it has had an enormous impact on Israel. It is also benefiting the world in a very positive way.
I was first attracted to the program after seeing an article in the Hebrew media many years ago. I then started asking around an ulpan teacher who had a friend who had graduated from an early class.
While he could not talk to me on the record, he led me to another graduate who could. That one led me to two more, and so on. By the time my interviewing was finished, I had interviewed almost 10 percent of the graduates of this program, which began in 1979. Every story was fascinating. While I could not use every story, for various reasons I wish I could have. Not all – but almost every graduate was extremely modest.”
He described becoming “really hooked after one graduate explained to me that a Talpiot can make a one percent difference in a conflict or battle. That’s a big deal for one guy. They do it through technology, of course, but it is that technological advantage that gives Israel the edge it needs. It is also that technological advantage that David Ben-Gurion was so intent upon fostering when the country was founded... Israel must defend itself through a qualitative advantage and that is what Talpiot gives Israel – the tools for this qualitative advantage that is so necessary for Israel, and the Jewish people’s survival.”
Gewirtz stressed that program graduates have gone on to advance international causes, too. “There is a group of graduates now at the Weizmann Center developing ways for crops in poorer countries to grow faster – these guys aren’t just defending Israel on the battlefield, in the air, at sea and in cyberspace...they’re literally helping to feed the world. What other group of military graduates from any program in the world is doing something like this? Nobody,” he said.
Gewirtz said all proceeds from the book will go to Beit Halochem, the Zahal Disabled Veterans Organization.
“I did not want to profit from Talpiot’s success; it didn’t seem right to me. I did want to tell their story however,” he said. “There is something in here for people interested in the Middle East, in Israel, in history, military technology, education and of course business.”