Proof that anyone can benefit from Israeli innovation

On Tuesday, May 5, Ben-Gurion Airport’s workers in Tel Aviv were amazed at the strange sight of a particular Airbus A330-300 parked on its runway. The reason: The plane has 'Saudia' emblazoned it. Saudia is the flagship carrier of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA), a nation with no diplomatic relations to Israel.
Sharon Udasin of the Jerusalem Post reported that the jumbo jet is at the country’s primary airport for maintenance. Bedek, “the senior group of Israel Aerospace Industries” that “provides under one roof the best-value, comprehensive maintenance services for aircraft, engines and components, including heavy maintenance, modifications, upgrades, conversions and development programs,” is doing the work.

מזרי תיכון חדש?
מטוס סעודי נחת בנתב"ג עקב בעייה רפואית של אחד הנוסעים

— Amichai Stein (@AmichaiStein1) May 6, 2015

In their best-selling book, Start-Up Nation – which explains Israel’s rise as the world’s innovation hub, Council of Foreign Relation fellow Dan Senor and former Jerusalem Post editor Saul Singer, shares the story of how Bedek came to be. The entity exhibits the entrepreneurial sense and heart of innovation pervasive in the nation’s culture. Its launch in 1953 signaled the creation of an aeronautics industry when all the odds were seemingly against its success.
“At the time, staples like milk and eggs were still scarce and thousands of just-arrived refugees were living in tents,” wrote Senor and Singer, describing the dire reality when Shimon Peres and Al Schwimmer presented their idea on how Israel “could start repairing surplus World War II aircraft.” As expected, when the duo pitched the concept to the Israeli government in the 1950s “reactions ranged from skepticism to ridicule.” Peres was then director general of the defense ministry and later became prime minister and president. Schwimmer was a former aircraft engineer who smuggled planes to Israel during its War of Independence.
Despite the opposition, however, Peres had the state’s founding Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion’s support and the company was formed with Schwimmer as CEO. Five years later, Bedek was Israel’s largest private employer.
The airplane maintenance company then and until now has been an all-time benefactor to the Israeli economy. It has also served in great measure the global aerospace industry as a whole. According to the company’s webpage, the Bedek Aviation Group, under the umbrella of the Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI), has become a leading worldwide cargo conversion house. The aircrafts it has serviced has accumulated over 2,000,000 flight hours. The company’s outstanding accomplishments have made Schwimmer, as Forbe’s Robert Lenzner describes, “an American unsung hero for the State of Israel.”
IAI’s most senior enterprise is only one in a multitude of innovative Israeli entities whose service has benefited an industry, within and beyond the country’s borders. Israel’s technological expertise and competitive advantage can be of use to all. In fact, the country has emerged as an R&D alternative to Silicon Valley and is the only place in the Middle East with universities holding Top 100 global ranking.
A Bedek spokesperson explained to the Jerusalem Post that the Airbus parked at Ben-Gurion more than a week ago arrived in Tel Aviv from Brussels. It was flown by Portuguese company Hi Fly that leases its jet to private companies, including Saudia.
The plane’s presence in Israel created an almost funny frenzy. Saudi Arabia’s bureaucrats though weren’t amused. According to a tweet from a Saudi news agency, “Saudi Arabian Airlines terminates contract with Hi Fly after the latter landed in Ben-Gurion airport with SAA logo.’”
It’s a most unfortunate reaction to what could be better deemed an apolitical issue. Innovative ideas from Israel are something anyone can benefit from, including those that may not think well of her as a nation.