PhD. Yom-Tov SAMIA is CEO and President of IC Green Energy Ltd. He is also Chairman of HelioFocus (Israel), and Chairman&President of Primus Green Energy Inc. (USA), two of the Company’s holdings.
Born in Beit-Lid/Pardesia camp in an immigrant couple from Bengazi, Lybia, Yom-Tov Samia is a Major General, 2 stars, Reserves. He served 29 years in Israel Defense Forces and had been designated Commander of Southern Command from January 1997 to December 2000.
From 2001-2003, Yom-Tov Samia was President and Co-CEO of Baran Group, Israel’s largest engineering and projects group, as well Chairman of Mieznner-Baran. In 2004-2006, he was Director and chairman of the investment committees of three pension funds managed by the Harel Insurance Group. Yom-Tov Samia is also founder of YAM-Deshers, an Israel-based real estate and management consulting company with operations in Israel and New York City. He was Chairman of the Council for the Promotion and Advancement of Sport in Israel, ISBB, (The Toto and Winner).
Yom-Tov Samia currently serves on the Board of Trustees of Ben Gurion University and Israel Strategic Dialogue Center of Netanya Academic College. He received a BA from Tel Aviv University, and an MA in Political Science and a PhD. in Sociology and Political Science from Haifa University.
Gy.T.: From geopolitical point of view, the State of Israel’s situation in the Arab world is similar to the one of Romania’s in the Slavic world. How do you appreciate Israel’s geopolicy in the light of the security issues in the Middle East?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: I am not very familiar with Romania’s situation so I will answer by addressing Israel situation. As you know, Israel was surrounded by enemies in the eve of independence. Fortunately, since then, after a few wars and rounds of conflicts or engagement in the battlefields we have peace with 2 out of 4 Arab countries that our immediate neighbors, Egypt and Jordan. We still have to work for the one with Syria and Lebanon to.
Of course there are the second circle of countries, that are behind this countries and does not share a frontier with Israel. These are Saudi Arabia, all the Golf Countries, Iraq, Iran and hopefully we won’t need in the future to settle this conflictual situation with them thru a physical clash.
In my presentation I used the saying “when you are with your back to the wall, the only way is to go forward”. We were really with our back to the wall in 1948 and since then we went forward. We take a lot of steps forward. We have a strong economy today and we are the only truly democratic country in the Middle East.
We have the peace with Egypt and Jordan because of the strong understands of these countries that the only way to live with Israel is the peaceful way. I think that is not important who is surrounding you, you should care about your basic believes and your basic strength’s.
Gy.T.: Romania had a very strong Jewish community and the connections between Romania and Israel are beside the economical, political and military one’s firstly and more importantly spiritual one’s. How do you see the future of these bilateral relations?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: I know that recently the President of Romania, Traian Băsescu, visited Israel. I had the chance to meet him twelve years ago when I came to Bucharest as a business man, representing one of the biggest engineering firms from Israel, and offered to help the city to expand its infrastructure.
Till the 90’s the largest Jewish community in Israel was the Romanian one. After the Russian authorities open the borders and allowed the departure of the Jewish to Israel, the Russian community became larger than the Romanian one. If I remember well there were 400.000 Romanian Jewish in Israel which was the biggest community.
I believe that even today we can find the cultural influences of both countries on each other. I am quite sure that in the fields of economy, the academic field, not only the scientific one, but the exchange of both student and know-how and in the field of security where the armies of both Romania and Israel have lots of exchanges. I’m not up to date with the recent events but remember that in the past there were lots of joint trainings and cooperation between them. I believe that these fields, for both countries, will be very important and any future relation can be based on this successful cooperation’s.
Gy.T.: Recent geopolitical developments in Eastern Europe have repercussions around the whole world. I would like to ask you to share with us your view about these developments.
Yom-Tov SAMIA: For sure that the events from the last couple of mouths in Eastern Europe shows us that we are living in very sensitive time’s. These events are important for the future. Not only because of the local aspects, will they influence the whole relations of Russia and Europe on one side and in the greater aspects on the other side.
I saw the recent issue of jour journal, the one about the Washington-Moscow-Beijing strategic triangle, and I am sure that there are many resources, economic, cultural and not so many military one’s engaged in this relations. It will be interesting to follow the effects of the recent developments in Eastern Europe in relation to these aspects.
Also it is important how these events will influence the challenges that the world will have to face or it’s all ready facing. Challenges like Iran, North Korea even the energy challenge, the change in the way we produce and use natural gas, the conversion of natural gas to fuel, as drop in fuel for gas, diesel or jet fuel.
Gy.T.: In the light of the events that followed the Arab Spring, what do you consider that is the role of Israel, as a security provider, regarding the current evolutions in Egypt and Syria?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: When the events, which led to the so called Arab Spring, started in Tunisia I was very pessimistic about the beginning of these clashes. Basically I am an optimist person, but I told to my friends “the only use of the term Arab Spring that I know is from a song of a famous Egyptian singer which song about the Arab springs. I don’t believe that what we will witness will be spring. It can be a very dark and cold winter.”
The outside issue is that based on 1000’s of years of ruling in Arab countries we can state the fact that in the Arab culture and nature democracy is not a born in characteristic. Democracy is not in their cultural DNA. I always was a lot against to force democracy, democratic ideals to populations or countries that are not culturally receptive to these values. I was all the time very critical to the idea that you can come from a young culture and force your values into a society that is 4000 year old. First it happened in Iraq and after that in Afghanistan, but mainly in Iraq. You can’t force democratic values to regions where other values are ruling on the streets. You can’t force democracy to those who don’t have it in their cultural DNA.
I wrote an article in February 2011 about the beginning of clashes in Tahrir market. I wrote there that the Egyptian people are well educated and they are tough people and will get thru these clashes but in the end of the day they probably will miss the days under Mubarak’s ruling. I also wrote that the alternative of being ruled by the Muslim Brotherhood is much worse than the previous regime. I was not a prophet but I was sure that the Egyptian people are strong enough to not to be ruled by religious fanatics. I was not surprised that after a short ruling of Morsi as President, he was kicked out by the same people that kicked out Hosni Mubarak.
About Syria, I am not sure that the revolution in Syria, in the end of the day, will bring to the Syrian people a better life. Time will let us know who will lead Syria, if there will be a change or if the Assad regime will continue to rule. It will be interesting to see if the Syrian people will face better days or if they will miss the past times.
Gy.T.: Israel was, is and will be a Euro-Atlantic partner with specific impact in generating economical, political and military strategies. How do you appreciate the relations with USA, NATO and European Union, especially as part of the EUROMED partnership?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: The relation between Israel and USA is even above strategic assets. I can call them as Mega-strategic assets and I will not be mistaking. The relation with the United Stat was, is and will be for many years as a Mega strategic asset.
For the leaders of Israel it should be the light to their behavior and they should keep this relationship with whoever leads the United States.
As importance, the second relationship of Israel is with the European Union and the European states. Unfortunately, part of the European community is strongly connected to the Arab world thru what I call petro-dollar. The petroleum issue is still plays a major role in the relation between the European Union and the Arab world. That’s the reason why due to the discovery of natural gas in the Middle East, mainly offshore of Israel and in other parts to, because of the natural gas industry in the USA and technological developments in the next decades is possible to change the balance between the European community and the Arab world.
As long the technologies will allow the use of natural gas as alternative fuel, as drop in gasoline, diesel or jet fuel this relationship between Europe and petroleum will be much weaker then today. Then I expect that the European Union will play a different role then the one that it is playing it now.
I would like to express my total discuss towards the boycott that the European community applies to Israel. This boycott on both academic and on economic levels is a double standard. Maybe the right world for it is hypocritical relation. It is hypocritical from the European community not to appreciate the fact that Israel is the only truly democratic country in the Middle East. The hypocrisy, in the way that they are speaking about the relationship between Israel and the Palestinians, while the regime in Syria already murdered more than 200.000 people. And they have many other examples from the Arab world about how the human rights are demolished and broken by the regimes of those countries.
Gy.T.: In your view which is the future of renewable energies? Do you consider Romania as a viable partner for Israel?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: The alternative to use natural gas in the way that I mentioned earlier, in parallel with using renewable energies like sun, wind and hydro I can say that is a great opportunity for any country in the world to reach the point of energy independence. As I mentioned a few times in my lectures, books and in my articles, “energy independence is part of national security”.
The connection between Israel and Romania in this field is in the way of using the right technologies developed by Israeli companies, mainly solar, solar-thermal actually, to develop alternative and renewable energy sources.
As President Obama said recently, hope to cote him right, the economical superpower in the future will be the country or countries that use mostly renewable energy as a resource.
Romania, especially in the south of it, has enough sun and wind to convert to energy. Also it has lots of rivers on which is possible to convert hydro power to electricity. I am convince that if Romania takes the right decisions it will be possible to obtain in the middle future at least 30% of its energy needs from renewable resources.
Gy.T.: You said: “We must not take bread away from the poor to produce gasoline for the rich…”. Do you consider that the “race” after biomass can affect the production of crops? Will we be able to find a balance between these two?
Yom-Tov SAMIA: The whole process had to start from somewhere. Of course that the start was made with virgin oil and sugar cane, as a source for biodiesel and ethanol.
As I said 10 years ago when I started in this field, it would be a big mistake to continue to use those raw materials as a source for energy because the more than 7 billion people in the world will need food saw the solution is not to compete the food market. The solution must be found in other sources. For example instead of virgin oil we can use used cooking oil, animal fat. The process is more expensive but in this way we have two major advantages, we do not compete the food market and secondly we avoid spilling of these materials into the nature and pollute it.
In the near future the next step is the conversion of natural gas. This is alternative solution not renewable but is much cleaner than using crude oil to obtain gasoline, diesel or jet fuel. The further future will be to succeed to convert waist by the right biomass gasification technologies or other technologies to obtain biogas and syngas and then convert it to gasoline, diesel or jet fuel.
Interview by Gyorgy TODORAN