Israel's Iconic Iron Dome: General Danny Gold, Father

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Heroes sometimes surface, when the timing and circumstances are right.

Fortunately.

And when they do, it's always in the context of triumphing ... good over evil.

A good example of these kinds of merciful heroes is those of the Paris Train Attack: Spencer Stone, Anthony Sadler and Alek Skarlatos. These three brave men saved perhaps hundreds of lives with their valor that afternoon. They deserve hailing as courageous figures.

There are however, and have been many fewer national heroes. These heroic figures saved millions.

And fewer still, worldwide heroes.

In all of my lifetime and the 20th century, I can think of only a handful of worldwide heroes: Winston Churchill generally credited with winning the WW II, Martin Luther King, John F. Kennedy, Mahatma Gandhi, Ronald Reagan, Nelson Mandela, Albert Einstein and Charles de Gaulle.

My personal choice is one, Winston Randolph Spencer Churchill.

These heroes are not always self-evident, as most true heroes avoid publicizing their heroics. This is one way we can recognize a hero; they don't use a bullhorn to tout themselves.

One national hero you may not have heard of is Brigadier General (Res.) Dr. Daniel Gold of Israel's IDF (Israeli Defense Force). If you'e not Israeli, chances are you have not.

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The reason General Gold is such a national hero in Israel and to Jews the world over, is not just because of his military service to his country--though that certainly is an honorable and honored factor. No, the General is an Israeli national hero because he is what I would call "The Father of Iron Dome."

Iron Dome is the invincible (relatively), very high-tech air defense system that shoots down the vast preponderance of terrorist rockets rained down on Israel by the Palestinians, Hamas and Hezbollah.

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Gold in front of his baby

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It matters not whether you are a strong, unwavering supporter of Israel or a Palestinian supporter. To clear-thinking people, it remains extraordinary--remarkable, really--that a small country could so successfully stay alive, win in fact, while surrounded by other hostile countries and another religion that wants only to exterminate it.

"I joined the IDF' Airforce as a radio engineer in the Electronic and Cyber Warfare area," General Gold told me beginning our talks.

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"I learned so much," he said with great emphasis. "I learned the value of research ... integrated research. The IDF is so much more than Kaizen and 'continuous improvement,' it's continuous breakthroughs!"

"The initial concept of Iron Dome came to me," the General recalled, "when I was nominated to head the Israeli' Research and Development area (at the IMOD). I was angry and sad about all the Israelis killed by incoming rockets. So we went out and asked all the universities for proposals. None of them would work. So our team re-architected the system I imagined--multiple umbrellas turned into one umbrella to protect Israel. The we had to invent 10 to 15 technology solutions just to get it started."

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"I had learned about 'Robust Design' during my time at Tel Aviv University (TAU) and took that with me to the IDF," General Gold told me. After looking into it a bit, I decided "This is pretty heady stuff," and went back to my calculus textbook for a breather.

The General continued unabated, "My studies at TAU made me more capable and helped me take higher risks. At the IDF, we think fast and we used triangular processes that involved fast development, low cost and high quality. Missile system development is like Art. Activity on both sides of the brain working simultaneously. Iron Dome was developed using this methodology. In the concept phase you invent the designs. Iron Dome was finished in three years. Most other weapon development cycles were 15 to 20 years." Hello General Dynamics? Hello Lockheed Martin, Northrup Grumman and General Electric?

After 31 years in the IDF and seven years of college studies, Gold seems to be looking forward only. When will Iron Dome be obsolete? I asked the General. "Iron Dome will never be obsolete," he warned sternly, "it's constantly updated. I've already launched the second generation of Iron Dome."

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Gold during an Iron Dome test

Though General Gold is a stern person discussing very serious issues, I got the distinct feeling within Danny Gold, minus the doctorates, other degrees and military background, there is a strong sense of humor inside him struggling to burst out.

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Foremost, Gold's creation Iron Dome is central to Israel's survival. Simultaneously, Iron Dome also has its commercial, technological and entrepreneurial byproducts, too. The same technological research and defense development that helps it stay alive, also has another, somewhat unintended result: Israel's been churning out tech entrepreneurs like you wouldn't believe.

I've chronicled in my previous columns how other IDF' leaders such as Mintigo's Dr. Jacob Shama took their long and glorious IDF or Unit 8200 careers and cashed-in what they turned into a big payday courtesy of and with the full cooperation of the government of Israel. The country recognized how these smart Israelis could contribute to a robust and growing Israeli tech-economy after their mandatory IDF' service.

The elite 8200 unit of Israel's IDF is impressive. I had it described to me thusly: "If you took the American special forces and combined them with the NSA and CIA, that would be Unit 8200."

But let's back up for a minute here. It was how Gold's education at Tel Aviv University (TAU) played such a crucial role in empowering Gold, that gifted him to excel and develop a technology system that would save innumerable Israelis from death and destruction.

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Embedded in the personal and national success story of General Danny Gold is the intense education he got at TAU. "I studied at the high school next door to TAU," General Gold remember fondly. "Toward the end of high school, I made the decision between Electrical and Mechanical Engineering; Medicine or Veterinary training." It's the foundation why he would get four degrees (count 'em) at TAU. After Gold's name is a real 'alphabet soup': Ph.D. (Elec. Eng.), Ph.D. (Bus. Man.), M.Sc (Elec. Eng.), B.Sc (Elec. Eng.) Had he decided to become a veterinarian, there's no telling where Israel would be today.

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TAU has been churning out brilliant military minds for sometime now, and their contribution to the fact that Israel now has the most publicly-traded companies (60 or more) on NASDAQ than nation than America. This entrepreneurial contribution to Israel's economy and the world's technology and business economy can no longer be overlooked.

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The Engineering building at TAU where Danny Gold spent long, grueling hours learning his craft

A little background about Tel Aviv University:

  • Tel Aviv University (TAU) is Israel's largest and most comprehensive institution of higher learning - comprised of nine faculties, 27 schools, 98 departments and some 130 research institutes and centers across the spectrum of sciences, humanities and arts. The university promotes a multidisciplinary approach to research, a core value of the academic culture at TAU.

  • As General Gold told me, this approach provided him with the opportunity to combine his work in electrical engineering with business management. This wide breadth of knowledge created a major defense capability.
  • TAU was recently ranked among the Top 10 universities to produce the most venture capital-backed entrepreneurs globally (jumping ahead of Ivy Leagues like Yale, Princeton, and Columbia, and the only non-American university on the top 10 list):
  • Over the last five years TAU alumni have raised more than $1.25 billion in venture capital.
  • One TAU supporter told me, "Imagine 18-year-old's fresh out of high school, hand-picked for SEAL Team Six, and transferring from there to Harvard Business School where they go on to channel their training and experience into innovation." This encapsulates the IDF/TAU career path.
  • So it's no surprise that Mintigo's Jacob Shama or the Iron Dome' creator Danny Gold and other Israeli companies' founders -- such Checkpoint; Hyperwise Security (recently acquired by Check Point); Waze (acquired by Google); Argus Cyber Security; and Palo Alto Networks, which went public in 2012 with a $260 million IPO--all have their roots in the IDF, Unit 8200 and/or TAU.
  • As the General himself clearly attests, it was the multidisciplinary education he got at TAU that in the end created something truly lifesaving like Iron Dome. "The IDF of course," Gold said intensely, "is not a business organization. But you do need to know how to manage teams, high-tech projects and projects overall. So my Business Management Ph.D. really helped me."

    "After getting my final degree from TAU at age 33, I went back to the Defense Forces and Intelligence areas of the IDF."

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    Students rambling at TAU

    I imagined that General Gold had mentored many young upstarts during his career, so I asked him who his mentors were. "My mentors were two of my Ph.D. instructors at TAU," he said, "Hanoch Ur, my Electrical Engineering professor and Shlomo Globerson, my Business Management professor," he told me gratefully.

    General Gold travels incessantly and gives talk about things that are non-classified. In this video from his talk at the Fifth Israeli Presidential Conference in 2013, Gold presents on a number of fascinating military technologies he's breathed life into to protect his homeland.

    And just like other TAU, Unit 8200 and IDF alumni, General Gold now adds another interesting chapter to his life: starting his own business. "Gold R&D Technology and Innovation Limited" is the General's new firm with clients and partners in the USA, Southeast Asia and of course, Israel. "It's partially a consultancy," Gold told me, "how to do R&D, partially for Smart City initiatives and partially for business management." Gold says he has many aircraft companies as clients and of course, he's always innovating and interested in what he calls Cyber R&D. He heads an Israeli committee focused on taking Iron Dome and adding a Cyber Dome to it to protect all Israeli digital assets. "Cyber Dome is for our partners all around the world. It could be for an entire country, for banks or utilities."

    When I asked him how his start-up was funded, he said, "I do my own funding," surprising me greatly as his ability to mesmerize investors is undoubted to me, "I don't need government money."

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    Danny Gold, Businessman, Entrepreneur ... for a change

    "The next generation of Iron Dome, I hope will come out faster than the new iPhones ... every nine months or so."

    Gold put a cherry on top: "I am still in the IDF Reserve," and added poignantly, "and probably will be forever."

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    Brig. Gen. Dr. Danny Gold will be honored by American Friends of Tel Aviv University at its annual gala dinner on December 8th in New York.