High-tech industries have for a few decades been the fastest growing sector in Israel and crucial for economic growth, accounting for 14% of jobs and almost a fifth of gross domestic product.
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Israeli stock and bond prices slid and many businesses were closed on Sunday after gunmen from the Palestinian group Hamas rampaged through Israeli towns on Saturday and militants also fired thousands of rockets into Israel in a surprise attack.
Some rockets reached as far as Tel Aviv, prompting airlines to suspend flights to and from Israel.
Israel retaliated with air strikes on Hamas targets in Gaza, and hundreds of people have died.
“It is a huge disruption to business as usual,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer and founding partner at Cresset Wealth Advisors. He said in the short-term resources could be diverted if the conflict expands, such as staff at tech companies being called up as military reservists.
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Quincy Krosby, chief global strategist at LPL Financial in Charlotte, North Carolina, said there will likely be a “tremendous effort” to guard physical installations for companies based in Israel from attacks because some technology spending is tied to the military. A spokesperson for chipmaker Intel Corp, Israel’s largest private employer and exporter, said on Sunday the company was “closely monitoring the situation in Israel and taking steps to safeguard and support our workers.” The spokesperson declined to say whether chip production has been affected by the situation.
Nvidia, the world’s largest maker of chips used for artificial intelligence and computer graphics, said it had canceled an AI summit scheduled for Tel Aviv next week, where its CEO Jensen Huang was due to speak.
Israel-based Tower Semiconductor, which provides customers with analog and mixed-signal semiconductors, mainly for the automotive and consumer industries, said it was operating as usual.
Other tech giants, Meta Platforms, Alphabet and Apple did not respond to requests for comment. Microsoft declined to comment.
Israel’s technology sector had already been facing a slowdown in 2023, exacerbated by internal political conflict and protests. A growing number of Israel’s tech startups have been incorporating in the United States.
MILITARY, AI SPENDING BOOST
Israel’s tech sector dates back to 1974 when Intel established a presence, but the start-up scene took off in the 1990s, earning a reputation as the world’s second-largest tech center outside of Silicon Valley, with thousands of companies and developing a significant ecosystem.
There are now 500 multinationals operating in Israel – mainly research and development centers after buying Israeli start-ups – from Intel to IBM, Apple, Microsoft, Google and Facebook.
In June, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said Intel was planning to spend $25 billion on a new factory in the southern city of Kiryat Gat some 42 km (26 miles) from Gaza.
Due to open in 2027, he called it the largest-ever international investment in the country that could employ thousands of people and would add to its chip plants and design centers there.
In the longer term, the tech and AI sector, where Israel has been a leader, could see increased investment because of the industries’ close tie-in with military spending, LPL’s Krosby said.
“They will probably increase the investment in AI,” Krosby said. “When a country is caught literally off guard the first thing they look at – beside the obvious problems with intelligence – is what was missed within the security systems.”
“It could bolster support for more financial resources for tech for the military, which then ultimately transitions to the private sector tech companies,” Krosby added.
The tech sector has shown resilience in the past, overcoming a number of conflicts with Hamas in Gaza.
Apjit Walia the Managing Director at DVN Capital said the Israeli tech sector “has historically bounced back from geopolitical tragedies.”