Israel allowed first supercomputers

November 10, 1995

Israel is to purchase two American supercomputers for university research, following a change of policy by the United States government. The United States had barred export of supercomputers to Israel on the grounds that they might be used to develop nuclear weapons.

Israel has signed an agreement that it will use the machines purely for civil and education purposes .

The two supercomputers, a 16-processor Cray Research J90 and a 64-processor IBM SP2, will enable Israeli researchers to "run jobs between 50 to 100 times faster than they are capable of doing today from their workstations," according to Dr Zeev Barzilai, who spent 15 years at IBM's Thomas J. Watson Research Centre in New York and is now on international assignment at IBM Israel as the country's executive for high performance computers andcommunications.

According to Science Ministry director general Zvi Yanai, Israel's entry into the world of the supercomputer will have far-reaching effects on scientific research and technology in Israel.

The machines are capable of jobs ranging from aircraft and computer chip design to weather forecasting and pollution modelling. A key application is in computational chemistry and biochemistry. Israel has a small but dynamic pharmaceutical and biotechnology industry whose work could be accelerated by using supercomputers to examine the physical shapes and interactions of molecules.

On the scale used by the United States to classify computers for export purposes, the Cray machine is rated at 5,200 million theoretical operations per second, and the IBM machine at 7,000 MTOPS. American sources have hinted that the threshold for supercomputer exports will be raised further to 40,000 or even 60,000 MTOPS in the near future. Andrew Bennett, economic officer at the US Embassy in Israel, said that supercomputers "are getting to be a commercial concern and can no longer be controlled by the US".

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