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Israel Researching Ways to Build Supercomputer

May 22, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Disheartened by U.S. reluctance to allow the export of supercomputers to Israel, scientists in that country are researching a new system more powerful than anything the United States has, Israeli university officials say.

Three Israeli institutions have applied for licenses to buy Cray and IBM supercomputers, but the permits have been delayed out of U.S. concern that Israel might use the fast-computing systems to develop nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles.

U.S. government agencies have been considering the applications for almost two years but thus far have refused to grant the permits.

″The writing’s on the wall,″ said Maia Hauser, the U.S. spokeswoman for Technion, Israel’s leading high-tech university. ″We’ll have to go it on our own.″ The university is asking supporters in the United States to raise funds for an alternative to the U.S. computers.

Technion applied in 1988 for a Cray-2 computer for scientific and engineering research. The Weizman Institute of Science and Bar-Ilan University also have pending license requests.

The Commerce Department, which has final say on the licensing, is banned by law from discussing supercomputer applications.

Israel has set up a government committee to investigate the feasibility of researching so-called ″parallel processing,″ said Technion Vice President Brian Silver.

In most computers, no matter how powerful, computation proceeds as one calculation at a time, known as ″serial processing.″

In some problems, multiple results might be calculable independently of each other, and a ″parallel processing″ machine is designed to save time by doing those independent calculations simultaneously.

U.S. and West German scientists have developed some parallel processing computers, and some very specialized machines are available.

Israel would have gone into such research anyway because that is the wave of the future in supercomputers, but the U.S. hold on the supercomputers has given the project a strong push, Silver said.

″There’s not much difficulty in us producing them within several years if we decide to,″ said Silver.

Technion scientists already have begun theoretical research into parallel computing and laboratories are being set up to conduct experiments, he said.

Technion also has discussed buying a sophisticated West German computer, which uses applications of parallel computations, to serve as a basis for a future Israeli supercomputer, he said.

Supporters of the sale of supercomputers to Israel note that Saudi Arabia, which is technically in a state of war with Israel, has been allowed to buy two Crays from the Minnesota-based CRAY Research Corp.

But U.S. officials say those computers went to Saudi Arabia’s oil company for use in seismic research, noting that the Saudis do not have an indigenous nuclear weapons program which could benefit from the machines.

India, which is known to be developing nuclear weapons, has bought one supercomputer for weather predictions, and has a pending request for another.

Israeli officials say that preventing Israel from buying supercomputers will not stop the development of nuclear weapons. Israel is known to have developed such arms on its own without supercomputers.

Silver said Technion had agreed to submit to inspections on the Cray system to make sure it was not used for military purposes, but opponents of the sale say computer use is difficult to monitor.

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