By the end of this year, Israel will become the first nation on the planet to host a national electric car network. Better Place, the firm that came up with the technology for the vehicles, was founded by Israeli businessman Shai Agassi; the cars are built by Renault-Nissan. 

The electric car to be used has no exhaust pipe and no gas cap, but rather a simple electric socket instead. It runs on a 450-lb. lithium-ion battery and can go as far as 140 miles before the battery needs to be swapped or recharged.

Designated free car parks in a network of 200 “swap stations” around the country will take care of that, Agassi says, with the power for the batteries to come from solar technology now under development in the Negev.

"Green is clean," assert the high-tech moguls who lead the more than 1,000 clean-technology start-ups in Israel, and foreign investors clearly agree. Israel boasts more companies on the high-tech NASDAQ stock exchange than any other nation outside the United States. Although Israelis have also suffered from the financial crash that sent the world into a tailspin in 2009, the Jewish State appears to be recovering more quickly than other economies, including the U.S.

Innovation ranks high on the “What-do-you-want-do-when-you-grow-up?” list in Israel; in the 20 years between 1980 and 2000, 7,652 new patents were registered in the U.S. by Israelis. In the same period, only 171 patents in the U.S. were registered by residents of Saudi Arabia, and fewer than half of that, 77, were registered by Egyptians.

The process begins early in life, with much of the productive flow starting with training gained during mandatory post-high school military service. The IDF is famous for spotting teens with high intelligence, and then developing that potential to its fullest.

Some recruiting takes place even earlier, during the junior high school years. Not everyone can get into the elite Israel Air Force high school program, for instance; a student must apply in eighth grade, and pass a rigorous set of exams. The exams include an IQ test, and a minimum score must be achieved in order to be accepted. Even then, permission to remain rests on academic performance as well as other criteria.

IDF military intelligence programs are similarly selective, putting its teens through electronics, engineering or physics degrees and then placing them in cutting-edge laboratories to work on defense issues.

Making the most of whatever is available with as little waste possible is a hallmark of Israeli ingenuity, one that has come to symbolize the nation’s research style in medical technology as well.

While most of the world was still using invasive techniques to identify and locate ulcers in the stomach lining, a simple breath test was already being employed years ago in the HMO clinics across Israel.

But the bottom line is survival, notes Shraga Brosh, chairman of the Israeli Manufacturers Association: “We know that we have to be flexible and smart in order to survive.”