Israel Optimistic Over Chances of Joining Nuclear Research Body CERN

A senior delegation from the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN ) visited Israel earlier this week to determine whether Israel is ready to become a member of the organization.

Delegation leader Sergio Bertolucci, director for research and scientific computing at CERN, told Haaretz that the delegates were impressed by the extent, depth and integration of the various scientific activities in Israel, the cooperation between industry and academe, and "the young Israeli minds."

The seven delegates are set to visit four other states that have applied to join CERN, the world's largest particle physics laboratory - Turkey, Slovenia, Serbia and Cyprus. The delegation will submit a report on the five states to the CERN council, which will determine their status by the end of the year.

Bertolucci said the report on Israel, which currently holds an 'observer' status in CERN, "is bound to be favorable."

The head of the Israeli Committee for High Energies, Professor Eliezer Rabinovici of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem, and the head of the Israeli team at the Large Hadron Collider particle accelerator near Geneva, Professor Giora Mikenberg of the Weizmann Institute, both accompanied the CERN delegation during their visit in Israel.

CERN has 20 European member states and six observers - Russia, India, United States, Japan, Turkey and Israel. Observer states cannot vote on organization affairs, but may sit in on the open council meetings. Scientists and engineers from observer states may also take part in research, as dozens of Israeli scientists have done. The organization employs some 2,600 full-time employees and some 7,931 scientists and engineers from around 80 nations, and from 580 universities and research facilities.

"As an observer you pay a considerable amount of money, but have very few rights - both in the operative, administrative sense and in the tenders you may take part in," Rabinovici said.

In December 2008, then foreign minister Tzipi Livni filed an official request with CERN that Israel be added as a member state. About a year later, CERN director general Rolf-Dieter Heuer told the British newspaper The Times that barring any last-minute political obstacles, Israel would join the Swiss research center.

Israel's ambassador to the United Nations in Geneva, Roni Leshno Yaar, who also serves as Israel's liaison to CERN, told Haaretz he was "optimistic about Israel's becoming a full member of the CERN council by the end of the year."

Over the past week, the delegation met President Shimon Peres, head of the National Economic Council Manuel Trachtenberg, chairman of the Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities Menahem Yaari and Israel Science Foundation director Dr. Benny Geiger. The CERN representatives also visited the Technion's Nanotechnology laboratories, the Tel Aviv University's research laboratories and the Weizmann Institute's laboratories, where parts of the particle accelerator detector in Switzerland were developed. The delegates also made visits to Orbotech, Fibernet, Nanomotion and the Sorek Applied Research Accelerator Facility (SARAF ).

"Joining [CERN] as a member state would validate Israel's significant contribution for dozens of years to CERN, the jewel in the crown of European science," said Rabinovici.