In an expensive gesture of friendship, Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel last week presented visiting Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev with an advanced drone helicopter used in research.
The impromptu gift was made while Medvedev was visiting the Volcani Agricultural Research Organization, near Tel Aviv. When Ariel saw his Russian guest admiring the device, he decided on the spot to offer it to him as a gift. Following a brief consultation with the ministry’s director general Shlomo Ben Eliyahu, Ariel told Medvedev he could take the $50,000 craft home with him, according to Times of Israel.
Army Radio broadcast a tape of the conversation during which the translator can be heard saying that the minister said: “It’s a present for you. Tell us where you want it. Tell us and we’ll take it for you.”
Medvedev replied, “It’s a great present, thanks,” and then quipped that he already owns an unmanned combat plane.
The unorthodox gift has raised eyebrows for two reasons: Government regulations put a ceiling on gifts of up to 700 shekels to visitors from abroad. Also, it was the only such helicopter at the Agriculture Ministry. Although another one is said to be in the pipeline, they will have to make do with lesser equipment until it’s replaced, which may take several months.
The 35-pound helicopter is designed to carry thermal and infrared cameras capable of providing complex images of the actual uptake of water and water-borne materials such as pesticides by crops and trees which have been given uniform irrigation. The researchers hope the data will enable farmers to tailor provisions to each plant and in so doing, to save water.
“The software is unique to Volcani,” a source from the Volcani Institute said. “Medvedev wanted that, too, but we didn’t give it to him.”
The staff at Volcani was upset. Moshe Reuveni, representing the researchers, said that “Agriculture Minister Uri Ariel proves yet again that he is as far from good governance as the sky is from the earth.
“The direct and indirect consequences of the minister’s actions are so depressing and difficult that it’s hard to believe it actually happened,” he added.
A statement from the Agriculture Ministry explained that “the giving of the helicopter to the [Russian] delegation was with the permission of the relevant professionals. The Agriculture Ministry will acquire a new helicopter in the coming period so that the research activities can continue.”
The statement stressed that the gift was small compared to the agreement signed between Israel and Russia, which it described as a “road map leading to business worth billions of dollars which will contribute greatly to agriculture and to the economic prosperity of Israel.”