Mamram the renowned IDF (Zahal) computer unit is revealed during an interview with three soldiers that served in the unit throughout its history

Date: 03/10/2009, 12:49 PM     Author: Jonathan Urich

Mamram, the IDF (Zahal)’s Center of Computers and Information Systems, is part of Lotem, the Unit for Telecommunications and Information Technology, and is responsible for managing military software and computer infrastructure.

To understand the story of the mythological computing unit of the IDF (Zahal) I met with three key people who served throughout the unit’s last fifty years. Three of them left decades ago, however, they declare that their personal lives were shaped by their service in Mamram.

Menachem Landau arrived to Mamram in 1961, shortly after its establishment. Landau, one of the veteran computer experts, served in Mamram as head of the Fee Processing Department. When he was released from the army, Landau began his work in the Ministry of Defense where he has been for the last 40 years. Currently, he is director of the information center at the Ministry of Defense. Col. (res.) Itzhak Angel, commanded Mamram between 1984 and 1987. He currently serves as a member of the board of Bank Leumi Operation Administration. Col. (res.) Avi Kockba, commanded Mamram between 2002 and 2006, and currently serves as the CEO of an Israeli startup company.

Mamram was established in 1959 as part of the new computer unit in the IDF (Zahal). At that time it was part of a two unit division, CBS (Central Statistical Machinery) and Mamram itself. Menachem Landau remembers the Mamram of the sixties where they used huge IBM machines for statistics. The engine room was crowded with big machines that carried out various actions: punch card sorting, reporting, calculation and punching matches. During that time almost nobody new about the existence of such a unit, and a training body was created who guided immigrants from the Former Soviet Union who were mathematicians to integrate into the unit.

After the Yom Kippur War in 1973, the IDF (Zahal) realized that it was impossible to work without effective computer systems, and thereafter began significant developments. However, most of the computing systems were independent of each other.

Col. (res.) Angel became commander of the unit during the 80’s. During his tenure, the most important issue dealt with was the decentralization of computing, i.e many computers linked by communication networks for information processing.

During Angel’s tenure the IDF (Zahal) began to introduce personal computers for each unit. They also dealt with making strong computers for extreme terrain. At the time, the IDF (Zahal) commanders realized that even though computers do not shoot, they were weapons for all purposes.

Col. (res.) Kokbha’s story did not happen long ago. Mamram entered the new millennium under significant threats. The IDF (Zahal) wanted to unite the Mamram unit to another unit in the Telecommunication’s Branch. During this trial, efforts were being made to minimize the unit’s activites and replace its name. At the end of the trial, prior to 2006, the telecom commanders retained the name of the unit.

These years were also characterized by deepening the dialogue in the computing area. Challenges such as bringing information from central computers to commands, brigades and divisions had to be dealt with during military exercises.

The Secret of Mamram

Many have tried to crack the secret formula of Mamram. How can they manage to get their soldiers to be leaders of the Israeli high-tech world? Graduates of Mamram become really important in the future in the private sector and academic community. Menachem Landau believes that the success is the fact that the unit was free of military discipline. Soldiers at the time were arrogant and not particularly respected military discipline. This did not always act in their favor, but the results provided a job well done in the end.

Mamram has been able to produce excellent graduates that learn management skills and professionalism. That is why, along the years, the name Mamram has been kept because it represents something important. For the civilian market, graduates from Mamram are jewels, it is an honor to serve in such a unit. For Col. (res.) Kokbha, the success of the transition between the Mamram of the eighties and nineties were characterized by the technological systems, especially the transition from large to small systems. Storage became smaller and more accessible, and more was devoted to training personnel in this task.

This approach led to the professionalism of Mamram. The quality of work with immigrants is unprecedented according to Kokbha. Mamram is effective because it is the central nod of data communications, everyone needs it.