Earth & Conservation

Why Do Israel And Singapore Love Each Other?

Until the year 2000, Israel and Singapore kept a deep, dark secret from the world. So what's behind Israel and Singapore's secret alliance?

Earlier this year, Singapore's Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made his first visit to Israel, highlighting an odd international friendship between the two countries that has endured for almost half a century.

As Lissette Padilla explains in today's Seeker Daily report, Israel and Singapore enjoy a unique diplomatic relationship that was, for many years, largely secret.

It all started in the late 1960s, when Singapore first declared independence from Malaysia. Looking for a way to build a military that could compete with its powerful neighbors, Singapore asked Israel for guidance.

Singapore's first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew, got some guidance, all right. Israel essentially built Singapore's military from scratch, designing the defense infrastructure and supplying the new country with arms. In 1969, the countries established formal relations, but the military arrangement was kept a secret -- Singapore feared the alliance would rattle Malaysia and other Muslim neighbors. In fact, the deal was kept secret until 2000, when Yew disclosed the details in his autobiography.

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Today the two countries have virtually identical systems for conscription, training and reserve duty. Both nations have disproportionately large military forces relative to their population and continue to pour resources into defense. In fact, since 2007 Israel and Singapore have placed first and second each year on the Global Militarization Index.

The geopolitical basis of the relationship is rooted in the two countries' striking similarities. Each is a non-Muslim nation in a predominately Muslim region. (Singapore is majority Buddhist.) Both countries have similar populations numbers and free-market systems with an emphasis on the technology sector. Even their GDPs are similar, each tallying just over $300 billion.

In short, Singapore and Israel have a lot in common and indications suggest they will continue to work together. As part of the recent visit, officials agreed to significantly expand existing research and collaboration efforts.

Anyway, their scientists are already used to hanging out: Since 1997, the Singapore-Israel Industrial Research & Development Foundation has provided $170 million in funding for about 150 projects worldwide.

-- Glenn McDonald

Read More:

The Diplomat: Singapore Boosts Ties With Israel in Historic Visit

Haaretz: A Deep, Dark, Secret Love Affair

Israel Ministry of Economy and Industry: Israel and Singapore: A mysterious historical bond

BBC: Singapore profile-Timeline