In April 2016, Singapore’s Prime Minister embarked on a historic trip to Israel, marking the first time a Singaporean leader has visited the country in nearly half a century. On the surface, Singapore and Israel have little in common. Singapore is a majority Buddhist country in Southeast Asia; while, Israel is a majority Jewish country in the Middle East. And yet, the two share a very special diplomatic and military relationship; the details of which have, until recently, been a mystery. So, what is the history of their relationship and why do Israel and Singapore love each other?
Well, friendly relations between Israel and Singapore stem back to the late 1960’s. At the time, Singapore had declared independence from Malaysia, and was in the midst of creating a new military that could coexist with the country’s powerful neighbors. Israel was also a fairly new country surrounded by powerful adversaries. Seeing their similarities, Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Lee Kuan Yew , asked Israel to design and construct its military.* The two countries established formal relations in 1969; but, Singapore insisted that the military arrangement remain a secret, for fear that it would anger Malaysia and other Muslim neighbors.
In fact, the deal didn’t become public until 2000, when Yew disclosed the details in his autobiography. Today, Israel and Singapore’s military alliance remains the lifeblood of their relationship, as much of Singapore’s army directly mirrors the Israeli Defence Force. Both have disproportionately powerful militaries for their size and the two armies share identical systems for training, conscription, and reserve duty. Singapore is also one of the largest buyers of Israeli arms and military technology. That said, it’s no surprise that Israel and Singapore have secured first and second place on the Global Militarization Index every year since 2007.
This list ranks countries according to how much of their population, GDP, and resources are allocated to defense. But military aside, Israel and Singapore share a number of striking similarities. Both countries arose out of tensions over race and religion, which persist today. And both stand out as small, non-muslim countries in predominantly Muslim regions. Economically, Israel and Singapore both have highly developed free-market systems, and are known for innovations in technology. Both lack an abundance of natural resources, leaving their economies heavily reliant on trade.
Even their GDP’s are comparable, with both just over $300 billion dollars. What’s more, Israel and Singapore openly admire each other. During his inaugural visit, Singapore’s Prime Minister applauded Israel’s “technical prowess and ecosystem”, including the country’s advances in cyber security. Meanwhile, business leaders in Israel have lauded Singapore for leveraging Internet technology to advance their economy. So with long standing diplomatic relations and undeniable similarities, it seems that Singapore and Israel’s unlikely friendship is here to stay.
If you’re interested in learning more about Israel’s place in the world as an economic and military power, check out the video at the top. Or, to learn more about Singapore’s place on the international stage, check out our video at the bottom. Thanks for watching Seeker Daily! Make sure to subscribe for more videos every day.