In the first-ever visit by a Singaporean prime minister to Israel, the city-state’s current premier thanked Israel for “[helping] us and [standing] by us at our time of great need,” The Jerusalem Post reported on Monday.
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong made his remarks as he received an honorary doctorate at the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. The specific reference was to Israel’s assistance in the creation of the Singapore Armed Forces after the island nation unexpectedly achieved independence in August 1965. “We asked a number of countries, but only Israel responded to us, and it did so very promptly,” Lee explained. “Without the IDF, the SAF could not have grown its capabilities, deterred threats, defended our island, and reassured Singaporeans and investors that Singapore was secure and had a future.”
Lee was accompanied by his wife Ho Ching and a 60-person delegation, which included two government ministers.
Israel and Singapore established diplomatic ties in 1969, and the two have become significant trading partners since. Trade between the two nations reached $1.35 billion in 2015, which was greater than trade between Israel and most European Union nations individually.
In a Tuesday meeting, Lee and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu promised to “expand cyber defense cooperation and high-tech trade ties” between their two countries, DefenseNews reported. According to Israeli officials, bilateral defense cooperation has averaged $500 million over the past decade.
In addressing Lee, Netanyahu said that he was “honored” to welcome the first Singaporean leader to Israel. He highlighted similarities between Israel and Singapore:
Our countries are hubs of innovation that look forward towards the future. And I believe that the future of the world belongs who those societies who innovate. Added value comes from innovation, from technology. We can never justify the rising personal income of our people unless we continually add value to the products and services that they produce. And therefore innovation and technology are key to seizing the future. We are committed to seize it with you, and we think we can do a great deal in addition to what we were already doing.
Lee responded in kind, saying:
We have a long and deep relationship between Singapore and Israel. Our business-to-business ties are strong. Israel is the second largest contributor of foreign direct investments in Singapore from the Middle East, and we admire your technical prowess and ecosystem. You have the highest number of scientists, technicians, technologists, engineers per capita in the world. You have the third highest number of patents per capita, and I know that many Singaporean firms are interested in doing business with you, investing in Israel, as some have already done.
Our universities and research sectors have also strong collaborations, and there are many exchanges between our institutes. But really it all started with a defense relationship. We are very grateful to Israel that when independence was thrust upon us in August 1965 and when Singapore’s security and survival were in doubt, you helped us, the IDF helped us to build up the Singapore Armed Forces when other countries turned us down.
Lee noted that this was his second trip to Israel. He previously traveled to Israel in 1977 as an army officer, along with Singapore’s then-chief of staff, General Winston Chu, who is now Singapore’s ambassador to Israel.
Prime Minister Lee’s speech is embedded below.
[Photo: Haim Zach / GPO ]