The Clandestine Role Israel Played in Establishing Singapore’s Army

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People bow as they pay their respects to the late former Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew in Singapore, March 22, 2015.Credit: Reuters

Former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, who died Monday at age 91, revealed in his autobiography that Israel had helped set up his country’s army.

In his 2000 book “From Third World to First: The Singapore Story,” Lee recalled that he had approached several nations asking for military advice, including India, Egypt and Britain, but it was Israel who responded.

Lee wrote that in November 1965, a group of Israeli soldiers arrived in Singapore under a veil of secrecy. “To disguise their presence, we called them ‘Mexicans.’ They looked swarthy enough,” wrote Lee.

The job of building Singapore’s army was given to Maj. Gen. Rehavam Ze’evi, and the military delegation was headed by then-Col. Yaakov Elazari. Several Israel Defense Forces officers labored over what became known as the Brown Book, dealing with combat doctrine, which was translated into English and sent to the Singaporean government for review. By the time a Singaporean delegation arrived in Israel in 1965, it had already outlined the process by which the IDF would set up the Singaporean army.

In an article by Amnon Barzilai, published in Haaretz in 2005, a member of the Israeli team, Yehuda Golan, said, “The delegation arrived in order to tell us: ‘Well done, but to implement the book, you are invited to come to Singapore.’”

n this July 29, 1964, file photo, Singapore's then- Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew addresses a crowd from a vehicle in Singapore.Credit: AP

Then Chief of Staff Yitzhak Rabin told the Israeli team that success would be if Singapore could eventually run its military on its own. “You are not arms merchants,” stressed Rabin, as Golan recalled. “When you recommend items to procure, use the purest professional military judgment. I want total disregard of their decision as to whether to buy here or elsewhere.”

Israel and Singapore maintain military ties to this day. Israel is considered one of the 10 leading arms exporters in the world, with Singapore reportedly one of its main customers. Israel sends a delegation ever year to the Singapore Airshow, where Israeli defense firms attempt to make weapons deals with Asian countries.

Trade officials estimated in the past that the assistance and advice Israel gave to Singapore’s military in the 1960s influenced the continued cooperation between the two countries, reflected primarily in the military and aviation fields. For example, in 2010 the journal Intelligence Online reported that Singapore was about to purchase an Iron Dome anti-missile system.

The Singapore Air Force, meanwhile, operates a squadron based on the Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles, manufactured by Elbit, and a squadron that operates the Heron UAVs, made by Israel Aerospace Industries.

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