Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his wife Sara on their way to Singapore.
(photo credit: CHAIM ZACH / GPO)
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s visits to Singapore and Australia are nothing less than historic. Though both Singapore and Australia have maintained excellent relations with the Jewish state for decades, never before has an Israeli prime minister made an official visit to either. Finally a longstanding oversight will be righted.
As noted by Sharyn Mittelman, senior policy analyst at the Australia/Israel & Jewish Affairs Council in a June 2016 oped in The Jerusalem Post, ties with Singapore go back to the mid-1960s, when Israel reportedly provided crucial military support to the country under its founder, Lee Kuan Yew, to defend itself after it left the Federation of Malaysia. Strong military ties reportedly continue to this day with Lee’s son, Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong.
During a visit to Israel in April – the first by a Singapore prime minister – Lee acknowledged Israel’s part in supporting his country.
“Without the IDF, the Singapore military could not have grown its capabilities, deterred threats, defended our island and reassured Singaporeans and investors that Singapore was secure and had a future.”
According to foreign reports, Israel continues to sell Singapore military hardware including radars and drones.
Annual trade between the two countries is about $1.4 billion. And Israel is the second-largest investor in Singapore from the Middle East.
Israel’s economic ties with Australia are also well developed, with annual trade reaching $1.1b. The two countries also maintain a close security relationship.
Both Israel and Australia are working to incorporate cyber capabilities into their military operations; both countries are located near important maritime oil and trade routes, which makes naval power an important component in their national defense, particularly undersea technologies such as unmanned subsurface vehicles; both have an interest in preventing the confrontations between China and the US over issues such as artificial islands in the South China Sea from deteriorating and hurting trade; both countries will integrate American F-35 aircraft into their militaries, which opens the way for collaboration on technological issues.
More needs to be done, however, to foster strategic dialogue between the countries; for example, frameworks need to be created to enable military-to-military communication.
As noted by in a 2016 paper by Dr. Anthony Bergin of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Prof. Efraim Inbar of the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, there should be military staff exchanges at each other’s defense colleges in which IDF officers visit Australia and Australian military personnel come to Israel.
There should be regular exchanges on the hi-tech side of military operations as well. Cooperation between Australia’s Defense Science and Technology Group and Israel’s Mafat – Administration for the Development of Weapons and Technological Infrastructure should be deepened.
This year sees the 100th anniversary of the World War I Battle of Beersheba, in which the Australian Light Horse Regiments helped overcome Ottoman forces and pave the way for the creation of the State of Israel.
As noted by Sharma Dave Sharma, Ambassador of Australia to Israel, in an interview with The Jerusalem Post's
diplomatic correspondent Herb Keinon on the eve of Netanyahu's visit, to this day Australia remains involved in the Middle East. Some 400 Australian troops train and mentor Iraqi forces and the Australian Air Force regularly participates in air raids on Islamic State targets.
An Australian general will soon take over command of the Multinational Force and Observers in Sinai, where Australia has a contingent of 25 soldiers. Australians also serve with UN missions on the Golan Heights and in southern Lebanon.
Yuval Rotem, director-general of the Foreign Ministry, who was once ambassador to Australia, said of relations between the countries, “When it comes to values we are you and you are us. While our countries might be separated by great oceans and continents, with the spirit that binds us we will always be neighbors and friends.”
Netanyahu’s visits to Singapore and Australia are long overdue. We hope they lead to closer cooperation, particularly on security issues. Asia’s importance to Israel as a market for its technologies and products grows daily. Fruitful relations with Singapore and Australia are important prerequisites for an increased Israeli presence there.