Singapore PM to arrive in Israel for historic visit

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong will arrive on a historic visit to Israel on Monday, marking the first time trip of a leader of the Asian country to Israel since formal diplomatic relations were established between the two nations in 1969.

Lee will be accompanied by a 60-member delegation, including his foreign minister and other leading ministers, the Government Press Office said in an announcement.

The delegation will be welcomed at a reception at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, where Lee will receive an honorary doctorate.

He will also visit the flashpoint Temple Mount holy site in Jerusalem’s Old City, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and Jaffa.

He will meet with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, opposition leader Isaac Herzog, President Reuven Rivlin and former president Shimon Peres before travelling to Ramallah to meet with Palestinian leaders.

The Prime Minister’s Office announced the landmark visit less than a day before the Singaporean prime minister’s arrival.

Security cooperation between the two countries dates back over a half a century and has been traditionally close and the Israeli military actually helped to establish Singapore’s armed forces.

While the security ties between Israel and Singapore were long kept secret, in 2000, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore’s founding father and its first prime minister published a book in which he detailed how the Israel Defense Forces established the Singaporean army.

Lee wrote, “To disguise their presence, we called them `Mexicans.’ They looked swarthy enough.”

Singapore’s army is today considered the strongest and most advanced of the military forces in Southeast Asia.

According to international reports, Singapore is one of Israel’s biggest clients in military hardware and a 2010 report in Defense News claimed that Singapore was poised to purchase Israel’s Iron Dome missile defense system.

Singapore’s air force maintains a squadron of Hermes 450 unmanned aerial vehicles manufactured by the Israeli firm Elbit and an additional squadron of Heron UAVs, manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries.