Singapore Prime Minister makes historic visit to Israel

Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong met with Prime Minister Netanyahu in Jerusalem on Tuesday, the meeting historic as it is the first visit by a prime minister from Singapore to the State of Israel. Loong’s four-day visit to the Jewish State, along with a delegation of 60 including his wife Ho Ching, was centered on talks with Israeli officials, specifically in the areas of economy, security, increasing trade cooperation and cyberspace.

Loong last visited Israel in 1977 after Israel assisted Singapore in building its armed forces as Loong referred to as a period when “other countries turned us down.” Loong stated that “I am very happy that I can come again after all these years to thank you personally.”

Netanyahu addressed the historic meeting stating during a press conference, “I’m honored to be the first Israeli prime minister to welcome a prime minister of Singapore to our country. I think your arrival here reflects a coming of age of the relations between our two countries. There is a deep friendship between Israel and Singapore. We have so much in common. We are small nations that leave a very large imprint on the world scene.”

Netanyahu spoke of bilateral agreements and relations between Israel and Singapore. He stated that both nations have “built dynamic, prosperous economies, despite our small size and our limited natural resources,” adding that “The economic success of Singapore, I think, inspires the entire world. The transformation of Israel to a technological powerhouse on the global scene, I think, evokes a similar admiration. Innovation and entrepreneurship have allowed us both to punch well above our weight. We both understand that strong economies with a very powerful incentive for enterprise are the foundations of strong countries, and our cooperation with each other has made each of us even stronger.”

He spoke at length of Israel and Singapore’s strength and innovation as small nations, stating “Today we are anchors of stability and strength in our respective regions. And we are working together in many fields, diverse fields, including water management, biotechnology, and we’re going to talk on this visit about intensifying our cooperation in cyber security, and of course in many, many other fields.”

He spoke of the “common challenges” faced by both states, “foremost of which I think is the rampant terrorism that comes from militant and extreme ideologies that threaten us all.” He thanked the prime minister for his “swift and unequivocal condemnation of yesterday’s terrorist incident in Israel” referring to a explosive device detonated on a bus in Jerusalem on Tuesday, which left 21 injured.

Netanyahu spoke of how both Israel and Singapore “can better overcome our common challenges and seize our shared opportunities” as both “countries are hubs of innovation that look forward towards the future. And I believe that the future of the world belongs to those societies that 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,” adding that “This is your first visit to Israel. I hope it’s one of many, and again, I want to welcome you to Jerusalem in the warmest spirit of friendship.”

Speaking alongside the prime minister, Loong stated “I thank Prime Minister for your very warm welcome and express my deep pleasure at being the first Singapore prime minister to visit Israel. 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. … You have the highest number of scientists, technicians, technologists, and 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.”

Addressing cooperation and collaboration in research and universities, he stated “Our universities and research sectors have also strong collaborations, and there are many exchanges between our institutes.” Loong took to speaking of Israel and Singapore’s strong, historic ties, specifically during 1965 when Singapore gained its independence from Malaysia. He stated that the deep relationship with Israel began “with a defense relationship,” Loong stating that Singapore is “very grateful to Israel. When independence was thrust onto us in August 1965, and Singapore’s security and survival were in doubt, the IDF helped us to build up the Singapore Armed Forces when other countries turned us down.”

Referring to his last visit in 1977, he stated “It’s been a long time since I visited Israel. The last time was in 1977 as a young army officer accompanying our Chief of General Staff, who’s now our Ambassador here. And I’m very delighted to be here again. Yes, General Winston Chu, who has been, who has known Israel for many years. And I’m very happy to be back here again after all these many years to thank you personally and to thank Israel for your help and support over the years, and to see for myself developments in Israel, which we follow closely from a distance: your economic success, your technological progress and also developments in the Middle East.”

Loong stated that Singapore is “concerned about security issues. We are concerned about cyber security, which is an area of worry for many governments and societies. Also for terrorism, even the attack yesterday in Jerusalem, but the more fundamental issue which threatens many societies not with overturning civilization, but with raking death and destruction and harm in a way which can do a lot of damage.”

He addressed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying that Singapore is “concerned about this situation, as many countries around the world are. We wish Israel well. We are friends with both Israel and Palestine. We hope that you’ll be able to resume negotiations and make progress towards a just and durable solution to a long-standing and complex conflict, and we hope to see a two state solution with Israel and Palestine living side-by-side in peace and security one day.”

Loong spoke of his visit to the Hebrew University, where an agreement was signed with the university and “our national research foundation, as well as with our two universities in Singapore, to expand our research and development cooperation. And I am sure that as these individual projects and enterprises grow, so too our overall ties between the two countries and peoples will grow closer.”

He finished the press conference with a greeting before Passover which begins Friday. He said “as you gather with your families for the Passover, I’d like to wish everyone a blessed time over the Passover holidays.”

Israel and Singapore have held strong diplomatic relations since 1969. Trade between Israel and Singapore exceeds $1.35 billion, with numerous agreements in academia, business, security cooperation and technology.

This article originally appeared on Behold Israel, April 21, 2016.