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A Paris-based online magazine covering intelligence and security issues this week called Singapore one of the most important customers of Israel’s defense industry, laying bare the active, though secret, relationship between Israel and Singapore that began more than 40 years ago – a statement that comes after years in which Israel censored all local articles on the subject.
Intelligence Online, which is published in English on a bimonthly basis, states that the Southeast Asian island state helped finance the Iron Dome system designed by Israel’s Rafael Advanced Defense Systems to intercept short-range missiles and rockets, in exchange for which it is supposed to receive several Iron Dome systems to deploy on its territory.
Even more interesting is the possibility the article raises that Iron Dome was designed first and foremost for the benefit of Singapore – not for the protection of Sderot and the southern communities in Israel that suffered from Qassam rocket attacks and mortar fire for seven years and are still suffering (though Iron Dome is not capable of intercepting mortar shells).
Israeli media have previously hinted at this, but the Defense Ministry has vehemently denied it.
The suspicions were bolstered by the fact that after the system was developed and one battery had been deployed as an Israel Defense Forces base, it turned out that the Defense Ministry had no budget for additional batteries. In that case, why was there a need to develop a system for which there is no budget and which the IDF does not intend to deploy?
According to Intelligence Online, which focuses on arms transactions between countries and corporations and on appointments of intelligence personnel and their clandestine activity, the Iron Dome transaction is the latest between Israel and Singapore.
The Web site, whose articles are available only to paid subscribers, has thousands of readers, including Israelis.
Iron Dome, which its developers said was tested successfully a few months ago, as Israeli media have previously reported, cost roughly $250 million to develop.
One battery, whose production cost is about $50 million, has already been deployed at a base in the south of the country, but so far has not been readied for operational purposes and has not yet been activated.
The anti-aircraft division of the Israel Air Force, which is responsible for operating Iron Dome, is training teams at a base in the north.
They will be operating the system in Israel, with the aim of intercepting Qassam and Katyusha rockets up to a distance of 40 kilometers.
Vulcan-Phalanx: cheaper and more accessible
Intelligence Online also repeats an argument published in recent years in Israel to the effect that if the Defense Ministry had really wanted to protect the residents of the south quickly and cheaply, it could have acquired a cheaper and more accessible defense system than Iron Dome: the batteries of the Vulcan-Phalanx cannon system manufactured by Raytheon.
The land-based version of the batteries, called Centurion, are deployed in Afghanistan and Iraq, where they are used to protect American and NATO forces.
Although Defense Minister Ehud Barak has told Haaretz several times that Israel will acquire the Vulcan-Phalanx system, that has yet to happen.
In other words, the Defense Ministry may have given Rafael a development budget as a way of positioning the project as an Israeli military system that is ostensibly being used by the IDF but is really aimed at improving Israel’s chances of selling it to Singapore and other countries.
Small country, hostile population
The cooperation between Israel and Singapore rests on the two small countries’ shared sense of being under threat, since both are surrounded by a hostile Muslim population and want advanced weapons systems to maintain a qualitative advantage over their neighbors.
The Intelligence Online article argues that the fight against fundamentalist Islamic terror over the past decade has increased the cooperation between the two countries, as well as their sense of a shared destiny. In recent years, Singapore has confronted threats by Jemaah Islamiyah, a terrorist group that operates in Southeast Asia.
The island state, a neighbor of Indonesia and Malaysia, has arrested dozens of the group’s operatives and exposed plans to attack the Israeli, American and Australian embassies, along with ships from those countries. One of Singapore’s main sources of income is the Port of Singapore, which claims to be the busiest port in the world.
According to the article, immediately after Singapore declared its independence in 1965 it asked Israel to help it establish an army. IDF officers including Rehavam Ze’evi (who became a right-wing cabinet member assassinated in 2001) and Benjamin Ben-Eliezer (now the industry, trade and labor minister) were sent to Singapore to head large delegations of military advisers, and helped build the army on the model of the IDF. Israeli military representatives have been active since then at the Israeli Embassy in Singapore, which was opened in 1969.
One of the issues the IDF representatives deal with is promoting large arms deals. Transactions mentioned in the article include Singapore’s purchase of Barak surface-to-air missiles manufactured by Israel Aerospace Industries and Israel’s upgrading of fighter planes belonging to Singapore’s air force.
In addition, Rafael supplied drones for naval missions and Israel’s Elbit Systems supplied its Hermes drone.