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Adeep,dark,secretloveaffair
AteamofIDFofficers,knownasthe`Mexicans,'helpedSingaporeestablishanarmy.Itwasthestartofaveryspecial
relationship.
ByAmnonBarzilaiJul.16,2004|12:00AM

ChristmasEve,1965,istheunofficialdateofthestartofthegreatandcontinuinglovestorybetweenIsraelandSingapore,aloveaffairthatwas
keptadeep,darksecret.Theinternationalpress,liketheIsraelimedia,triedtobringthetaletolight.Occasionally,scrapsofinformationleaked
outsomewerepublished,someweredenied,manyweredisregarded.TheIsraelis,asusual,wantedtorushtotellalltheirfriends,butmanaged
toovercomethatdesire.Thefearthatthethieswouldbeterminatediftheybecamepublicknowledgehaditseffect.Israelimposedatotal
blackoutonthestoryandthesecretwaspreserved.Untiltheothersidecouldnolongercontainitself.
Inhisbook,"FromThirdWorldtoFirst:TheSingaporeStory19652000,"publishedin2000,LeeKuanYew,Singapore'sfoundingfatherand
itsfirstprimeminister,disclosedthesecretthathadbeenkeptforalmost40years:ItwastheIsraelDefenseForcesthatestablishedthe
Singaporeanarmy.TheIsraelimilitarymissionwasheadedbyYaakov(Jack)Elazari,thenacolonel,whowaslaterpromotedtobrigadier
general.Afterleavingthearmy,hebecameaconsultanttotheSingaporeanarmy.Hedied15yearsago."Todisguisetheirpresence,wecalled
them`Mexicans.'Theylookedswarthyenough,"Leewrote.
Singapore'sarmyistodayconsideredthestrongestandmostadvancedofthemilitaryforcesinSoutheastAsia.ThealliancebetweentheIsraeli
andSingaporeandefenseestablishmentsintensifiedandexpanded,anditnowencompassescooperationbetweenthetwocountries'military
industries,aswell.Thescopeofthedeals,accordingtoforeignsources,indicatesthattheSingaporeanarmyisoneofthemajorclientsofIsraeli
combatmeansandmilitarytechnology.Singapore'saircraftindustryiscooperatingwithitsIsraelicounterpartandwithElbitSystemsin
upgradingtheF5warplanesoftheTurkishAirForce.Afewyearsago,Singapore'sdefenseministerrevealedthattheGilantitankmissile,which
ismanufacturedbyRaphael(IsraelArmamentsDevelopmentAuthority),wasdevelopedincooperationbetweenthetwocountries.
SurroundedbyMuslims
Leeexplainedtheneedtomaintainsecrecytohisclosefriendintheleadership,andthefirstdefenseministerinhisgovernment,Dr.GohKeng
Swee."Wehavetoensure,asfaraspossible,thatthearrivaloftheIsraeliswillnotbecomepublicknowledge,inordernottoarouseopposition
amongtheMalayMuslimswholiveinMalaysiaandSingapore,"theprimeministersummedup.That,inessence,isSingapore'sproblem.The
residentsofthesmallisland,whichhasanareaofabout670squarekilometers(Israelis30timesaslarge),aremainlyChinese,andtheylive
betweenthetwoMuslimcountriesofMalaysiaandIndonesia.LifeintheshadowofthelargeMuslimmajorityandfearofaMalaysianincursion
areanintegralpartofthehistoryofthetwocountries.Until1965,SingaporewaspartofMalaysia.Inthatyear,theBritishgovernmentdecided
towithdrawfromallitscolonieseastoftheSuezCanal.InarapidprocessitwasdecidedtoseverSingaporefromMalaysiaandtoestablishitasa
newandseparatecountry.
SingaporedeclareditsindependenceonAugust9,1965.Atthetimeofitscreation,ithadonlytwoinfantryregiments,whichhadbeen
establishedandwerecommandedbyBritishofficers.TwothirdsofthesoldierswerenotresidentsofSingapore,andinanyeventtheleadersof
thenascentstatehadnofaithinthestrengthoftheminusculearmy.Thedefenseminister,Goh,contactedMordechaiKidron,theformerIsraeli
ambassadortoThailand,andaskedforassistance.KidronarrivedinSingaporewithindays,alongwithHeziCarmeloftheMossad."Gohtoldus
thattheythinkthatonlyIsrael,asmallcountrysurroundedbyMuslimcountries,withastrongarmy,couldhelpthembuildasmall,dynamic
army,"Carmelsays.ThetwoIsraelismetwithLee,whowritesthathe"toldKengSweetoputitonholduntilLalBahadurShastri,theprime
ministerofIndia,andPresidentNasserofEgyptrepliedtomylettersseekingtheirurgenthelptobuildupourarmedforces."
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It'snotclearwhetherLee,infact,believedIndiaandEgyptwerecapableof,orinterestedin,buildingupSingapore'sarmy.ManyIsraelisbelieve
thetwoleaderswereapproachedonlyforappearance'ssake.Afterafewweeksofwaiting,IndiaandEgyptcongratulatedSingaporeonits
independencebutdidnotoffermilitaryaid.LeeorderedGohtopushaheadincontactswiththeIsraelis.
Atthesametime,inthewakeofreportssentbyKidronandCarmel,theIsraelidefenseestablishmentdeployedtosupplymilitaryaidto
Singapore.Indiscussionsconductedbythechiefofstaff,YitzhakRabin,withtheparticipationofthedeputychiefofstaffandheadofthe
OperationsBranch,EzerWeizmann,itwasdecidedtomakeMajorGeneralRehavamZe'evi,whowasthendeputyheadoftheOperationsBranch,
responsibleforbuildingtheSingaporeanarmy.Ze'evi(nicknamed"Gandhi")paidasecretvisittoSingaporeandthepreparatoryworkbeganon
hisreturn."GandhisaidhewantedtocreateanidealarmyforSingapore,somethingwehadn'tbuilthere,"Carmelsays."Insteadofsettingupa
DefenseMinistryandaGeneralStaff,Gandhisuggestedanintegratedorganization,amoreeconomicalstructure.Sotherewouldn'tbetoomany
generalsandtoofewsoldiers."
Ze'eviappointedElazari,whoworkedunderhimintheOperationsBranch,asheadoftheteamheestablished.LieutenantColonelYehudaGolan,
thencommanderofanarmoreddivision(heretiredfromtheIDFwiththerankofbrigadiergeneral),wassubsequentlyaddedtotheteam.Some
membersoftheteam"concentratedonwritingthechaptersthatdealtwithbuildingarmybases.Iwrotethechaptersdealingwiththe
establishmentofaninfantry,"Golansays.Initiallytheyproducedthe"BrownBook,"dealingwithcombatdoctrine,followedbythe"BlueBook,"
dealingwiththecreationoftheDefenseMinistryandintelligencebodies.TheBrownBookwastranslatedintoEnglishandsenttoSingapore's
governmentforitsperusal.InOctober1965,amilitarydelegationfromSingaporearrivedinIsrael.
"Thedelegationarrivedinordertotellus:`Welldone,buttoimplementthebook,youareinvitedtocometoSingapore,'"Golanrecalls.Priorto
settingout,themembersofthemilitarymissionwereinvitedtothechiefofstaff'sbureau."Dearfriends,"Rabinsaid,"Iwantyoutoremember
severalthings.One,wearenotgoingtoturnSingaporeintoanIsraelicolony.Yourtaskistoteachthemthemilitaryprofession,toputthemon
theirlegssotheycanruntheirownarmy.Yoursuccesswillbeifatacertainstagetheywillbeabletotakethewheelandrunthearmyby
themselves.Second,youarenotgoingthereinordertocommandthembuttoadvisethem.Andthird,youarenotarmsmerchants.Whenyou
recommenditemstoprocure,usethepurestprofessionalmilitaryjudgment.Iwanttotaldisregardoftheirdecisionastowhethertobuyhereor
elsewhere."
Wakeupat5:30
OnDecember24,1965,aboutfivemonthsafterSingaporebecameanindependentstate,sixIDFofficersandtheirfamiliessetoutonan
unknownmission."ElazariandtwootherofficersdealtwiththeestablishmentoftheDefenseMinistry,"Golanrelates."Mytask,alongwiththree
otherofficers,wastoestablishthearmy."
Elazarioperatedaccordingtoanumberofbasicprinciples,fromwhichtheoriginalIsraeliteamandthosewhofolloweddidnotdeviate.Thefirst
wastobuildupacadreoflocalcommandersandinstructors.Thesecondwasthattheinstructionalmaterialwouldbewrittenbythecadetswho
wouldbetrainedasofficers.AndthethirdwasthatpracticaltrainingwouldbeconductedbySingaporeaninstructors.
"Wewantedtorecruitagroupof4050peoplewhohadsomesortofmilitaryexperienceandwouldbereadytoserveinacareerarmy,"Golan
explains."Weorganizedthingssothattheywouldappointoneoftheirnumbertoserveascommander.Asheadofthegroup,thecadetschose
someoneofIndianoriginnamedKirpaRamVij,whowouldeventuallybecomechiefofstaffoftheSingaporeArmedForces.Forthreemonthswe
gaveanintensifiedofficerscourse."
ThefirstcoursehadanIDFformat:wakeupat5:30A.M.,calisthenics,personalarrangements,parade.Trainingbeganat7:30A.M.andwent
until1A.M."Afterafewdaysoftrainingagroupofcadetsshowedupandsaid,`ColonelGolan,theArabsaren'tsittingonourheadshere.What
doweneedthismadnessfor?'IcalledElazariandexplainedthesituation.HearrivedafewdayslaterwithDefenseMinisterDr.Goh,whotold
thecadets,`DowhatColonelGolantellsyoutodo,otherwiseyouwilldodouble.'"
Paralleltoconductingthecourse,theIsraeliteamsupervisedtheestablishmentofthefirstmilitarybase,basedonplansoftheIsraeli
EngineeringCorps.Constructionofthebasewascompletedinthreemonths.
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Inunderayear,theIsraeliteamconductedacoursefornewrecruits,aplatooncommanderscourseandanofficerscourse,onthebasisofplans
thatweresentfromIsrael.Alltold,about200commandersweretrained.
Joblessinsteadofsoldiers
Oncethestaffofcommanderswasready,itwaspossibletostartcreatingthestandingarmyonthebasisofconscription.TheIsraelispreparedto
establishtwomoreinfantryregiments,accordingtotheIDFmodel,witheachregimentconsistingofthreecompaniesofriflemen,anauxiliary
companyandanadministrativecompanyatotalof600soldiers.LieutenantColonelMosheShefi,whowasaninstructorinacompany
commanderscourse,wassentasanadviser."WediscoveredthattherewaspsychologicalresistancetoconscriptioninSingapore,"herelates."Of
10professions,thatofsoldierwasrankedlast.Infirstplacewastheartist,followedbythephilosopher,theteacherandthemerchant,andthe
thiefwasinninthplace.Soldieringwasconsideredacontemptibleprofession.InSingapore,conscriptionwasconsideredameanstoovercome
unemployment."
TheIsraelisfacedaproblem.Toevadeservice,mostoftheyoungmenofdraftage(1824)whowereofChineseoriginfurnishedproofthatthey
wereemployed.Some70percentoftheinducteeswereunemployedandofMalaysianorigintheoppositeoftheirproportionwithinthe
population.ElazariandGolancomplainedtoLeeandGoh,buttheprimeministerwasundeterred."Iwantyoutorecruitthemostprimitive
peopleinthecountry,theuneducatedandthejobless,"hetoldthem.Stunned,theIsraelistriedtopersuadehimtoreconsider,buthewas
adamant:"IntheSecondWorldWar,IsawtheJapaneseandtheBritish.AlltheBritishsoldierswereintelligentandeducated.Butassoldiers
theywereworthless.ThemostprimitiveJapanesesoldiergetsanorderandexecutesit,andtheywereextraordinarysoldiers.Thefactisthatthe
JapanesearmydefeatedtheBritisharmy."
Golansays,"YaakovandItriedtoexplaintohimthatit'snotaquestionofeducationbutofmotivation.TheJapanesesoldierwasmotivated
becausehewasfightingforhisemperor,whoforhimwasGod.Forhim,hewasreadytosacrificehislife.WhatmotivationdidtheBritishsoldier
have,whofoughtthousandsofkilometersfromhishome?"Theexplanationsaboutthespiritofcombatandabouthowtogeneratemotivation
persuadedLee.
Alongwiththetwotracksofcompulsoryserviceandcareerarmy,SingaporealsoadoptedtheIDF'smodelofreserveservice.Everysoldierwho
completedhisregularservicewasobligatedtoserveanother13years,untiltheageof33.Asystemtomobilizethereserveswasestablishedand
theDefenseMinistrycarriedoutsurprisecallupexercises.Becauseofitssmallsizeanditslackofareasforlivefiretraining,Singaporehadto
establishtrainingbasesinfriendlyneighboringcountries.
Surprisetanks
TheunquietinSingapore,andaboveallthefearofaninvasionbyMalayforces,togetherwiththerapiddevelopmentoftheSingaporeanarmy,
generatedadditionalneeds.Withthecreationoftheinfantry,theIsraeliteammadeanindepthstudyofthebattlesfoughtbytheJapanesein
SoutheastAsiaduringWorldWarIIandofhowtheysucceededininvadingMalaysiaandSingapore.Shefiwasgiventhetaskofdeliveringatalk
onthesubjecttoSingapore'sgovernment.
OnthebasisofthelessonstheIsraelisdrewfromtheengagementsfoughtbyJapanandBritain,theycreatedanavalforcebasedonsampans.
"Theboatsweremadeofwoodandcouldcarry10to15soldiers,andtheywereappropriatefortheconditionsoftheseaandforthejungle
rivers,"Golansays."Onastormyseatheycanbeoperatedwithoarsoramotor.WeaskedtheSingaporeanstopurchase20boatsandwesetupa
smallbasewhereinfantrycompaniestrainedinraidsandnavigation."
RetiredColonelAsherDarsays,"ThesecondteamthatarrivedinSingaporeappliedwhatYehudaGolandidintheformofcombatdoctrine.We
trainedinflankingmaneuverswithsmallboatsandinlivefireusingartillery.Whentheheadofthetrainingdepartment,YitzhakHofi,visited
Singapore,wecarriedoutamodellandingofaninfantrybrigadethatsetsailinboatsatnightatadistanceof12kilometerswiththeaidofshore
navigationonly."
ThewaitingperiodinIsraelontheeveofthe1967SixDayWarwasaroughtimefortheIsraeliteaminSingapore."WewererelievedtheIsraelis
werenotdefeatedorourSAF[SingaporeArmedForces]wouldhavelostconfidence"intheIsraeliinstructors,Leewrites.InJanuary1968,
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Singaporedecidedtocreateanarmoredcorps.Ingreatsecrecy,anagreementwassignedforthepurchaseof72AMX13lighttanksfromIDF
surplus.Itwasabolddecision:Malaysia,thecountry'slargeneighbor,didn'thavetanks.
OnIndependenceDay,August9,1969,amajorsurpriseawaitedtheinvitedguests,includingthedefenseministerofMalaysia:30tanksrolled
pastthereviewingstand."Ithadadramaticeffect,"Leewrites.Malaysiahadcauseforconcern.Itsdefenseministerrecommendedtohisguests
thattheytakestepstopersuadetheMalaysiangovernmentthatitsintentionswerenothostile.
InthewakeoftheIsraelivictoryin1967,theveilofsecrecyoverthetiesbetweenthetwocountrieswasliftedabit.TheSingaporedelegateatthe
UnitedNationsabstainedinavoteonaresolutioncondemningIsraelthatwassponsoredbytheArabstates.Contactsbegantoestablishfull
diplomaticrelations.InOctober1968,LeepermittedIsraeltoestablishatrademissionandinMay1969authorizationwasgivenforthe
establishmentofanIsraeliembassyinSingapore.ThestatusoftheIsraelimilitarymissiontoSingaporewasalsostrengthened,andthemission
headswhofollowedheldbrigadiergeneralrank.ThefirstIsraelimilitarydelegationlaidthefoundationsforanextensivenetworkofrelations
betweenIsraelandSingapore.
Foundationsoftheairforce
ThesmallIsraeliteaminSingaporewasaugmentedbyprofessionalmilitaryadvisersforthevariouscorps.Thechiefarmoredcorpsofficer,
MajorGeneralAvrahamAdan,arrivedtogiveadviceonprocuringarmoredvehicles.In1968,AdamTzivoni,aretiredcolonelwhohadbeenhead
oftheplanningandweaponsbranchintheairforce,wasappointedadvisertotheSingaporeArmedForcesinregardtothecreationofanair
force.
"AscompensationforthehastydepartureoftheBritisharmy,theBritishgovernmentgaveSingaporeagrantof50millionpoundstoacquire
Britishmadeaerialsystems:planes,helicoptersandsurfacetoairmissiles,"Tzivonirelates."TheBritishdidn'tlikemeatall.Myfirsttaskwasto
approvethedeals.ItturnedoutthattheEnglishtriedtosellSingaporejunk.ApartfromadealforHunters,Ivetoedallthedeals."
UnderTzivoni'ssupervision,aflightschoolwasestablishedinSingapore,aswellasatechnicalschool,asquadronofAlouette3helicopterswas
purchasedand40mmantiaircraftgunswereacquired.
UzisandIsraelimarchingsongs
AfterthecreationoftheSingaporeanarmy'sinfantryregiments,thequestionaroseofwhatweaponsthenascentarmedforceswoulduse.The
commandingofficerswantedtheUzi,theIsraelisubmachinegun.TheIsraeliteamtookanobjectiveviewandrejectedtheidea.True,theUziwas
consideredasuperbweaponinthe1960s,butonlyforshortranges.Aregulararmyneedsanassaultrifle,theIsraeliteamasserted.
RepresentativesofIsraelMilitaryIndustriesexertedpressureontheDefenseMinistrytosellthenewGalilassaultrifle.However,theteam
decidedthattheriflewasn'tyetfullreadyandrecommendedtheAmericanM16.
AnothermajorheadachefortheIsraelisconcernedthedecisionaboutwhichmortarstoprocureforthenewarmy.Infantryregimentsare
equippedwith6052mmand18mmmortars.Theweapons,whichweredevelopedandmanufacturedbytheSoltamcompany,basedinthe
townofYokne'am,weresoldtotheIsraelDefenseForcesandexportedworldwide."Eventhoughwethoughtthesewerethebestmortars,we
decidednottorecommendthembuttomakeuseofanindependentsourceinordertoreachadecision,"saysYehudaGolan,amemberofthe
teamsenttoSingapore.
TheIsraeliteamaskedaBritishfirmthatdealtinorganizationandconsultationonmilitarysubjectstoexamineaseriesofmortarsand
recommendthebestone.Thereportstatedthatthebestofthelotwasan18mmmortarmanufacturedinBritain.However,consideringthe
price,therecommendationwastobuytheSoltamproduct.TheSingaporeArmedForcesacquiredtheIsraelimortar.
"TheIsraelisemphasizedmilitaryskillsandhighmotivation.Smartnessonparadeandmilitarytattoo,theSAF[SingaporeArmedForces]never
learnedfromthe`Mexicans.'WhateversmartnesstheSAFhad"derivedfromtheBritishofficerswhocommandedthearmy'sfirsttwo
regiments,Leewrites.
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"OurmottowasthatwewouldnotstickournoseintowhattheSingaporeanscoulddothemselves,"Golannotes."Theywantedustoorganizethe
IndependenceDayparadeforthem.Wearguedthatastatemilitaryparadereflectsthecountry'smentalityanditshistory."TheSingaporeans
didn'tmakeanissueofit.However,theyhadaproblemthatdemandedanimmediatesolutionwhichmarchestoplayasthesoldiersmarchedin
unison.TheheadoftheIsraelimission,YaakovElazari,broughtnotesfromIsraelandtheSingaporearmystrodetoIsraelimarchingsongs.
Thejunglecombatmanual
TheSingaporeanstooktheIsraelisbysurprisewhentheyinsistedongettingacourseonjunglecombat.Singaporehasatinynaturaljungleofno
morethanfiveorsixsquarekilometers,buttheneighboringstateshavelargerjungles.YehudaGolan:"ItoldthemtheywererightbutthatI
wasn'ttherightguy,becauseIknewnothingaboutjungles."Nevertheless,theIsraeliteambegantofindouthowtocopewiththesubject.Itwas
decidedtosendtwoSingaporeofficersasguestsoftheMalaysianarmyforacourseonjunglecombat.
"Threemonthslater,thetwoofficersreturnedwiththeknowledgetheyacquiredinMalaysia,andwedecidedtoconductacourseinjungle
combat,"Golancontinues."Outofcuriosity,Idecidedtojoin.ItlookedverybaditwasclearthattheyhadtaughtthemBritishmethodsfrom
theSecondWorldWarperiod.Idecidedtotakeagroupof10officers.Weenteredthejungleandstartedtoengageinwargames.Wetrainedin
navigation,deployingforces,searchandassault.WewentthroughtheAmericantrainingmanualsoncombatinVietnam.Wedevelopedmethods
ofnightnavigation.Welearnedhowtofunctionwithafightingcompanyinthedenseundergrowth.Afterafewweeksoftraining,Iwrotethe
trainingmanualoftheSingaporeArmedForcesforjunglecombat."

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