The Israeli aircraft that was flying over Singapore’s airspace recently was conducting a “commercial product demonstration”, said defence technology firm ST Engineering in response to speculation online that the flight was done for “intelligence purposes”.
According to a report by TODAY on Thursday (27 May), a spokesperson for the firm told the paper that the Boeing 737-400 aircraft operated out of the firm’s aerospace facilities in Paya Lebar.
However, TODAY reported that ST Engineering did not provide details on the nature of the commercial product demonstration of what the aircraft was carrying.
Clarifying that the demonstration was only conducted within Singapore’s airspace and territorial waters, the firm said that the demonstration is complete and preparations are being made for the aircraft to depart the country.
On Tuesday (25 May), Malaysia news outlet MalaysiaNow reported that the four-hour flight of the aircraft belonging to an Israeli defence firm in Singapore could “trigger tension between the city-state and neighbouring Muslim countries amid renewed anti-Israeli sentiments worldwide”.
The online news outlet cited Defence Security Asia, a defence news journal, which had reported that the aircraft bearing the registration number 4X-AOO belonged to a major defence contractor from Tel Aviv that specialises in intelligence, Israel Aerospace Industries-Elta (IAI-Elta).
The journal reportedly noted the possibility that the aircraft could carry sensitive radar and reconnaissance equipment, or that it might be “testing a new system”, adding that the aircraft is known as a test-bed aircraft.
Additionally, MalaysiaNow had also highlighted that the journal had quoted a source saying that the aircraft was used for “maritime patrol signal intelligence, image intelligence using synthetic aperture radar, Aircraft Early Warning and Flight Guard”. This is in addition to the missile defence systems for commercial planes.
The move of this demonstration flight was then linked by the news outlet to the announcement of the Malaysian government that it was on alert for a possible attack by Israeli agents targeting officials from the Palestinian resistance group, Hamas, who are said to be residing in Malaysia.
Malaysia’s Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin had said, “The police, along with other security agencies, have stepped up security control in all aspects to defend public order and the safety of Malaysians, including Palestinians in this country.”
Escalating attacks by the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF) on civilians and critical infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank — the remaining vestiges of Palestinian land after 73 years — have reignited worldwide anger and sparked protests in multiple cities worldwide despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
Between 10 May to 20 May, at least 232 Palestinians including 65 children have been killed in Gaza alone since the attacks began, Al Jazeera reported the Gaza Health Ministry as saying.
Approximately 1,900 Palestinians were injured during the same period. 75,000 of them living in Gaza have been displaced from their homes as over 500 homes were destroyed.
In the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, 24 were killed — three of them children — while 4,824 were injured between 10 May to 19 May.
In Israel, twelve people, including two children, had died between 10 May to 20 May, while at least 300 Israelis had been wounded in the same period.
Even international media offices have become a target of the IDF’s airstrikes, as the building that housed the Al Jazeera and the Associated Press (AP) bureau in Gaza were destroyed on 15 May after occupants were given only an hour to evacuate.
The Israel security cabinet and Hamas last week agreed on a ceasefire. However, just hours after the truce, Israeli settlers were seen entering the compound of Al-Aqsa Mosque after Friday prayers, flanked by Israeli police.
Al Jazeera reported that hardline Israeli settler groups have called on Jewish worshippers to do so, in line with their goal to rebuild the Third Jewish Temple on the grounds of the mosque. Under the status quo affirmed in 1967, however, only Muslims can pray within al-Haram al-Sharif.
Where Malaysia has no official diplomatic relations with Israel to speak of, Singapore established bilateral ties with the nation after its secession from Malaysia in 1965.
Singapore has built extensive rapport with Israel since then, particularly in terms of military capabilities.
In the early days of Singapore’s nationhood in 1965, Israel had offered the newly independent nation assistance in setting up a Defence Ministry and armed forces, said Dhevarajan Devadas, a former research assistant at the Institute of Policy Studies in a string of tweets on 11 May.
“The first batch of SAF Officers were trained by Israeli instructors & passed out in July 1967. Singapore also adopted the National Service conscription & reservist systems used in Israel,” the historian added.
Singapore-Israel ties to date remain strong, with Singapore becoming “one of Israel’s largest arms customers, procuring US$551 million worth of weaponry from 1999-2018”, Dhevarajan noted. Such deals are, however, “generally kept low-key”.
The city-state’s support for Israel is also reflected in its abstention from the United Nations General Assembly 2012 resolution to grant Palestine the status of an observer state.
Given this relationship, tensions with neighbouring countries have run high in the past such as in 1986 when Israeli President Chaim Herzog made a visit to Singapore, sparking protests in Malaysia and Indonesia.
However, a more recent visit by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in 2017 did not lead to the same degree of discord in the city-state.
Foreign Minister Vivian Balakrishnan in Jan 2018 told Parliament that while Singapore has been “a steadfast advocate of a negotiated two-state solution”, the Republic does not “take sides” in the “conflict”.
“Singapore remains a steadfast partner of the US, of Israel, and of the Palestinian people. Our longstanding bilateral relations with all countries are strong and multifaceted, and our shared interests far exceed the differences,” he added.
Dr Balakrishnan was responding to Member of Parliament Vikram Nair’s question on the reason behind Singapore’s vote in favour of a UN resolution on the status of Jerusalem, which indirectly criticised the US’ decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
The decision to vote in favour of the resolution on Jerusalem’s status was a surprise, given that Singapore has typically abstained from voting on UN resolutions on Israel.