INDIA DEFENCE CONSULTANTS
The Singapore Armed Forces
An IDC Analysis
When Singapore was separated from the Malayan Federation in 1963 and when the UK Armed Forces decided to leave the East in 1965, PM Lee Kuan Yew looked to India for help for its Armed Forces and Foreign Affairs. While in the latter field India helped Singapore it did not agree to help the Armed Forces, though later Lt Gen Mattew Thomas did go and become their Adviser in the 70s.
turned to Israel and later South Africa and modeled their Armed Forces on
the Swiss Compulsory Service . It now has a Defence Budget of almost $4.5b
for a population of nearly three million.
story of the success of Singapore's armed forces is linked with Lee Kuan
Yew and now his son Brig Gen Lee Sein Leong has taken over as the new
Prime Minister and Goh Chok Tong who steered Singapore after PM Lee, has
been made Senior Minister. Singapore is now very close to India for
military cooperation with the DRDO, Indian Navy and later this year will
exercise with the IAF. Opening of links with neighbouring countries will
pay rich dividends for India as Singapore is investing in India and its
economy has picked up.
Admiral Teo Che Hean tried to explain to all visiting Indian senior
officers that a benign strategic relation is essential for business to
thrive between two countries and India is well poised for this. The Navy
has made full use of ensuring its ships visit Singapore now that it has
financial powers to send ships for fuelling stops. The following
article by Amnon Barzilai tells us the story in some detail.
Deep, Dark, Secret Love Affair
team of IDF officers, known as the ‘Mexicans’, helped Singapore
establish an army. It was the start of a very special relationship.)
Eve, 1965, is the unofficial date of the start of the great and continuing
love story between Israel and Singapore, a love affair that was kept a
deep, dark secret. The international press, like the Israeli media, tried
to bring the tale to light. Occasionally, scraps of information leaked
out; some were published, some were denied, many were disregarded. The
Israelis, as usual, wanted to rush to tell all their friends, but managed
to overcome that desire. The fear that the ties would be terminated if
they became public knowledge had its effect. Israel imposed a total
blackout on the story and the secret was preserved. Until the other side
could no longer contain itself.
his book, "From Third World to First: The Singapore Story
1965-2000," published in 2000, Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore's founding
father and its first prime minister, disclosed the secret that had been
kept for almost 40 years: It was the Israel Defense Forces that
established the Singaporean army. The Israeli military mission washeaded
by Yaakov (Jack) Elazari, then a colonel, who was later promoted to
brigadier general. After leaving the army, he became a consultant to the
Singaporean army. He died 15 years ago. "To disguise their presence,
we called them `Mexicans.' They looked swarthy enough," Lee wrote.
army is today considered the strongest and most advanced of the military
forces in Southeast Asia. The alliance between the Israeli and Singaporean
defence establishments intensified and expanded, and it now encompasses
cooperation between the two countries' military industries, as well. The
scope of the deals, according to foreign sources, indicates that the
Singaporean army is one of the major clients of Israeli combat means and
military technology. Singapore's aircraft industry is cooperating with its
Israeli counterpart and with Elbit Systems in upgrading the F-5 warplanes
of the Turkish Air Force. A few years ago, Singapore's defence minister
revealed that the Gil antitank missile, which is manufactured by Raphael
(Israel Armaments Development Authority), was developed in cooperation
between the two countries.
explained the need to maintain secrecy to his close friend in the
leadership, and the first defence minister in his government, Dr. Goh Keng
Swee. "We have to ensure, as far as possible, that the arrival of the
Israelis will not become public knowledge, in order not to arouse
opposition among the Malay Muslims who live in Malaysia and
Singapore," the prime minister summed up. That, in essence, is
Singapore's problem. The residents of the small island, which has an area
of about 670 square kilometres (Israel is 30 times as large), are mainly
Chinese, and they live between the two Muslim countries of Malaysia and
Indonesia. Life in the shadow of the large Muslim majority and fear of a
Malaysian incursion are an integral part of the history of the two
countries. Until 1965, Singapore was part of Malaysia. In that year, the
British government decided to withdraw from all its colonies east of the
Suez Canal. In a rapid process it was decided to sever Singapore from
Malaysia and to establish it as a new and separate country.
declared its independence on August 9, 1965.At the time of its creation,
it had only two infantry regiments, which had been established and were
commanded by British officers. Two-thirds of the soldiers were not
residents of Singapore, and in any event the leaders of the nascent state
had no faith in the strength of the minuscule army. The defence minister,
Goh, contacted Mordechai Kidron, the former Israeli ambassador to
Thailand, and asked for assistance. Kidron arrived in Singapore within
days, along with Hezi Carmel of the Mossad. "Goh told us that they
think that only Israel, a small country surrounded by Muslim countries,
with a strong army, could help them build a small, dynamic army,"
Carmel says. The two Israelis met with Lee, who writes that he "told
Keng Swee to put it on hold until Lal Bahadur Shastri, the prime minister
of India, and President Nasser of Egypt replied to my letters seeking
their urgent help to build up our armed forces."
not clear whether Lee, in fact, believed India and Egypt were capable of,
or interested in, building up Singapore's army. Many Israelis believe the
two leaders were approached only for appearance's sake. After a few weeks
of waiting, India and Egypt congratulated Singapore on its independence
but did not offer military aid. Lee ordered Goh to push ahead in contacts
with the Israelis.
the same time, in the wake of reports sent by Kidron and Carmel, the
Israeli defence establishment deployed to supply military aid to
Singapore. In discussions conducted by the chief of staff, Yitzhak Rabin,
with the participation of the deputy chief of staff and head of the
Operations Branch, Ezer Weizmann, it was decided to make Major General
Rehavam Ze'evi, who was then deputy head of the Operations Branch,
responsible for building the Singaporean army. Ze'evi (nicknamed
"Gandhi" ) paid a secret visit to Singapore and the preparatory
work began on his return. "Gandhi said he wanted to create an ideal
army for Singapore, something we hadn't built here," Carmel says.
"Instead of setting up a Defence Ministry and a General Staff, Gandhi
suggested an integrated organization, a more economical structure. So
there wouldn't be too many generals and too few soldiers."
appointed Elazari, who worked under him in the Operations Branch, as head
of the team he established. Lieutenant Colonel Yehuda Golan,
then-commander of an armoured division (he retired from the IDF with the
rank of brigadier general), was subsequently added to the team. Some
members of the team "concentrated on writing the chapters that dealt
with building army bases. I wrote the chapters dealing with the
establishment of an infantry," Golan says. Initially they produced
the "Brown Book," dealing with combat doctrine, followed by the
"Blue Book," dealing with the creation of the Defence Ministry
and intelligence bodies. The Brown Book was translated into English and
sent to Singapore's government for its perusal. In October1965, a military
delegation from Singapore arrived in Israel.
delegation arrived in order to tell us: `Well done, but to implement the
book, you are invited to come to Singapore,'" Golan recalls. Prior to
setting out, the members of the military mission were invited to the chief
of staff's bureau. "Dear friends," Rabin said, "I want you
to remember several things. One, we are not going to turn Singapore into
an Israeli colony. Your task is to teach them the military profession, to
put them on their legs so they can run their own army. Your success will
be if at a certain stage they will be able to take the wheel and run the
army by themselves. Second, you are not going there in order to command
them but to advise them. And third, you are not arms merchants. When you
recommend items to procure, use the purest professional military judgment.
I want total disregard of their decision as to whether to buy here or
At 5:30 A.M.
December 24, 1965, about five months after Singapore became an independent
state, six IDF officers and their families set out on an unknown mission.
"Elazari and two other officers dealt with the establishment of the
Defence Ministry," Golan relates.
operated according to a number of basic principles, from which the
original Israeli team and those who followed did not deviate. The first
was to build up a cadre of local commanders and instructors. The second
was that the instructional material would be written by the cadets who
would be trained as officers. And the third was that
practical training would be conducted by Singaporean instructors.
wanted to recruit a group of 40–50 people
who had some sort of military experience and would be ready to serve in a
career army," Golan explains. "We organized things so that they
would appoint one of their number to serve as commander. As head of the
group, the cadets chose someone of Indian origin named Kirpa Ram Vij, who
would eventually become chief of staff of the Singapore Armed Forces. For
three months we gave an intensified officers course."
first course had an IDF format: wake-up at 5:30 a.m., callisthenics,
personal arrangements, parade. Training began at 7:30 a.m. and went until
1 A.M. "After a few days of training a group of cadets showed up and
said, ‘Colonel Golan, the Arabs aren't sitting on our heads here. What
do we need this madness for?' I called Elazari and explained the
situation. He arrived a few days later with Defense Minister Dr. Goh, who
told the cadets, `Do what Colonel Golan tells you to do, otherwise you
will do double.” Parallel to conducting the course, the Israeli team
supervised the establishment of the first military base, based on plans of
the Israeli Engineering Corps. Construction of the base was completed in
three months. In under a year, the Israeli team conducted a course for new
recruits, a platoon commanders course and an officers course, on the basis
of plans that were sent from Israel. All told, about 200 commanders were
Instead Of Soldiers
the staff of commanders was ready, it was possible to start creating the
standing army on the basis of conscription. The Israelis prepared to
establish two more infantry regiments, according to the IDF model, with
each regiment consisting of three companies of riflemen, an auxiliary
company and an administrative company - a total of 600 soldiers.
Lieutenant Colonel Moshe Shefi, who was an instructor in a company
commanders course, was sent as an adviser. "We discovered that there
was psychological resistance to conscription in Singapore," he
relates. "Of 10 professions, that of soldier was ranked last. In
first place was the artist, followed by the philosopher, the teacher and
the merchant, and the thief was in ninth place. Soldiering was considered
a contemptible profession. In Singapore, conscription
Israelis faced a problem. To evade service, most of the young men of draft
age (18-24) who were of Chinese origin furnished proof that they were
employed. Some 70 percent of the inductees were unemployed and of
Malaysian origin - the opposite of their proportion within the population.
Elazari and Golan complained to Lee and Goh, but the prime minister was
undeterred. "I want you to recruit the most primitive people in the
country, the uneducated and the jobless," he told them.
the Israelis tried to persuade him to reconsider, but he was adamant:
"In the Second World War, I saw the Japanese and the British. All the
British soldiers were intelligent and educated. But as soldiers they were
worthless. The most primitive Japanese soldier gets an order and executes
it, and they were extraordinary soldiers.
says, "Yaakov and I tried to explain to him that it's not a question
of education but of motivation. The Japanese soldier was motivated because
he was fighting for his emperor, who for him was God. For him, he was
ready to sacrifice his life. What
with the two tracks of compulsory service and career army, Singapore also
adopted the IDF's model of reserve service. Every soldier who completed
his regular service was obligated to serve another 13 years, until the age
of 33. A system to mobilize there serves was established and the Defence
Ministry carried out
call-up exercises. Because of its small size and its lack of areas for
live-fire training, Singapore had to establish training bases in friendly
unquiet in Singapore, and above all the fear of an invasion by Malay
forces, together with the rapid development of the Singaporean army,
generated additional needs. With the creation of the infantry, the Israeli
team made an in-depth study of the battles fought by the Japanese in
Southeast Asia during World War II and of how they succeeded in invading
Malaysia and Singapore. Shefi was given the task of delivering a talk on
the subject to Singapore's government.
the basis of the lessons the Israelis drew from the engagements fought by
Japan and Britain, they created a naval force based on sampans. "The
boats were made of wood and could carry10 to 15 soldiers, and they were
appropriate for the conditions of the sea and for the jungle rivers,"
Golan says. "On a stormy sea they can be operated with oars or a
motor. We asked the Singaporeans to purchase20 boats and we set up a small
base where infantry companies trained in raids and navigation."
Colonel Asher Dar says, "The second team that arrived in Singapore
applied what Yehuda Golan did in the form of combat doctrine.
waiting period in Israel on the eve of the 1967Six-Day War was a rough
time for the Israeli team in Singapore. "We were relieved the
Israelis were not defeated or our SAF [Singapore Armed Forces] would have
lost confidence" in the Israeli instructors, Lee writes. In January
1968, Singapore decided to create an armoured corps. In great secrecy, an
agreement was signed for the purchase of 72 AMX-13light tanks from IDF
surplus. It was a bold decision: Malaysia, the country's large neighbour,
didn't have tanks.
Independence Day, August 9, 1969, a major surprise awaited the invited
guests, including the defence minister of Malaysia: 30 tanks rolled past
the reviewing stand. "It had a dramatic effect," Lee writes.
Malaysia had cause for concern. Its defence minister recommended to his
guests that they take steps to persuade the Malaysian
the wake of the Israeli victory in 1967, the veil of secrecy over the ties
between the two countries was lifted a bit. The Singapore delegate at the
United Nations abstained in a vote on a resolution condemning Israel that
was sponsored by the Arab states. Contacts began to establish full
diplomatic relations. In October 1968,Lee permitted Israel to establish a
trade mission and in May 1969authorization was
Of The Air Force
small Israeli team in Singapore was augmented by professional military
advisers for the various corps. The chief armoured corps officer, Major
General Abraham Adan, arrived to give advice on procuring armoured
vehicles. In 1968, Adam Tzivoni, a retired colonel who had been head of
the planning and weapons branch in the air
compensation for the hasty departure of the British army, the British
government gave Singapore a grant of 50million pounds to acquire
British-made aerial systems: planes, helicopters and surface-to-air
missiles," Tzivoni relates. "The British didn't like me at all.
My first task was to approve the deals. It turned out that the English
tried to sell Singapore junk. Apart from a deal for Hunters, I vetoed all
the deals. "Under Tzivoni's supervision, a flight school was
established in Singapore, as well as a technical school, a squadron of
Alouette 3 helicopters was purchased and 40 mm anti-aircraft guns were
And Israeli Marching Songs
the creation of the Singaporean army's infantry regiments, the question
arose of what weapons the nascent armed forces would use. The commanding
officers wanted the Uzi, the Israeli submachine gun. The Israeli team took
an objective view and rejected the idea. True, the Uzi was considered a
superb weapon in the 1960s, but only for short ranges.
regular army needs an assault rifle, the Israeli team asserted.
Representatives of Israel Military Industries exerted pressure on the
Defence Ministry to sell the new Galil assault rifle. However, the team
decided that the rifle wasn't yet full ready and recommended the American
major headache for the Israelis concerned the decision about which mortars
to procure for the new army. Infantry regiments are equipped with 60 - 52
mm and 18 mm mortars. The weapons, which were developed and manufactured
by the Soltam company, based in the town of Yokne'am, were sold to the
Israel Defence Forces and exported worldwide. "Even though we thought
these were the best mortars,
Israeli team asked a British firm that dealt in organization and
consultation on military subjects to examine a series of mortars and
recommend the best one. The report stated that the best of the lot was an
18 mm mortar manufactured in Britain. However, considering the price, the
recommendation was to buy the Soltam product. The Singapore Armed Forces
acquired the Israeli mortar.
Israelis emphasized military skills and high motivation. Smartness on
parade and military tattoo, the SAF [Singapore Armed Forces] never learned
from the `Mexicans.' Whatever smartness the SAF had" derived from the
British officers who commanded the army's first two regiments, Lee writes.
motto was that we would not stick our nose into what the Singaporeans
could do themselves," Golan notes. "They wanted us to organize
the Independence Day parade for them. We argued that a state military
parade reflects the country's mentality and
Jungle Combat Manual
Singaporeans took the Israelis by surprise when they insisted on
months later, the two officers returned with the knowledge they acquired
in Malaysia, and we decided to conduct a course in jungle combat,"
Golan continues. "Out of curiosity, I decided to join. It looked very
bad - it was clear that they had taught them British methods from the
Second World War period. I decided to take a