President Reuven Rivlin traveled Wednesday to Singapore to pay his respects to the country’s first prime minister, Lee Kuan Yew, 91, who passed away Monday after more than a month of battling severe pneumonia.
The trip underscored the close ties between Singapore and Israel, which helped the tiny nation develop its military after it broke away from Malaysia in 1965.
“I am traveling with a sense of respect for the great people of Singapore upon the death a significant leader such as Lee Kuan Yew,” Rivlin said in a statement before flying to the Asian country on Wednesday. “I’m going to represent the State of Israel and its citizens not only to express condolences at the passing of the founder of Singapore, but also to express our appreciation for his work as an important and valued leader. The State of Israel sees Singapore as a significant and important friend, and I have no doubt that relations between the two countries will continue to get stronger.”
Lee, who co-founded the People’s Action Party (PAP) and took office in 1959, served as prime minister for three decades, including after the country separated from Malaysia in 1965. He was considered to be a major driving force in propelling the country’s rapid economic growth throughout his lengthy term and placed special emphasis on promoting business entrepreneurship. He was also known for his policies which curbed Singapore’s internal democracy and for his efforts to strengthen ties with China.
Israel and Singapore enjoyed tight military cooperation under Lee’s rule, and weapons sales from Israeli-owned companies were instrumental in building up the Asian country’s armed forces. The strong military cooperation between the two countries continues to this day, especially with regards to Singapore’s Air Force, which operates a squadron of unmanned aerial vehicles manufactured by Israeli weapons development company Elbit Systems, Haaretz reported.
Following Lee’s death, hundreds of mourners lined the street outside the presidential palace, where Lee’s remains lay at a two-day private wake, as the carriage with his coffin draped with a Singapore flag in a glass case was escorted by Singapore’s prime minister and his eldest son, Lee Hsien Loong, and other children.
Lee will lie in state ahead of a state funeral at the National University of Singapore on Sunday.
AP contributed to this report.