President Reuven Rivlin on Wednesday toured the demilitarized zone separating South Korea and North Korea, in a first-ever visit by an Israeli president to the most fortified border in the world.
During the tour, which came during the president’s official visit to South Korea, Rivlin heard a briefing by the forces operating in the area, met the UN troops stationed there and observed North Korea through binoculars.
He also came close to North Korean soldiers who were filming him.
“We’re in one of the only places in the world that is truly the mouth of a volcano which can erupt at any moment,” Rivlin said, according to a statement from his office. “And yet the balance between the two forces means they ensure that hostility does not break out.”
“The whole world is watching what happens here, similar to the way it views the Middle East. Being here, you can see, learn and understand how volatile places can endanger global peace,” he added at the North Korea observation point.
Upon his arrival, Rivlin signed a brick in the wall signed by all world leaders who visit, writing, “God bless you all.”
Alongside the brick signed by the president, the hosts dedicated a brick to the memory of his wife, Nechama Rivlin, who died last month after receiving a lung transplant earlier this year. The Israeli flag appears on her brick.
Despite the Israeli Foreign Ministry having recently announced widespread sanctions and refusing to assist any official visits in protest of cutbacks in funds, Rivlin’s visit to Korea has been excluded from the sanctions for unexplained reasons.
Rivlin’s state visit to the East Asian country began on Sunday and continued the following day with a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, during which the two leaders signed agreements for increased cooperation in the fields of energy and education.
During the meeting in Seoul, Moon offered condolences to Rivlin on the death of his wife on the eve of her 74th birthday. Rivlin thanked his counterpart and said that his late wife had been very eager to meet the South Korean president and his wife, before extending an invitation for the two to visit Jerusalem.
On Wednesday, Rivlin’s delegation signed further agreements with South Korea on academic cooperation, including programs for student exchanges, joint research and cooperation in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and nanotechnology.
“The key to our global connections, in Israel and in Korea, lies in higher education. Higher education is the key to mutual understanding, to universal solidarity to prosperity and peace. That is because science is blind to color, to nationality, to gender or to race,” Rivlin said.
The president was accompanied on his trip to South Korea by two delegations from Israel’s business and academic sectors, led by Adiv Baruch, chair of the Israel Export and International Cooperation Institute, and Professor Yaffa Zilbershats, chair of the Council for Higher Education Planning and Budgeting Committee.
Israel and South Korea established diplomatic relations in 1962 and Israel opened an embassy in the country in 1992.
In November, South Korea said it was purchasing two advanced radar systems from Israel that are meant to improve its ability to detect incoming missiles, like those that could be launched by North Korea. The two Green Pine radar detectors will be provided by the ELTA Systems Ltd., a subsidiary of the state-owned IAI Israel Aerospace Industries.
Stuart Winer, Judah Ari Gross and Times of Israel staff contributed to this report.