SEOUL: President Reuven Rivlin extolled the virtues of Israeli air defense missile systems during a summit with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in Seoul on Monday at the presidential Blue House, citing the need to defend the country against its nuclear-armed northern neighbor.
Rivlin noted “big similarities” between the two countries, both having survived conflicts to become global economic powers.
“Both South Korea and Israel faced catastrophic events after World War II, but we have built great nations and people, rising from the ashes of war,” the Israeli president said in a statement ahead of his talks with Moon.
“We didn’t have powers to defend ourselves in 1948, but we have our own defense powers now.”
While stressing the importance of efforts to build trust with neighboring countries, Rivlin warned countries “should not be naive” in dealing with military threats.
“In the past, the threat of missiles existed only on the frontlines of battlefields, but now civilians have become the subject of such threats,” the Israeli leader said.
“We should protect our people with missile defense systems capable of intercepting enemy missiles that could threaten the lives of our people.”
Rivlin did not specify the name of the system he described, but local experts believe the Israeli head of state was referring to the country’s Irone Dome air defense system.
“Iron Dome is a wish list item of the South Korean military to help thwart the threats of North Korea’s long-range artillery deployed near the border,” Kim Dae-young, a weapons analyst at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told Arab News.
“Israeli forces operate the air defense systems to defend against rockets fired by Hamas. The system is considered a useful option to thwart North Korea’s artillery attacks, especially against targets in the metropolitan area.”
South Korea has already deployed key Israeli-built weapons systems in the field in bids to complement its theater air and missile defense system (KAMD), which consists of US Patriot missile interceptors, as well as locally-built medium and long-range interceptors. To detect and track incoming missiles, KAMD operates Israel’s ground-based EL/M-2080 missile defense radar equipment.
But Israel’s potential arms pitch would not kick in yet, Kim said, since Moon’s administration was prioritizing engagement with Pyongyang.
The leaders of the divided Korean Peninsula have met four times since the inauguration of Moon’s administration in May 2017, making substantial progress in reducing military tensions.
Still, the North’s artillery batteries, deployed near the border, pose significant threats to the South, as the weaponry is capable of hitting Seoul and surrounding areas.
According to the latest South Korean defense white paper, published in 2016, the North Korean military has about 14,000 artillery weapons, including 5,500 multiple rocket launchers, the majority of which have been deployed near the border.
On the economic front, Moon and Rivlin agreed to sign a bilateral free trade agreement (FTA) to expand cooperation in investment, services and technology.
“The two countries have a mutually supplementary economic cooperation structure and share the common goal of nurturing future and cutting-edge industries,” Moon said. Bilateral trade between the two hit a record high of $2.7 billion last year.
Seoul and Jerusalem started FTA talks in May 2015 and have had several rounds of negotiations.
Moon expressed hope that Israel would share its experience in nurturing high-tech startups, which could foster substantive partnerships in sectors like the hydrogen economy, artificial intelligence and 5G wireless communication networks.
The two leaders also signed memorandums of understanding to promote cooperation in hydrogen energy and higher education exchanges.
Rivlin is accompanied 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.
South Korea and Israel established diplomatic ties in 1962 and the latter opened an embassy in Seoul in 1992.