An airliner belonging to an Israeli defence firm hovered for four hours over Singapore airspace yesterday before finally landing at the military base in Paya Lebar, in what could trigger tension between the city-state and neighbouring Muslim countries amid renewed anti-Israeli sentiments worldwide.
Defence news journal Defence Security Asia reported that the Boeing 737-400 aircraft bearing the registration number 4X-AOO belonged to Israel Aerospace Industries-Elta (IAI-Elta), a major defence contractor for Tel Aviv specialising in intelligence as well as electronic systems for security applications.
The journal said it was possible that the aircraft carried sensitive radar and reconnaissance equipment.
“Maybe it is testing a new system,” it said, adding that the aircraft is known as a test-bed aircraft.
It also quoted sources as saying that the aircraft was used for “maritime patrol signal intelligence, image intelligence using synthetic aperture radar, Aircraft Early Warning and Flight Guard”, in addition to missile defence systems for commercial planes.
A quick check with flight tracking website Flighradar24 confirmed the presence of the aircraft at the Paya Lebar airport, a former US military air base.
The report comes more than a week after Putrajaya said it was on the alert for any possible attacks launched by Israeli agents targeting officials of the Palestinian resistance group Hamas residing in Malaysia.
“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,” Home Minister Hamzah Zainuddin had said.
Singapore established diplomatic ties with Israel after secceding from Malaysia, with its armed forces and defence response systems modelled after the Jewish state.
Tensions have been triggered in the past over Singapore’s warm ties with Israel.
In 1986, a visit by Israeli President Chaim Herzog to the city-state sparked widescale protests in Malaysia and Indonesia, both of which are strong supporters of the Palestinian cause.
A similar official visit by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to Singapore four years ago, however, was not met with strong protest.
Singapore’s support for Israel was reflected when it abstained at the United Nations General Assembly in 2012 from a resolution to grant Palestine the status as an observer state to the world body.