Sensing danger to its sovereignty from the authoritarian country of China in the contested international waters of the South China Sea, a gutsy Vietnam has mounted a spirited defense by militarizing the Spratly Islands — thereby giving a solid answer to China’s ambitions of neo-colonial misadventures. However, an interesting development has emerged amid the hullabaloo of Chinese encroachment near the archipelago as Israel seems to have thrown its weight behind Vietnam in countering the Communist menace.
As reported by TFI, in an attempt to shore up the defence of the island, Vietnam carried out intricate military work at Pearson Reef and Namyit Island by adding additional radomes-dome-shaped structures used to shield radar antennas and other administrative buildings. Moreover, newer and longer-range gun systems, including artillery rocket systems purchased from none other than Israel, have been mounted on Vietnamese outposts in the island chain.
Military-security cooperation in the form of the arms trade, as well as technology transfer and licensed production, has emerged as an important dimension of Israel’s relations with Southeast Asian countries and especially Vietnam.
As documented in the SIPRI database, between 2014-2018, Vietnam was one of Israel’s largest arms customers. Whereas between 2006-2018, Vietnam imported Spyder and Derby missiles, ELM-2288/ER, ELM-2022 air defence radars, and Python-5 beyond-visual-range air-to-air missile (BVRAAM) from Israel.
With Trump and Netanyahu sharing excellent personal chemistry, Israel became an increasingly active player in the region. Of Israel’s total global arms exports in 2018 (worth $7.5 billion), 46 per cent were purchased by Asia-Pacific countries.
However, with Trump gone, Jerusalem has not slowed down in the work and continued to deliver the arms to Hanoi to battle an increasingly hostile enemy in Beijing. One can make no bones that the arms trade lies at the centre of Israel-Vietnam bilateral cooperation.