Israel and South Korea enjoy a thriving arms trade and strong diplomatic relationship. After tension over a contract that was awarded to Italy over South Korea 2012, arms trade has continued consistently since. Deals have mainly been for missiles, drones, and radars.
Israel-South Korea Relations
Israel and South Korea initiated diplomatic relations in 1962 although during Korean War in 1950 Israel sent $100,000 of medical and food supplies to the South Korean government. In the 1960s Israel aided Korean agricultural, water, and security infrastructure, and supplied arms such as uzis. In the 1970s South Korean policy shifted its favor towards Israel’s Arab neighbors in response to the 1972 and 1979 oil crises, during which time it stated support for Palestinian right to self-determination, but relations were renewed in 1992.Israel–South Korea Relations: The Military Dimension
Numerous diplomatic visits have been made between the countries’ representatives since 2000, most notably by President Shimon Peres to Seoul in June 2010.Israel–South Korea Relations: The Military Dimension
South Korea controls a large proportion of the Israel automobile and cellular telephone markets. Since 2000 the countries have secured financial and hi-tech cooperation. In 2021 a free trade agreement between the two countries was signed (and reportedly ratified in early 2022). This is the first such pact to be inked by an Asian country with Israel.The Maturation of the Israel-South Korea Partnership
Even before the FTA was signed, bilateral trade between the two was on the rise. In 2020, Israel’s exports to South Korea were worth approximately $890 million, while its imports from South Korea (mostly cars and electrical goods) were estimated at $1.5 billion. What has further aided economic cooperation is the Korea-Israel Industrial R&D Foundation (KORIL-RDF), founded in 2001, that has been promoting and supporting various technological collaboration between the companies of the two countries.The Maturation of the Israel-South Korea Partnership
Military trade started in the 1990s, notably with IAI/Elta selling four early-warning aircraft for $1b in 1996, and the sale of Harpy drones the following year. South Korea lost to Italy in a bid to supply aircraft training to the Israeli military in 2012, leading to South Korean officials threatening to cancel defense deals with Israel.
Tension over the Italy deal has subsided and relations have renewed with Joint Ventures and trade deals established in the years since. South Korea has expressed interest in purchasing the Iron Dome system, but with no deal signed. Deals have mainly involved missiles, drones, and radars.
A few noteworthy defense items imported by South Korea from Israel between 2009 and 2020 included EL/M-2032 radar, SandCat Spike-NLOS (Non Light of Sight) Surface-to-Surface Missile (SSM) launcher, Spike-NLOS SSM/Air-to-surface Missile (ASM), EL/M-2248 MF-STAR multi-function radar, Heron UAV, etc.The Maturation of the Israel-South Korea Partnership
In 2021 Israel Aerospace Industries (IAI) has announced that it won three avionic upgrade contracts worth approximately $50 million in South Korea, in 2020. The win includes three different aircraft types used by the Korean Air Force.IAI reveals avionics contracts in South Korea
In March 2021, a MoU between Elbit and Korea Aerospace Industries was signed for joint collaboration in categories pertaining to unmanned airborne intelligence, surveillance, targeting, and reconnaissance (ISTAR).The Maturation of the Israel-South Korea Partnership
2021 – Elbit and Korea Aerospace Industries (KAI).The Maturation of the Israel-South Korea Partnership
2019 – Golden Access Ltd. and Cellebrite founded Cellebrite Korea, supported by BlackBag.Golden & Cellebrite
2017 – IAI and Hankuk Carbon to jointly make drones for South Korean market. (IAI, Hankuk Carbon)Israel Aerospace Industries, Hankuk Carbon to jointly make drones for South Korean market
2016 – UVision and Firstec to co-produce HERO-30 loitering munitions. (UVision, Firstec)UVision collaborates with Firstec to market its Loitering Systems in South Korea
2013 – Rafael acquires 49% of PineTelecom shares with agreement to continue co-producing C4I systems. (Rafael, Pine Telecom)Rafael Acquires Partial Ownership of South Korean Company
2011 – Elbit working with Korean Aerospace Industries to provide system package for naval version of Surion helicopter. (Elbit, KAI)Elbit Systems Presents Naval Helicopter Systems
2001 – JV establishing Research and Development Foundation, Koril R&D.Israel–South Korea Relations: The Military Dimension
Usage of Israeli Arms
Heron UAV – South Korea allegedly sent Heron UAVs into North Korean airspace.North Korea: The South’s Heron drones have penetrated our airspace
Cellebrite’s Technology – used by public institutions through Cellebrite Korea.Golden & Cellebrite
Human Rights Violations
There is widespread discrimination against women in South Korea, with relatively few women occupying decision-making positions, and a 35% wage gap between men and women. In April 2020 however, the Constitutional Court overturned the criminalization of abortion. There is also an issue of digital sex crimes, mainly secret filming of sex acts and nonconsensual sharing of footage or images.World Report 2020: South Korea | Human Rights Watch
South Korea also seems to be reneging on its commitments to protecting North Korean human rights, failing to implement the 2016 North Korean Human Rights Law, and protect escapees from the neighboring country. In 2019 South Korea deported two North Koreans to face murder charges in their country, and days later removed its name from a UN coalition supporting North Korean human rights.
There has been a recent uprising in anti-LGBTQ+ rights, often Christian. A law that bans same-sex sexual conduct in the military is currently under review.South Korea: Military ‘Sodomy’ Law Violates Rights Although South Korea is party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention, it refuses most refugees who aren’t from North Korea, including Yemeni refugees in 2018.World Report 2020: South Korea | Human Rights Watch