Israel–South Korea relations refers to the diplomatic, commercial and cultural ties between Israel and South Korea. South Korea has maintained relations with Israel since 1948, and in 1962 both states initiated official diplomatic relations. Israel and South Korea have expressed interest in strengthening the relationship in all areas, particularly defense, but also renewable energy, science and technology, and bilateral trade.
Korea and Israel established official diplomatic relations on April 10, 1962. However, relations began immediately following the outbreak of the Korean War in 1950. David Ben-Gurion, the Israeli Prime Minister at the time, supported sending Israeli troops to join UN forces in Korea. However, the political party Mapam was opposed to such measures as it favored relations with North Korea over the South. As a compromise, instead of sending troops, the government sent $100,000 in medical and food supplies to the South Korean government.
The resolution of the Korean War strengthened relations between Israel and South Korea. Israel shifted its founding foreign policy of non-identification with aligning itself with the United States and United Nations. The relationship started less than two years after the founding of both nations.
Israel opened its embassy in Seoul in August 1964. Israel aided South Korea in establishing infrastructure in areas of agriculture, water, and security industry. The South Korean Army purchased large amounts of Israeli weapons, including Uzis. In 1966, delegations from both nations visited it each other.
In February 1978, the Israeli government closed its embassy in Seoul. The 1973 oil crisis and 1979 oil crisis influenced South Korea government's policies towards Israel. Temporarily, South Korea began to favor the neighbors of Israel over the state of Israel.
South Korea President Park Chung-hee requested Moshe Dayan to reconsider his decision to close the embassy, but Dayan refused. However, South Korea's diplomatic ties with Israel were not severed, they were now conducted through Tokyo. Israel's ambassador to Japan served as the nonresident ambassador to South Korea.
Following a period of normalized and cooled relations between Israel and its neighbors, South Korea approved the reopening of the Israeli embassy in 1992. The two countries soon after signed agreements to fortify cooperation in the aircraft industry and the Weizmann Institute.
Trade between Israel and South Korea grew by a factor of six, from $148 million to about $1 billion between 1990 to 2000. Within ten years, South Korea controlled 15 percent of the Israeli market in imported automobiles and 20 percent of that for cellular telephones. Israeli exports to South Korea also grew exponentially during the same time period.
In 2001, South Korea and Israel signed a joint-agreement to establish a Research and Development fund for the purpose of developing new products.
Since the summer of 2010, an annual event, Korea Business Conference, aimed at increasing business activity between Israel and Korea, including trade, investment, and business partnerships. The conference was initiated by Itzik Yona, CEO of Yonaco Group, in cooperation with the Israel Export Institute. One of the major consequences of the conference is to increase awareness of the possibility of mutual investments between the two countries. Among other things, as a direct result of the Conference, for the first time a Korean venture capital fund invested for the first time in an Israeli venture company from Rehovot.
In August 2010, Korea Venture Investment Corp. (KVIC), a state-backed fund management company, signed a memorandum of understanding with Israel's Vertex Venture Capital (VVC) to raise a US$150 million fund, which will be used to finance joint ventures or the merger and acquisition of small and mid-size venture firms in the two countries.
In 2011, an 11-member parliamentary delegation met with Israeli President Shimon Peres at the King David Hotel in Jerusalem. The delegation was led by Lee Byung-suk, former chairman of the National Assembly's Land Transport and Maritime Affairs Committee. Also present was Park Jin, former chairman of the Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee.
On 11 November 2013, Korean Ambassador in Israel Kim Il-soo announced that Israel and South Korea could become an economic powerhouse, referring to hi-tech cooperation between the countries. The announcement was issued during the First Creative Economy Forum between Korea and Israel held in Tel Aviv, which featured the exposure of the Korea-Israel Hi-Tech Network - a project aimed to increase industrial collaborations in various hi-tech fields.
Israel has sold drones to South Korea, including the Harpy UAV. South Korea was competing with Italy's Alenia Aermacchi M-346 Master in a tender to supply training aircraft to the Israeli Defense Forces. The Korean Airforce had accused Israel of giving Italy preferred treatment since negotiations began. In January 2012, the South Korean government offered its final industrial cooperation package in a bid to get the Israeli Defense Ministry to select Korean Aerospace Industries’ T-50 Golden Eagle as its next fighter trainer. Israeli Defense Ministry Chief of Staff Udi Shani flew to South Korea for talks about the purchase. The deal was reported worth over $1 billion. The Italians were the eventual winners, in a decision likely to upset South Korea. South Korea has also expressed interest in purchasing Israel's Iron Dome system, but that sale was now seen as under threat. On August 15, 2014, South Korea again expressed their interest in the Iron Dome System.