Israel, Relations with

views updated May 29 2018


ISRAEL, RELATIONS WITH The attitude of Indian nationalists toward their Israeli counterparts largely influenced India's policy toward Israel. Since the early 1920s, Indian nationalists strongly supported Arab rights in Palestine and were unwilling to endorse Zionist aspirations for a Jewish national home there. British India had the largest Muslim population in the world, and this, coupled with the ongoing rivalry with the Muslim League, forced the Indian National Congress to perceive the Arab-Jewish controversy through an Islamic prism. The tiny Jewish presence in India and the limited interests shown by the prestate Zionist leadership toward the subcontinent had also contributed to an unsympathetic Indian position. According to Mahatma Gandhi, "Palestine belongs to the Arabs in the same sense that England belongs to the English or France to the French." Similarly, Jawaharlal Nehru, felt that Palestine "is essentially an Arab country and no decision can be made without the consent of the Arabs." Despite these positions, in March 1947, a ten-member Jewish delegation from Palestine was invited to the Asian Relations Conference hosted by Nehru. The political impact of the visit, however, was marginal.

In April 1947 the United Nations (UN) convened a special session of the General Assembly to discuss the British request to determine the future of Mandate Palestine. After two weeks of deliberations, on 15 May 1947 an eleven-member United Nations Special Committee on Palestine (UNSCOP) was formed, and India was elected to the committee as an Asian member. Nehru, who was then heading the interim government, nominated Sir Abdur Rahman, a judge at the Punjab High Court in Lahore, as the Indian representative.

On 1 September 1947 UNSCOP submitted its recommendations. A seven-member majority advocated partition as the solution for Palestine, while India (supported by Iran and erstwhile Yugoslavia) proposed a minority plan that called for a federal Palestine with adequate internal autonomy for the Jewish population. India perceived the partition of Palestine to be an unjust, unviable option. In an extension of the Congress Party's position vis-à-vis the Muslim League's two-nation theory, India refused to endorse any religious basis for modern statehood. It argued that since Palestine was a predominantly Arab country, any solution of the conflict should not be to the disadvantage of the Arabs.

Both Arabs and Jews found the Indian proposal inadequate and were unanimous in rejecting it, however; hence the UN never discussed that federal plan. On 29 November 1947 the General Assembly approved to partition Palestine into independent Jewish and Arab states. Joining the Arab and Islamic countries, India voted against the partition plan.

Recognition without Relations

The establishment of Israel on 14 May 1948 created a new political reality in the Middle East. For a while, India continued to argue its former position, and in May 1949 voted against Israel's admission to the UN. After protracted deliberations, on 17 September 1950 India extended de jure recognition to the Jewish state. This decision was not accompanied by any formal announcement concerning diplomatic relations. For the next four decades, recognition without normalization characterized Indo-Israeli relations.

In May 1950 or nearly five months prior to Indian recognition, Israel appointed a Bombay (Mumbai)-based Indian national, F. W. Pollack, as its trade commissioner of Southeast Asia; in December 1950 he was redesignated as trade commissioner for India and South East Asia. In the same month, a temporary aliya (immigration) office was opened in Bombay to facilitate the immigration of Jewish refugees stranded in India during World War II. In June 1951 Pollack was concurrently appointed Israel's consular agent in India, and in October 1952 he was made honorary consul for India. In January 1953 this position was upgraded to a full-fledged Israeli consulate, and in June 1953 career diplomat Gabriel Doron took over as the first Israeli consul in India. Between July 1953 and January 1992, fifteen officials headed the Israeli mission in Bombay. Despite their lower official status, Israeli consuls had direct access to the foreign minister and often met the prime minister. They also enjoyed unrestricted freedom of movement, except in sensitive border areas, but their consular jurisdiction was largely restricted to the state of Maharashtra.

Meanwhile, concerned over delays in the establishment of normal diplomatic relations, Israeli Foreign Ministry Director-General Walter Eytan paid an official visit to India in early 1952, and Prime Minister Nehru informed the visitor that India was favorably disposed toward normalization. Following this visit, an Indian official was asked to prepare the budget and other financial details for a resident Indian mission in Tel Aviv.

At first, the absence of relations was attributed to financial constraints, scarcity of personnel, and India's desire not to overstretch its meager resources. India's concerns over Pakistan, particularly its desire to neutralize Pakistani efforts and influence in the Middle East, resulted in a cautious approach toward Israel. India felt that an early "resolution" of the Kashmir dispute would enable it to modify its position toward Israel. There were apprehensions that diplomatic ties with Israel might displease Arab countries. Perceived opposition by India's Muslim population also played an important role in its reluctance to establish relations with Israel, and in private discussions with Israelis, Indian leaders candidly referred to their fears of inflaming Muslim sentiments. When Prime Minister Narasimha Rao decided to normalize relations with Israel in January 1992, his senior cabinet colleagues warned him of possible negative reactions from Muslims. Speaking in Jerusalem in June 2000, Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh attributed prolonged nonrelations to the feelings of Indian Muslims.

The Afro-Asian Conference in Bandung in April 1955 marked an ominous trend for Israel-India relations. Bowing to Arab pressures, India went along with others and opted to exclude Israel from the conference, thereby legitimizing the exclusion of Israel from subsequent Afro-Asian and third world meetings.

The Suez crisis of 1956, in which Israel joined hands with Britain and France and invaded the Sinai Peninsula, marked a shift in India's Israel policy. Afro-Asian solidarity, based on anticolonialism, as well as Israel's identification with imperial powers and the growing friendship between Nehru and Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser, influenced Indian calculations. Strongly condemning the Israeli aggression against Egypt, on 20 November 1956 Nehru told the Indian Lok Sabha that "in view of the existing passion" diplomatic exchanges between India and Israel were not possible. Since then, "the time is not ripe" remained the standard Indian refrain to explain the absence of relations with Israel, up until January 1992.

Despite the absence of diplomatic relations, Indian and Israeli diplomats met regularly in a number of places, including Washington, New York, Ottawa, London, Ankara, and Rangoon. There were many regular visits between leaders of both countries, including former Israeli foreign ministers Moshe Sharett (1956) and Yigal Allon (1959 and 1964), who visited India and met with Nehru.

Since the mid-1960s, the general warmth of the earlier years began to wane, and Indo-Israeli relations deteriorated. The preemptive strike launched by Israel against its Arab neighbors on 5 June 1967 resulted in the deaths of a number of Indian soldiers serving in the Gaza Strip as part of the United Nations Emergency Force (UNEF). Infuriated, India ruled out diplomatic relations, blaming Israel's "wrong" policies. The emergence of the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) in 1964 further alienated India from Israel; in January 1975, India recognized the PLO as the "sole legitimate representative of the Palestinian people." The formation of the Organization of Islamic Conference in 1969, India's growing dependence on the Middle East for energy resources, and the presence of substantial numbers of Indian laborers in the oil-rich Gulf states further entrenched India's pro-Arab policy.

When Morarji Desai's Janata government was in power, Israeli foreign minister Moshe Dayan paid an unsuccessful incognito visit to India in August 1977 to explore the possibilities of diplomatic relations. Continuing India's pro-Arab policy in March 1980, Prime Minister Indira Gandhi granted full diplomatic status to the PLO mission in Delhi, while Israel's consulate languished in Maharashtra. In 1982 in a media interview, Yossef Hasseen, Israeli consul in Mumbai, accused India of trying to compete with Pakistan to curry favors with the Arabs. Coming as it did against the backdrop of increasing international criticism of Israel, he was declared persona non grata. Moreover, since the late 1970s, a number of Israeli delegations were denied visas to attend various international conferences and sports events hosted by India.

Indo-Israeli relations began to improve after Rajiv Gandhi became prime minister in October 1984. The issue of normalization figured prominently in his discussions with U.S. officials. He also met with Israeli prime minister Shimon Peres during the fortieth annual session of the UN in 1985; facilitated the Indo-Israeli Davis Cup tennis match in New Delhi in July 1987; restored consul status to the Israeli mission in Mumbai in August 1988; hosted a pro-Israeli delegation from the Anti-Defamation League in January 1989; extended Israeli consular jurisdiction to the South Indian state of Kerala, which has a significant Jewish population; and relaxed visa procedures for holders of Israeli passports.

The outbreak of the Palestinian intifada (uprising) in December 1987 and subsequent Israeli isolation curtailed India's options. Israeli involvement in the Sri Lankan ethnic conflict, especially its military-intelligence cooperation, generated suspicion and anger in India. Rapid erosion of his own popularity and a string of electoral reverses suffered by his Congress Party limited Rajiv Gandhi's ability to complete the process he had initiated to establish full diplomatic ties with Israel. Nevertheless, these measures proved useful to Narasimha Rao, who became prime minister soon after Rajiv Gandhi's assassination in 1991.


Within days after Rao assumed office, a group of Israeli tourists was kidnapped in the state of Jammu and Kashmir. A senior Israeli diplomat came to India to "coordinate" their release, and during this brief visit, he met a number of senior Indian officials. In a well-publicized gesture on 16 December 1991, India voted with the majority in repealing the 1975 UN General Assembly resolution that equated Zionism with racism. As India had been one of the resolution's original sponsors, this move marked a significant departure from the past.

Shortly afterward, high-level Indo-Israeli diplomatic consultations were held in Washington. On 29 January 1992, Foreign Secretary J. N. Dixit formally announced India's decision to establish full and complete diplomatic relations with Israel. India became the last major non-Arab or non-Islamic state to establish formal diplomatic relations with the Jewish state. Within weeks, the Israeli consul in Bombay, Giora Becher, moved to New Delhi and opened the Israeli embassy, and on 15 May, India opened its embassy in Tel Aviv.

A host of domestic and international developments enabled Rao to complete a process that began in September 1950. These developments included: the end of the cold war and the collapse of the Soviet Union; the weakening of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM), which had consistently adopted an anti-Israeli posture; India's policy of economic liberation, which required strong American backing; the inauguration of the Middle East peace process in Madrid in October 1991, which signaled the willingness of the Arabs and Palestinians to seek a political settlement with Israel through direct negotiations; and the formal termination of Israel's prolonged political and diplomatic isolation.

Contrary to prolonged apprehensions, domestic or regional opposition to normalization of relations were marginal. Some Arab countries were displeased with India's development of security cooperation with Israel, but the overall response in the Middle East was subdued. Contrary to past apprehensions, the newly established relations did not inhibit India from pursuing productive relations with a number of countries in the region. The warming of Indo-Iranian relations and growing economic ties between India and the Gulf states underscore that normalization has not prevented India from improving its ties with countries pronouncedly hostile toward Israel.

Since the opening of the diplomatic missions, a host of official, semiofficial and nonofficial delegations have visited one another. A number of Israeli cabinet ministers, senior officials, and businesspersons visited India, including Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, and President Ezer Weizmann (December 1996). Indian Home Minister L.K. Advani visited Israel in June 2000, with Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh.

Diplomatic relations with Israel now have bipartisan support in India. The Bharatiya Janata Party has been enthusiastic in its support for the pro-Israeli policy initiated by Congress. Even parties such as Janata Dal, which opposed Rao's decision in 1992, have endorsed bilateral cooperation. The visit to Israel of veteran communist leader and West Bengal chief minister Jyoti Basu in the summer of 2000 signaled that even India's communists are no longer opposed to closer ties with Israel. India's position in the UN–sponsored World Conference against Racism in Durban in August–September 2001 underscored India's newly found self-assertion toward the Middle East. Despite pressures from the region, it refused to join Arab and Islamic countries in equating Zionism with racism.

Since normalization, both countries have established extensive relations and cooperation in the military-security arena. Because of increasing acts of terrorism and border infiltrations, India has sought Israeli expertise in intelligence gathering, innovative and pro-active counterterrorism policies, and electronic surveillance along international borders, adapting some of the Israeli methods to combat threats emanating from India's borders with Pakistan. Moreover, in the political arena, India has gradually distanced itself from its past postures and has been less critical of Israel and its policies.

National security advisers of both countries meet periodically, holding high-level consultations, and both countries have set up a joint working group on counterterrorism. A number of senior officials belonging to intelligence and internal security officials accompanied Deputy Prime Minister Advani when he visited Israel. On 11 September 2001, the day terrorists attacked the World Trade Center and the Pentagon in the United States, Israeli national security adviser Major General Uzi Dayan was holding high-level counter-terrorism discussions with top Indian officials in New Delhi. As part of a new approach toward Israel, India has contributed troops to the United Nations Interim Forces in Lebanon.

Conscious of the potentials, both sides have depoliticized defense-related cooperation. Less than a decade after normalization, Israel emerged as the second-largest military supplier (after Russia) to India, and the latter is now Israel's largest market for military exports. Israel is actively involved in upgrading India's aging Soviet-made MiG aircraft. Green Pine radars, remotely piloted vehicles, Barak ship-borne antimissile systems for the navy, and ammunition for Bofors guns, used during the Kargil operations, are some of the prominent defense deals. In August 2001, after months of negotiations, India signed a series of defense contracts with Israel, estimated at $2 billion, for the supply of long-range surveillance equipment, night-vision hardware, and ammunition. An Israeli consortium has been awarded the contract to upgrade India's 130-mm artillery guns into 150-mm howitzers. In late 2003 Israel agreed to supply Phalcon airborne early warning systems to India, estimated to cost over $1 billion. Growing Indo-Israeli military ties are developing against the background of increasing Indo–U.S. cooperation, leading to suggestions of a friendly triangle involving India, Israel, and the United States.

The pace of bilateral trade since the establishment of diplomatic relations gives the impression that India and Israel have determined to make up for lost decades. Bilateral trade stood at just $200 million in 1992 and has crossed the billion-dollar mark in less than a decade. Diamonds and precious stones, which accounted for nearly 90 percent of the trade in 1992, now constitute just over 50 percent. Both countries have signed a number of agreements pertaining to agriculture, trade, investments, scientific cooperation, and double taxation.

Even though increasing Indo-Israeli security contacts are often presented as a strategic partnership, one cannot ignore that on such sensitive issues as Indo-Iranian relations or Pakistan's role in international terrorism, India and Israel have fundamental differences. Similarly, India has been less enthusiastic in endorsing Israeli positions concerning Islamic fundamentalism, especially since the outbreak of the al-Aqsa intifada in September 2000. The Congress Party expressed its displeasure at what it perceived to be an abandonment of India's historic support for the Palestinian cause, and a section of the opposition called for a reassessment of India's growing ties with Israel.

Seen in this context, the high-profile state visit of Israeli prime minister Ariel Sharon in September 2003 was a watershed in Indo-Israeli relations. Despite controversies and protests in New Delhi, the visit marked a new high level of Indo-Israeli relations, underscoring the willingness and determination of both countries to give greater visibility to their diplomatic relations.

P. R. Kumaraswamy

See alsoUnited States, Relations with


Agwani, M. S. "The Palestine Conflict in Asian Perspective." In The Transformation of Palestine, edited by Ibrahim Abu-Laghod. Evanston, Ill.: Northwestern University Press, 1971.

Chatterjee, Margaret. Gandhi and His Jewish Friends. Houndmills, Basingstoke, U.K.: Macmillan, 1992.

Government of India. Ministry of External Affairs. India and Palestine: The Evolution of Policy. New Delhi: Ministry of External Affairs, n.d.

India's Campaign against Israel: ADL International Report. New York: ADL, 1987.

Kumaraswamy P. R., "Mahatma Gandhi and the Jewish National Home." Asian and African Studies 26, no. 1 (March 1992): 1–13.

——. "India and Israel: Prelude to Normalization." Journal of South-Asian and Middle Eastern Studies 19, no. 2 (Winter 1995): 53–73.

——. "India's Recognition of Israel, September 1950." Middle Eastern Studies 31, no. 1 (January 1995): 124–138.

——. "Sardar K. M. Panikkar and India-Israel Relations." International Studies 32, no. 3 (July 1995): 327–337.

——. India and Israel: Evolving Strategic Partnership. Security and Policy Studies, no. 40. Ramat Gan: BESA Centre for Strategic Studies, September 1998.

——. "India and the Holocaust: Perceptions of the Indian National Congress." Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies 3 (April 2000): 117–125.

——. "India, Israel and the Davis Cup Tie 1987." Journal of Indo-Judaic Studies 5 (June 2002): 29–39.

——. "India and Israel: Emerging Partnership." Journal of Strategic Studies 1.25, no. 4 (December 2002): 192–206.

Shimoni, Gideon. Gandhi, Satyagraha and the Jews: A Formative Factor in India's Policy toward Israel. Jerusalem: Leonard Davis Institute for International Relations, 1977.

Israel, Relations with

views updated Jun 11 2018


ISRAEL, RELATIONS WITH. The phrase "special relationship" describes U.S.-Israeli ties, suggesting an association uncommon in international affairs. The closeness of the bond between the two countries is extraordinary, and the U.S. commitment to Israel encompasses moral, religious, diplomatic, economic, and strategic dimensions. Israeli leaders have pursued such relations since the establishment of the Jewish state in May 1948, but no special relationship existed before the mid-1970s. By the early 1980s, a confluence of interests based mainly on Cold War considerations brought about an unwritten alliance that has allowed Israel to achieve a high degree of accord with the United States. However, the United States has dictated the extent of the commitment and the pace of its development. Israel is highly dependent upon the United States, and in the post–Cold War era, a continued convergence of major interests will determine the durability of the special nature of the relationship.

1948: Israel's Orientation and an American Moral Commitment

Upon attainment of statehood, Israel adopted a policy of nonalignment between East and West, pursuing close ties with both the United States and the Soviet Union in order to avoid choosing sides in the Cold War. In terms of both the nature of its regime and its view of the international system, Israel leaned clearly toward the United States. American public opinion recognized this affinity and assumed a moral responsibility toward the Jewish state, a responsibility attributable in great part to the Holocaust. Moreover, the religious orientation of many American Christians brought them to support modern Zionism. President Harry S. Truman supported the United Nations plan in 1947 for the partition of Palestine, thus over-riding the objections of the State Department and the Department of Defense and creating the basis for early recognition of the state of Israel. Yet, a general moral commitment brought the United States to provide neither a formal guarantee of its security nor arms to Israel. In fact, the United States imposed an arms embargo on the parties to the Arab-Israeli conflict that it maintained in near-complete fashion until the early 1960s.

1949–1960: Economic Aid on a Background of Bilateral Tension

Between 1949 and 1959, about 10 percent of the capital that Israel imported came directly from the United States. In January 1949, the United States averted a collapse of the Israeli economy by extending $100 million in credits. By 1960, total U.S. economic aid (grants and loans) had reached $1.5 billion. This support was modest compared to later periods, but it heightened both Israel's perception and the fact of dependence upon the United States.

At the same time, the administration of President Dwight D. Eisenhower considered Israel the more aggressive of the sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict. His administration gave Israel vague assurances that the United States would not allow its destruction. But the United States saw in Israel an impediment to a Middle East policy, the main objective of which was to achieve closer relations with the Arab states in order to bring them into a pro-Western alliance and ensure a steady supply of oil. This administration opposed Israel's practice of severe retaliation in response to raids from Arab states, withheld diplomatic support when it viewed Israel's use of force as excessive (as in 1953, during a dispute over the waters of the Jordan River), and planned, with Britain, to require Israeli territorial concessions in order to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. In early 1957, President Eisenhower threatened Israel with sanctions to force it to withdraw from Egyptian territory it had conquered during the 1956 Sinai campaign, and U.S.-Israeli relations during the second Eisenhower administration (1957 to 1961) remained cool.

1961–1973: The Strategic Background to a Growing Accord

President John F. Kennedy adopted a more accommodating approach toward Israel, and in 1962 authorized the sale of U.S. Hawk anti-aircraft missiles. Yet, at the same time, he attempted to elicit Israeli agreement to a signifiant unilateral concession on the Palestinian refugee problem and took a tough stance toward Israel's nuclear development, warning Prime Minister David Ben Gurion in May 1963 that an Israeli nuclear option would disturb both global and regional stability.

President Lyndon Johnson's rapport with Prime Minister Levi Eshkol seemed to usher in a new period in U.S.-Israeli relations. In reality, Johnson was determined that the United States not become a purveyor of arms to Israel, a policy aimed at avoiding a far-reaching political commitment. Nevertheless, during the early-to-mid 1960s, the Soviet Union transferred arms on a large scale to Egypt, Iraq, and Syria, and offered to supply advanced arms to Jordan. In early 1966, the United States decided to sell Jordan jet fighters, and the Johnson administration, seeking to avoid a political battle with Israel's supporters in Washington, reluctantly agreed to sell Israel jet bombers (the A-4 Skyhawk) in what it stipulated would be a "one-time deal."

A close patron-client relationship that included a steady supply of modern arms emerged gradually after the Six Day War of 1967. By 1969, President Richard M. Nixon and his national security adviser, Henry Kissinger, had come to view Israel as a Cold War asset, and during the 1969–1970 Israeli-Egyptian War of Attrition, supplied it with more advanced arms. In September 1970, during the large-scale clash between the Jordanian army and Palestinian guerrillas, Israel deterred Syria from employing its air force to support the armor with which the Syrians had invaded Jordan, thus earning Washington's appreciation for aiding the pro-Western monarchy. Yet, from 1971 to 1973, U.S. acquiescence to the lack of receptivity of the government of Golda Meir to negotiate with Egypt contributed to the stalemate that led to war in 1973. U.S.-Israeli relations had become much closer, but during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the United States again demonstrated that strategic interests, and not a nascent special relationship, determined its policies.

1973–1979: Toward Israeli-Egyptian Peace

The U.S. role during the 1973 war and the diplomatic process that eventually led to an Israeli-Egyptian peace treaty demonstrate that even after the establishment of a patron-client relationship, in the framework of which Israel acquired nearly all of its military hardware from the United States, ties were much closer when Washington could reconcile support of Israel with its other policies in the Middle East. The United States flew arms to Israel during the 1973 war but prevented a defeat of Egypt on a scale that would have obviated a later U.S.-Egyptian rapprochement. From 1974 to 1976, the United States granted Israel $5.8 billion in combined civilian and military assistance, a level at which aid has since approximately remained. Yet, in 1975, President Gerald Ford and Secretary of State Kissinger warned that they would "reassess" relations, forcing Israel to sign an agreement that included partial withdrawal from the Sinai Peninsula. In 1978, at Camp David, President Jimmy Carter threatened to cut Israeli aid should they fail to evince more flexibility in the negotiations.

President Carter used the term "special" to describe the U.S.-Israeli relationship, and he maintained the high levels of support his predecessor had established. But he also called for the creation of a Palestinian "homeland" and reminded Israel that close relations did not mean U.S. acquiescence to the policies of Prime Minister Menachem Begin of the right wing Likud party, policies intended to perpetuate Israel's presence in the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and the Golan Heights.

1981–1992: Harmony and Discord

During the 1980s and early 1990s, the interests of Israel and the United States converged over a common view of the threat from the Soviet Union but diverged over problems of the Middle East. In June 1981, the Reagan administration condemned Israel for bombing Iraq's nuclear facility. Israel's (unsuccessful) opposition to the sale of sophisticated U.S. arms to Saudi Arabia in a manner that the administration considered interference further strained relations. The United States intended a strategic memorandum of understanding it signed with Israel in November 1981 to compensate for the U.S.-Saudi deal, and the memorandum noted agreement to "deter all threats from the Soviet Union in the region." But in December 1981, Washington suspended the memorandum in response to Israel's annexation of Jerusalem and the extension of Israeli law to the Golan Heights.

In the view of the Reagan administration, Israel's invasion of Lebanon in June 1982 exceeded the strategic exigency of ending the Palestinian Liberation Organization (PLO) threat to Israel's northern region. The September

1982 Reagan Plan called for a halt to Israeli settlement of the occupied territories and opposed the extension of Israeli sovereignty. The administration referred to Palestinian self-determination in federation with Jordan, but its concern for the Palestinian people pointed out Washington's consistent disagreement with Israeli policies oriented toward any solution other than that of land-for-peace.

Such discord notwithstanding, by the mid-1980s the United States and Israel had achieved a high level of cooperation on strategic issues that included the reinstatement of the November 1981 memorandum. Israel became the only non-NATO country to contribute to the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative, and cooperation increased despite the Pollard affair (espionage by a U.S. citizen who passed documents to Israeli handlers) and the U.S.-PLO dialogue. The U.S.-Israeli strategic consensus encompassed both governments' views of most major global and regional matters.

Following the U.S.-led war against Saddam Hussein's Iraq in 1991, the Bush administration considered the time propitious for a Middle East peace initiative and viewed the policies of Israel's Likud-led government under Yitzhak Shamir the major obstacle to an accord. Israeli leaders took exception to U.S. relegation of their country to a passive role during the Gulf War. They also resented the Bush administration's suspension of a $10 billion guarantee of loans for Israel's absorption of immigrants as a means to pressure the Shamir government to participate in the peace conference at Madrid. In truth, despite tension between that administration and the Shamir government, the bilateral relationship was by then based on a long-term U.S. commitment and twenty years of close strategic ties, and during this period, the United States signed (in 1989 and 1992) additional strategic memoranda with Israel.

1993–2002: From Success at Oslo to Renewed Arab-Israeli Strife

U.S.-Israeli relations reached their highest point during the presidency of Bill Clinton and the prime ministership of the Labor Party's Yitzhak Rabin. The 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Declaration of Principles and an Israeli-Jordanian peace treaty the following year heightened both the perception and substance of an Israeli regional role that accorded well with the interests of the United States during the post–Cold War period. The Clinton administration placed the greater onus for lack of further progress toward peace during the years 1996–1999 upon Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu of the Likud. In 1999, Ehud Barak led Israel's Labor Party back into a two-year period of leadership. Although Barak allowed the expansion of settlements in the territories, his willingness to consider a complete withdrawal from the Golan Heights for peace with Syria, the removal in 2000 of Israeli forces from southern Lebanon, and the far-reaching concessions he offered the Palestinians at a Camp David summit that year earned him the Clinton administration's enthusiastic support.

The administration of George W. Bush inherited a regional configuration that included ongoing U.S. hostility to Iraq's Saddam Hussein, concern for the stability of conservative Arab regimes, the view that Syria had rejected Israeli overtures, and the conviction that Palestinian Authority leader Yasir Arafat bore responsibility for the failure of the 2000 Camp David summit. The United States wished to restart negotiations based on a land-for-peace formula that would include a dismantling of Israeli settlements beyond the 1967 border. Yet, no sharp deterioration in U.S.-Israeli relations attended the 2002 invasion of West Bank towns by an Israeli government under hardliner Ariel Sharon. The Palestinians' extensive use of terror in 2001 and 2002, including frequent suicide bombings, both deepened U.S.-Israeli cooperation and heightened the perception among the American public that, in the wake of the 11 September 2001 attacks in the United States, the two countries have a very great deal in common.


Bar-Siman-Tov, Yaacov. "The United States and Israel since 1948: A 'Special Relationship?'" Diplomatic History 22, no. 2 (1998): 231–262.

Ben-Zvi, Abraham. Decade of Transition: Eisenhower, Kennedy, and the Origins of the American-Israeli Alliance. New York: Columbia University Press, 1998.

Bialer, Uri. Between East and West: Israel's Foreign Policy Orientation, 1948–1956. Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press, 1990.

Levey, Zach. Israel and the Western Powers, 1952–1960. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1997.

Organski, A. F. K. The $36 Billion Bargain: Strategy and Politics in U.S. Assistance to Israel. New York: Columbia University Press, 1990.

Safran, Nadav. Israel: The Embattled Ally. Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press, 1981.

Schoenbaum, David. The United States and the State of Israel. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993.

Spiegel, Steven. The Other Arab-Israeli Conflict: Making America's Middle East Policy, from Truman to Reagan. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1985.


See alsoArab Nations, Relations with ; Camp David Peace Accords ; Cold War ; Foreign Aid ; Foreign Policy ; Israel-Palestine Peace Accord ; Treaties with Foreign Nations .

Israel, Relations with

views updated Jun 08 2018


During most of the Soviet period, Soviet-Israeli relations were strained if not broken. Although Moscow gave diplomatic and even military support (via Czechoslovakia) to Israel during its war of independence (19481949), by 1953 it had shifted to a pro-Arab position and it broke diplomatic relations with Israel during the June 1967 Six-Day War. From the mid-1960s until Mikhail Gorbachev came to power, the USSR, seeking to align the Arab world against the United States, called Israel the "lynchpin of U.S. imperialism in the region." Under Gorbachev, however, the USSR made a major shift in policy, taking an even-handed position in the Arab-Israeli conflict, and by 1991 had reestablished full diplomatic relations with Israel.

In the period since the collapse of the Soviet Union, relations between Moscow and Jerusalem, already warming in the final years of the Soviet Union when Gorbachev was in power, continued to improve. Trade between the two countries rose to a billion dollars per year, Jews were free to emigrate from Russia to Israel, and the two countries even cooperated in the production of military equipment such as helicopters and airborne command-and-control aircraft (AWACS). On the diplomatic front, under both Yeltsin and Putin, Russia took a balanced position, unlike the pre-Gorbachev Soviet government, which consistently took a pro-Arab, anti-Israeli stand. However, during the period when Yevgeny Primakov was Russia's Foreign Minister and Prime Minister (19961999), there was a marked tilt toward the Arab position. Following Primakov's ouster and the renewed Russian involvement in a war against Islamic rebels in Chechnya (where Israel supported Russia diplomatically), Russia under Putin's leadership switched back to a balanced position. Some Russian leaders even compared the Islamic-based terrorism Israel faced, from Hamas and Islamic Jihad, to the Islamic-based opposition Russia was battling in Chechnya.

The major problem in the Russian-Israeli relationship was the supply of Russian arms and military technologyincluding missile technologyto Iran. Given the fact that the clerical leadership of Iran called for Israel's destruction and supplied weapons to both Hezbollah and to the Palestinian Authority to fight Israel, Israel bitterly opposed the Russian sales. However, after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Iran became Russia's number one ally in the Middle East, and Russia continued to supply Iran with arms.

One of the dynamic aspects of the Russian-Israeli relationship after 1991 was the role of the million-plus Jews from the former Soviet Union (FSU) who emigrated to Israel. They formed the largest Russian-speaking diaspora outside the FSU and constituted a major cultural bond between Israel and Russia. As the Russian vote became increasingly important in Israeli elections, candidates for the post of Israeli Prime Minister sought to cultivate this electorate by announcing their wish to improve ties with Russia. For its part, Moscow, especially under Putin, developed a special relationship with the Russian community in Israel and saw that community as a tool to enhance Russian-Israeli trade and hence improve the Russian economy. Below the level of official relations, the Russian mafia created ties (including money-laundering ties) with its Russian counterparts in Israel, and this led to joint efforts by the Russian and Israeli governments to fight crime, occasioning frequent mutual visits of the Ministers of the Interior of both countries to deal with this problem.

Another major change from Soviet times was Russia's willingness to follow the U.S. lead in seeking to end the Israeli-Arab conflict. Thus Russia supported the OSLO I and OSLO II peace agreements in tandem with U.S. efforts to end the Al-Aksa intifada through the U.S.backed Mitchell Report. Such action was facilitated in part by the decreasing importance to Russia of the Arab-Israeli conflict, which was pivotal to Moscow's policy in the Middle East during Soviet times, and in part by Russia's desire, especially under Putin, to demonstrate cooperation with the United States.

See also: jews; iran, relations with; iraq, relations with; refuseniks; united states, relations with


Freedman, Robert O. (2001). Russian Policy Toward the Middle East Since the Collapse of the Soviet Union: The Yeltsin Legacy and the Challenge for Putin (The Donald W. Treadgold Papers in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies, no. 33). Seattle: Henry M. Jackson School of International Studies, University of Washington.

Nizamedden, Talal. (1999). Russia and the Middle East. New York: St. Martin's.

Rumer, Eugene. (2000). Dangerous Drift: Russia's Middle East Policy. Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Shaffer, Brenda. (2001). Partners in Need: The Strategic Relationship of Russia and Iran. Washington, DC: Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

Vassiliev, Alexei. (1993). Russian Policy in the Middle East: From Messiasism to Pragmatism. Reading, UK: Ithaca Press.

Robert O. Freedman

About this article

Relations with Israel

All Sources -
Updated Aug 13 2018 About content Print Topic