Middle Eastern States

Israel Table of Contents

Despite the Arab-Israeli conflict, Israel has established formal diplomatic relations with Egypt and maintained a de facto peaceful relationship with Jordan. Israeli leaders have traveled to Morocco to discuss Israeli-Arab issues, and Morocco has often served as an intermediary between Israel and the other Arab states. In 1983 Israel signed a peace treaty with Lebanon, although it was quickly abrogated by the Lebanese as a result of Syrian pressure. Some secret diplomatic contacts may also have occurred between Israel and Tunisia.


In late 1988, about ten years after the signing of the Camp David Accords and the Treaty of Peace Between Egypt and Israel, a "cool" peace characterized Egyptian-Israeli relations. These relations had originally been envisioned as leading to a reconciliation between Israel and the Arab states, but this development has not occurred. EgyptianIsraeli relations have been restrained by a number of developments, including the June 1981 Israeli bombing of an Iraqi nuclear reactor, the Israeli invasion of Lebanon directed against Palestinian forces a year later, the establishment of an increasing number of Jewish settlements in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, and the "watering down" of proposals for the autonomy of the Palestinian inhabitants of these territories as envisaged by the Camp David Accords and the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty.

Relations between the two countries warmed somewhat during Peres's tenure as prime minister and minister of foreign affairs in the National Unity Government. They again cooled, however, following the establishment of the Likud-led cabinet in December 1988, and prime minister Shamir's rejection of Israeli participation in an international peace conference with the PLO. Nevertheless, the two countries continued to maintain full diplomatic relations, and in 1985 about 60,000 Israeli tourists visited Egypt, although Egyptian tourism to Israel was much smaller. Cooperation occurred in the academic and scientific areas as well as in a number of joint projects in agriculture, marine science, and disease control.

Another issue that had impeded normal relations between Egypt and Israel concerned the disposition of Taba, an approximately 100- hectare border enclave and tourist area on the Gulf of Aqaba in the Sinai Peninsula claimed by the two countries, but occupied by Israel. Following a September 1988 ruling in Egypt's favor by an international arbitration panel, official delegations from Israel and Egypt met to implement the arbitral award.


Secret or "discreet" contacts between the leaders of the Yishuv and later of Israel and the Hashemite Kingdom of Transjordan or Jordan began in the early days of the British Mandate and continued into the late 1980s. These covert contacts were initiated with King Abdullah, the grandfather of King Hussein, Jordan's present ruler. Some observers have speculated that, together with Jordan's annexation of the West Bank in 1950, these contacts may have been responsible for Abdullah's assassination by a Palestinian gunman in East Jerusalem in July 1951. According to Israeli journalists Yossi Melman and Dan Raviv, Hussein renewed Jordan's ties with Israel in 1963. Following Jordan's ill-fated participation in the June 1967 War, secret meetings took place between Hussein and Israeli leaders in 1968, and they lasted until Begin's accession to power in 1977. This "secret" relationship was revived in 1984, following Labor's participation in the National Unity Government, and intensified in 1986-87. The participants reached agreements on Israeli-Jordanian cooperation on such issues as the role of pro-Jordanian Palestinian moderates in the peace process, setting up branches of Jordan's Cairo-Amman Bank in the West Bank, and generally increasing Amman's influence and involvement in the West Bank's financial, agricultural, education, and health affairs, thus blocking the PLO. The last reported meeting between Minister of Foreign Affairs Peres and King Hussein took place in London in November 1987, when the two leaders signed a "memorandum of understanding" on a peace plan. Upon his return to Israel, however, Peres was unable to win support for the agreement in the Israeli cabinet.


Morocco has been noted for its generally good relations with its own Jewish community, which in 1988 numbered approximately 18,000; in 1948 there had been about 250,000 Jews in Morocco. Over the years discreet meetings have occurred between Moroccan and Israeli leaders. Beginning in 1976, King Hassan II began to mediate between Arab and Israeli leaders. Then Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin reportedly made a secret visit to Morocco in 1976, leading to a September 1977 secret meeting between King Hassan and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan. King Hassan also played a role in the Egyptian-Israeli contacts that led to the 1978 Camp David Accords. In July 1978, and again in March 1981, Peres, as opposition leader, made secret trips to Morocco. In May 1984, thirty-five prominent Israelis of Moroccan origin attended a conference in Rabat. This meeting was followed by an official visit in May 1985 by Avraham Katz-Oz, Israel's deputy minister of agriculture, to discuss possible agricultural cooperation between the two countries. In August 1986, Moroccan agricultural specialists and journalists reportedly visited Israel, and Haim Corfu, Israel's minister of transport, attended a transportation conference in Morocco. On July 22 and 23, 1986, Prime Minister Peres met King Hassan at the king's palace in Ifrane. This was the first instance of a public meeting between an Arab leader and an Israeli prime minister since the Egyptian-Israeli meetings of the late 1970s. Hassan and Peres, however, were unable to agree on ways to resolve the Palestinian dimension of the Arab-Israeli conflict.


Until the overthrow of the shah's regime in 1979, Israel and Iran had established government missions in both countries although this relationship was never formalized by an exchange of ambassadors. Under the shah, from 1953 to 1979, Iran was one of Israel's primary suppliers of oil and a major commercial partner. In addition, the intelligence services of the two countries cooperated closely, and Israel exported military hardware and provided training and other assistance to Iranian military forces. These close, but discreet, relations were abruptly terminated in 1979, upon the coming to power of the regime of Ayatollah Sayyid Ruhollah Musavi Khomeini and Iran's joining of the anti-Israel camp. Shortly thereafter, Iran called for the "eradication" of the State of Israel through armed struggle and its replacement by a Palestinian state. As a symbolic gesture, the PLO was given the building of the former Israeli mission in Tehran.

In the 1980s, however, Israeli concern about the fate of the approximately 30,000 Jews remaining in Iran, interest in assisting Iran in its war with Iraq, and cooperation with the United States in its efforts to free American hostages held by Iranian-backed Shia extremists in Lebanon, led to a renewal of contacts between Israeli and Iranian leaders and shipments of Israeli arms to Tehran. Israel reportedly sent arms to Iran in exchange for Iran's allowing thousands of Jews to leave the country.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress