Soviet Union

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In August 1986, the Soviet Union renewed contacts with Israel for the first time since severing diplomatic relations immediately following the June 1967 War. The Soviet Union had been an early supporter of the 1947 UN Partition of Palestine Resolution, and in 1948 it had recognized the newly established State of Israel. Relations between Israel and the countries of Eastern Europe, however, markedly worsened in the 1950s. The Soviet Union turned to Egypt and Syria as its primary partners in the Middle East, and in the early 1960s it began to support the Palestinian cause and supply the PLO and other Palestinian armed groups with military hardware. But in the mid-1980s, Soviet-Union turned its attention to improving relations with Israel as part of its "new diplomacy" and a change in its Middle Eastern strategy.

Soviet and Israeli representatives held talks in Helsinki, Finland, on August 17, 1986. Although the talks did not lead to renewed diplomatic relations between the two countries, they indicated Soviet interest in improving ties with Israel. Israel viewed the Soviet initiative as an attempt to obtain Israel's agreement to participate in an international peace conference to resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict and to increase Soviet involvement in the Middle East as a counterweight to the United States. The Soviets raised three issues: the activity of the Soviet section based in the Finnish legation in Tel Aviv; consular matters connected with the travels of Soviet citizens to Israel; and Soviet property, mainly that belonging to the Russian Orthodox Church, in Israel. In talks with the Soviets, the Israelis demanded that greater numbers of Jews be permitted to emigrate to Israel, that a radical change take place in official Soviet attitudes toward its Jewish community, and that Moscow cease publishing virulent anti-Zionist tracts. Soviet and Israeli officials held a number of additional meetings in 1987.

A major group influencing improved relations between the two countries was the active Israeli lobby, the Soviet Jewry Education and Information Center. This lobby represented about 170,000 Soviet Jews living in Israel, who pressured the government not to restore diplomatic relations with Moscow until the Soviet Union permitted free Jewish emigration.

Despite its renewed contacts with Israel, the Soviet Union continued to support the PLO and the Palestinian cause through military training and arms shipments. Moscow also used various front organizations, such as the World Peace Council, to wage propaganda campaigns against the Israeli regime in international forums.

More about the Government and Politics of Israel.

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Source: U.S. Library of Congress