Diplomatic overtures

From the instant recognition and rapprochement with Germany to peace with Jordan.

Instant recognition Israel's first significant diplomatic achievement took place just 11 minutes after David Ben-Gurion declared the country's independence - US president Harry Truman, against the overwhelming advice of his foreign policy advisers, including near mythic secretary of state George Marshall, recognized the new nation. Truman's decision was due to a number of factors: an innate humanitarianism, sympathy for Jewish DPs following the Holocaust, electoral considerations (1948 was an election year and Jews were represented heavily in the key states of New York, Illinois and Pennsylvania) and the persuasive work of work of men like his chief counsel Clark Clifford, his close friend Eddie Jacobson and Chaim Weizmann. In March 1948, as the administration was toying with the possibility of reversing its support for the November 1947 UN partition plan in favor of a trusteeship, Jacobson - a former business partner of Truman's - opened the door for a fateful meeting between Weizmann and Truman. The die was cast at that meeting, and Weizmann wrote afterward that he felt Truman still backed partition. The president did indeed continue to back partition, and against the entreaties of his secretaries of state and defense - who warned about both losing the Arabs to the Soviets and a possible disruption of the flow of oil - the US was the first country to recognize Israel, an act that marked the beginning of what developed over time into an intimate relationship. The French connection The beginning of a massive shipment of Soviet bloc arms to Egypt in 1955 left Israel - whose glow in Washington faded when Dwight D. Eisenhower became president - in search of a new ally. It found one in France. The French Left at the time had deep sympathies with Israel, partly because of the socialism of both countries, and the French Right was worried about Algeria and the rise of Arab nationalism. Shimon Peres, then the director-general of the Defense Ministry, advocated development of close ties with the French, a policy that was adopted and led to both cooperation with the British and French in the 1956 Sinai Campaign, and later to French help in building the nuclear reactor in Dimona. After the 1956 war, when the Soviets threatened a nuclear attack if Israel did not leave the Sinai, the French - at a meeting with Peres and then foreign minister Golda Meir - upgraded their agreement to help build a nuclear reactor. Indeed, the French helped Jerusalem develop a nuclear deterrent, a deterrent that - as ambiguous as Israel has kept it over the years - has been a cornerstone of the country's strategic policy ever since. Rapprochement with Germany Facing difficult economic straits in the early 1950s, stemming from state building and the need to absorb tens of thousands of immigrants, prime minister David Ben-Gurion took the gut-wrenchingly difficult decision to open reparations and restitution negotiations with West Germany, but only after chancellor Konrad Adenauer would make a statement atoning for Germany's responsibility for the Holocaust. Adenauer made his momentous speech, and official talks with Bonn were approved by the Knesset, even as violent riots took place outside the building. These talks paved the way for the landmark reparations and restitution agreements which included individual compensation to victims, as well as payment in the form of goods to Israel. Both Ben-Gurion and Adenauer envisioned these agreements as laying the foundation for a unique relationship that included the supply of weapons and financial assistance in the late '50s and early '60s, when this was desperately needed. Though the relations went through a number of rocky patches during this period, with West Germany not wanting to formalize relations because it would lead to the Arab states recognizing East Germany, ties between Bonn and Jerusalem culminated when the two countries exchanged ambassadors in August 1965. Forty-three years later, Germany is considered among the strongest allies, if not the strongest ally, Israel has in Europe. The HAWK has landed Even though the US recognized Israel immediately after declaration of statehood in 1948, the intimate diplomatic and security relationship between the two that exists today was not always a given. There were powerful voices in various administrations, particularly in the State Department, who argued that a close relationship with Israel would make good ties with the Arab world almost impossible. As a result, the US embargoed the sale of arms to Israel until 1962. In 1962, however, with Israel warning of a significant "missile gap" because the Soviet Union sent war planes to Egypt, president John F. Kennedy, under intense lobbying from US Jews and a diplomatic campaign from Jerusalem, agreed to sell it state-of-the-art HAWK surface to air missiles. Not only did the US sell Israel the system, but it also trained IDF soldiers on how to use them at US bases. With the barrier broken, the country then asked the US to sell it tanks and planes, laying the groundwork of an extremely close military relationship that has come to be a key brick in Israel's overall strategic doctrine. Saving Israel In the initial, shocking days of the Yom Kippur War in October 1973, with the country facing devastating loses on both the northern and southern fronts, Israel turned to Washington with an urgent request for planes, tanks and ammunition. When the initial response from the White House was that it would study the request, prime minister Golda Meir considered a trip to Washington to personally appeal for the aid to president Richard Nixon. The trip wasn't necessary, and on October 12 - a few days after the Soviet Union airlifted 8,000 tons of material to the Arabs - Nixon, supported by secretary of state Henry Kissinger, ordered a massive airlift of arms that some argue saved the state. Within a month, some 22,000 tons of equipment were flown and shipped, everything from tanks to helicopters, howitzers and bombs. Since no European country would allow the planes to refuel on their territory - there were some 556 flights - the US pressed its NATO ally Portugal to allow refueling in the Azores Islands. The infusion of material was critical, and allowed the IDF to reverse the fortunes of the war. Alexander Haig, who at the time was White House chief of staff, wrote in his memoir Inner Circles that "as soon as the scope and pattern of Israeli battle losses emerged, Nixon ordered that all destroyed equipment be made up out of US stockpiles, using the very best weapons America possessed." According to Haig, Nixon told Kissinger to "save Israel." Shortly after the war, Golda, speaking to a Jewish group in Washington, said, "For generations to come, all will be told of the miracle of the immense planes from the United States bringing in the materiel that meant life to our people." The good Camp David When Egyptian president Anwar Sadat stepped off the plane at Ben-Gurion Airport in November 1977, the seemingly impenetrable wall of complete Arab rejection of Israel began to crack. In what to many seemed at the time like a dream, the leader of the largest Arab county, a country that was an implacable foe, was by his very presence in the country implicitly extending recognition - something the country had yearned for, but which had eluded it, for its first 29 years of existence. Sadat's visit led 11 months later to Camp David, where prime minister Menachem Begin, Sadat and US president Jimmy Carter engaged in tense and dramatic negotiations that gave birth to the Camp David Accords, signed in September 1978. The accords had two parts. The first dealt with the future of the Sinai and peace between Israel and Egypt, and the second was a framework agreement for negotiating Palestinian autonomy in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. While the first part of the agreement led to the peace treaty signed in March 1979, the second part floundered and died. The peace accord with Egypt profoundly changed the region. Though it did not lead to the warm peace between the two neighbors that many had hoped, it did effectively remove a serious military threat and significantly improved the country's strategic situation. Important precedents were set with ramifications that continue to resonate to this day: bilateral negotiations leading to a peace treaty, and Israel's willingness to remove settlements. Jordan comes in from the cold Fifteen years after the peace treaty with Egypt, Israel signed its second accord with a neighboring Arab state - this time with Jordan - during a ceremony in the Arava, just north of Eilat, that featured the launching of hundreds of balloons. "We, all the children of Abraham, shall cherish this day, which is the dawn of a new era of peace," Jordan's King Hussein said at the ceremony. "I have but one dream, to give the next generation a better and more peaceful world," prime minister Yitzhak Rabin said, as a beaming US president Bill Clinton looked on. The signing was the climax of some 30 years of secret negotiations, with Jordan - fearful of the reaction of the Arab world - always afraid to "come out of the closet." The big break came after the Oslo Accords with the PLO, when Hussein finally felt confident enough to negotiate an agreement. As at Camp David, the US played a significant role in brokering the agreement, providing Jordan with military and economic aid and canceling debts. While the peace accord - as is the case regarding the treaty with Egypt - did not lead to closeness between the two peoples, it did cement a strategic and security relationship between the two governments reflected in close consultation and cooperation at the highest levels.