Diplomatic Roller Coaster (Extract)

Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here. Even after six decades, accommodation with the Palestinians and the Arab and Muslim worlds remains the most significant unfinished business of Israeli diplomacy When Israel made its first bid to join the United Nations in November 1948, it failed to garner the necessary vote. Only five members of the Security Council voted for its inclusion - the United States, the USSR, Ukraine, Argentina and Colombia; the minimum needed was seven. The setback, however, proved temporary. In the council's next session the following spring, France and Canada added their votes, and on May 11, 1949, Israel became the U.N.'s 59th member. Back in those days, Israel's future was far from assured. It had just repelled a combined Arab assault and made territorial gains, but to survive it needed more arms and powerful allies. Without international legitimacy, however, there would be no patrons and no arms. Acceptance by the U.N. was a good beginning. Today Israel has at the center of its foreign policy a seemingly unshakable strategic relationship with the United States, as well as diplomatic ties with 161 other countries. There is no lack of state-of-the-art weaponry and trade with all the global giants is booming. But nagging questions of legitimacy remain, mainly because of Israel's continued hold on the West Bank and its blockade of Gaza. And, with a potentially nuclear Iran, Israel faces an existential threat as serious as any in its embattled 60-year history. In the early years, the fledgling Jewish state had few friends. In May 1950, the United States, Britain and France had issued a "Tripartite Declaration," which seemed to guarantee Israel's territorial integrity in the borders it had set in the War of Independence. But the U.S. and Britain soon backtracked, with Secretary of State John Foster Dulles and Prime Minister Anthony Eden urging Israeli territorial concessions as they sought to cultivate the friendship of the Arabs to counter growing Soviet influence. By 1955, with both the West and the Soviets currying Arab favor, Israel found itself in a perilous state of strategic isolation. Highlighting the extent of Israel's vulnerability, U.S. President Dwight Eisenhower commented that there was no point in selling arms to 1.7 million Jews, as they would inevitably lose a military showdown against 40 million Arabs. Crucially, two European powers came to Israel's aid in the 1950s. An agreement between Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion and West German Chancellor Konrad Adenauer in September 1952 for Holocaust reparations and restitution helped Israel through a dire economic period. The Germans also supplied arms. In 1959, tanks and other weapons purchased by West Germany from various third parties began flowing clandestinely into Israel. This continued until 1964, when the cover on a secret Israel-West German arms deal was blown. Nearly three decades later, in the mid-1990s after Iraqi Scud missile attacks, Germany supplied Israel with the first of five Dolphin submarines, reportedly capable of firing nuclear weapons and giving Israel assured second-strike capability in the event of a nuclear attack against it. The principal military aid in the 1950s, though, came from France. Believing Israel might be able to help it with its troubles in Algeria, France became the Jewish state's major arms supplier, providing the Mirage and Mystere warplanes that were used to devastating effect in the opening hours of the 1967 Six-Day War. In the late 1950s, at the initiative of Ben-Gurion and his protégé Shimon Peres, France also supplied Israel with nuclear know-how and technology, enabling it, according to foreign sources, to become of one of the world's eight nuclear powers. The 1956 Suez campaign, in which Israel collaborated with Britain and France against Gamal Abdel Nasser's Egypt, had cemented Franco-Israeli ties. It also opened the Red Sea route to Africa and one of Israel's most dramatic diplomatic successes: Israeli experts in medicine, agriculture, technology and construction helping to improve the quality of life in post-colonial Africa. Israel's overwhelming victory in the 1967 war led to a sea change in Israel's relations with the United States. Finally convinced of Israel's staying power, the Americans now saw ties with it as the best way of securing a stable foothold in the Middle East. In 1968, they began supplying Israel with Phantom and Skyhawk warplanes, with a commitment to help it maintain its qualitative edge over Arab powers. A few years later, President Richard Nixon agreed to go along with Israel's policy of nuclear ambiguity, making it possible for it to continue developing nuclear weapons without fear of international sanctions. And, in 1987, the U.S. granted Israel the status of a "major non-Nato ally." But the Six-Day War was not an unqualified diplomatic success. On the contrary, Israel's occupation of Palestinian territory severely undermined its international standing. French President Charles de Gaulle was the first to turn away. And when Israeli forces moved into "African territory" west of Suez during the 1973 Yom Kippur War, the African countries, which had been a central pillar of Israeli foreign policy - association with them inured Israel against charges of colonialism and they provided numbers against Arab machinations in the U.N. - severed ties. Two years later, the General Assembly passed its infamous resolution equating Zionism with racism. Extract of an article in Issue 2, May 12, 2008 of The Jerusalem Report. To subscribe to The Jerusalem Report click here.