The UK and Israel in 2013

A look at how UK-Israel relations are shaping up to be ahead of the new year.

David Cameron 370 (photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
David Cameron 370
(photo credit: Isaac Strang/UJIA)
Israelis tend to regard the UK − or “Anglia” as they persist in calling it in Hebrew (a politically incorrect term in the UK these days to describe the nation) − with a jaundiced eye, for historically the relationship between Britain and Israel has been bittersweet.
For many, the bitter outweighs the sweet:  These include Britain’s abject failure in fulfilling the League of Nation’s mandate to establish a Jewish National Home in the interwar years; the failure to affect the course of the Holocaust as it progressed - even to the extent of refusing to bomb the Auschwitz crematoria; and finally its heartless treatment of Jewish refugees seeking to enter Palestine after the war.
Some, however, take a kinder view.  They recall that Britain, a global superpower in 1917, was first to acknowledge the Jewish people’s historic connection to the Holy Land, and to declare to the world that it was in favor of establishing a national home for them in Palestine. They remember Lord Allenby for his conquest of Palestine and his capture of Jerusalem, and also, with affection, the Christian Zionist General Orde Wingate, a founder of the Israel Defense Forces, known to the Jewish troops he commanded as “The Friend.”  They remember the “kindertransport” − the rescue mission during the nine months prior to the outbreak of the Second World War, when the UK took in nearly 10,000 Jewish children who fled from Nazi Germany.
The thorn in Britain’s relationship with the Zionist movement –and later on with Israel—is Britain’s perpetual will to maintain in good relations with as much of the Arab world as possible – especially with oil-rich Arab states. The resultant balancing act has led to many a wobble.
Coming into the new year, just what are Israel’s prospects for a strong supportive UK?
Judging by remarks made by UK Prime Minister David Cameron earlier this month, they are − with just a few reservations − excellent. Let’s examine those reservations: Britain’s primary need in 2013 will be to trade its way out of recession, and this may lead to stronger economic ties with a range of Middle Eastern states. Only last week Britain announced a multi-billion GBP defense deal with Oman; other such deals are in the offing as Gulf States become increasingly nervous about Iranian ambitions and the rise of extreme Islamism on the back of the Arab Spring. With regards to the Arab Spring, the UK seems as hypnotized as the US with the idea that somehow democracy will leap, fully-fledged, from the flames of revolution. That the white-heat of rebellion might result in the accession of extremist Islamist governments – like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt − is, for the moment at least, largely discounted.
However, the prime minister’s comment earlier this month bears good news for Israel: “I’m not an acquaintance of Israel. I’m not a colleague of Israel. I am a passionate friend of Israel – and that’s the way it’s going to stay.” Cameron was unrestrained in his admiration for Israeli achievement in a whole range of fields. “Israel is growing faster than Russia – and almost twice as fast as Brazil. It’s got more start-up businesses per head than any other country. The big question is: how do they do it? Yes, it’s about Israel getting its debts down, investing in education, signing free trade agreements, but it’s more than that – it’s about the aspiration and drive of its people. These are people who have innovated around every problem that life has thrown at them. The land is dry - so they come up with new water technology. There’s little oil – so they find other energy alternatives. So we want to work much more closely with Israel – on innovation, on technology.”
Earnest in his intention to seek ever closer ties with Israel in terms of trade and of scientific and technical innovation, Cameron announced the appointment of the UK’s first ever technology envoy to Israel, Saul Klein. In Cameron’s words, Klein is someone who has “huge experience in early-stage investment.”
With regards to the conflict, Cameron believes that the only way to secure long term peace and security is the two-state solution. “To me it is clear what needs to happen. We need the US administration to give this priority. We need Europe to act even-handedly. We need the Palestinians to understand there is only one path to statehood, and that is through negotiations with Israel. We made that clear with the UN vote a couple of weeks ago. We said that Britain could not support a resolution that set back the prospects for peace and that did not commit the Palestinians to return to negotiations without preconditions. So we did not vote for it.”
On the other hand, it might be observed, the UK did not vote against it either.  Balancing, as ever, on the wobbly high-wire, the UK abstained.
On Iran, Cameron believes that the regime must be prevented from acquiring nuclear weapons, but that the policy of sanctions is working, and the Tehran regime is cracking.  Nevertheless, he said: “if Iran makes the wrong choice, nothing – and I mean nothing - is off the table.” So 2013 might just be the crunch year for military action.
Cameron concluded: “I look forward to the day when the relationship between Britain and Israel is about prosperity more than about security, to the day when the Jewish people can see the future not with uncertainty but with hope, and as a friend of Israel I will work with you till that day comes.”
Not a bad prospect for UK-Israeli relations.
The writer is the author of “One Year in the History of Israel and Palestine” (2011) and writes the blog “A Mid-East Journal” (,