Relations with the Soviet Union
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.
Data as of December 1988