A Brief Affair: the Soviet Union's Relationship with Israel. By: Alex ZambitoRead Now
On February 9, 1953, the Soviet legation in Tel-Aviv was bombed wounding several members of its staff. This led to the breaking of Israeli-Soviet relations and ended the brief friendly relationship between the two countries which had begun with the Soviet Union’s support for the creation of the state of Israel in 1948. While Israeli-Soviet relations were re-established by Khrushchev’s government following the death of Stalin, they would never again reach the closeness of this period. This was accompanied by the Israeli decision to align with the west in the intensifying Cold War, abandoning its policy of non-identification and ending the brief period when Israel was supported by both super-powers.
Friendly Soviet-Zionist relations began in 1948 when the Soviets provided weapons to Zionist forces in their war against the Arabs of Palestine and surrounding countries. The Soviet Union also became the first to grant Israel de jure recognition as a state, which went further than the Unite States’ de facto recognition. However, this alliance was not born out of a commitment by Soviet leadership to Zionism or Zionist commitment to communism. Rather, it came out of a temporary alignment of interest. The Soviets and Zionists had a common enemy: Great Britain. The Soviets wanted to remove British influence in the region, making room for their own, and they saw the Zionists as the best placed to do this. Whether they aligned with the eastern bloc after was irrelevant if Britain was removed. This also involved a temporary alliance with the United States in seeking the removal of the old colonial empires from the Middle East, which allowed Israel to straddle a line of non-alignment. Once the British were removed, so was the glue holding the alliance together.
While the Soviet reason for breaking ties with Israel was ostensibly the legation bombing, it was the culmination of Soviet policy which became steadily more anti-Zionist. This change in Soviet policy came from reaction of its own Jewish population to Zionism and Israel’s orientation towards the west. For many years, Zionism and Communism competed in the recruitment of Europe’s, particularly Russia’s, Jewish population. When Soviet officials decided to ally with Israel and allow limited emigration there, they found unsettling enthusiasm for Zionism in a Jewish population they believed to be thoroughly assimilated to Soviet society. Pretty soon after the Soviet recognition of Israel, Soviet messaging, at least to its internal Jewish population, became increasingly anti-Zionist and many eastern bloc nations replaced restrictions on Jewish immigration to Israel.
This tension was exacerbated by the Israeli government’s increasing orientation towards the west and the Soviet conclusion that the area’s Arab population was a more promising source of resistance to western influence. To the Soviets, there were several events between their support of Israel in 1948 and their breaking ties in 1953 which indicated Israel’s pivot towards the west. First, in January 1949 Israel accepted a loan from American Export-Import Bank, which drew Israel further into the United States’ economic sphere and opened the door for a future military agreement between the U.S. and Israel. Further, Soviet suspicions of Israel were inflamed when Israel accepted the Tripartite Declaration issued by the United States, Great Britain, and France which attempted to maintain the status quo in the Middle East and provide for the military protection of the region- a policy directed at the Soviet Union. The situation deteriorated further still when Israel sided with the U.S. on the United Nations intervention in the Korea War against the Soviet-backed north. On the other hand, many other countries in the Middle East chose to abstain in the matter. Here, the Soviets were practically aligned with the Arab countries in the Middle East leading them to see the potential for alliance with anti-colonial struggles there.
This brief period of Israeli-Soviet cooperation demonstrates the Zionist dependence on the great powers for its existence as well as its leadership’s ability to exploit temporary alignments of interest for its own advantage. Similar to how Zionist leaders managed to use the British mandatory period to their advantage, they were able to do the same with the Soviet desire to drive the British out. However, this also underscores the fact that Israel has always been to some extent dependent on great powers for the advancement of its interests. Additionally, it demonstrates the Zionist’s flexibility with who they were willing to work as long as the relationship was beneficial.
 Dana Adams Schmidt, “Soviet Break Shocks Israel; Fears Felt for Eastern Jews: Tel Avid Says It Is Only Culmination of a Policy- Bombings Seen as Excuse- Rift Fans Anti-Zionism in Russia,” New York Times, special, February 13, 1953.
“Moscow Note to New State Broad in Diplomatic Scope: De Jure Recognition, Wider Than That Given by United States, Indicated by Molotov- British Maintain Aloof Stand,” New York Times, special, May 18, 1948.
 “Israel Chides East for Anti-Zionism: Foreign Ministry Calls Curbs on Emigration Incompatible with Support of State,” New York Times, special, March 25, 1949.
 Avi Shlaim, “Israel Between East and West, 1948-56,” International Journal of Middle East Studies 36, no. 4 (Nov. 2004): 657-673, https://www.jstor.org/stable/3880010?seq=1
 Goo-hyoung Kahng, “Zionism, Israel, and the Soviet Union: A Study in the Rise and Fall of Brief Soviet-Israeli Friendship From 1945 to 1955.” Global Economic Review, 27, no. 4 (Winter 1998) : 95-107. www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/12265089808449748
 Yaacov Ro’i, “Soviet Policies and Attitudes Toward Israel, 1948-1978- An Overview,” Soviet Jewish Affairs 8, no. 1 (1978): 37, https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13501677808577276?journalCode=feej19
 C.L Sulzberger, ”Policy on Israel Shifting in Russia: With Anglo-U.S. Agreement and End of War, Moscow Returns to Anti-Zionism,” New York Times, special, April 16, 1949.
 Goo-hyoung Kahng, “Zionism, Israel, and the Soviet Union: A Study in the Rise and Fall of Brief Soviet-Israeli Friendship From 1945 to 1955.” Global Economic Review, 27, no. 4 (Winter 1998) : 101-102. www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/12265089808449748
Alex Zambito was born and raised in Savannah, GA. He graduated from the Georgia Institute of Technology in 2017 with a degree in History and Sociology. He is currently seeking a Masters in History at Brooklyn College. His Interest include the history of Socialist experiments and proletarian struggles across the world.
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