Israel–United Kingdom relations

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Israel–United Kingdom relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and United Kingdom


United Kingdom
John Nicholls, British ambassador to Israel, presenting his credentials to Yitzhak Ben Zvi, 1954

Israel–United Kingdom relations refers to diplomatic and commercial ties between the United Kingdom and Israel. The United Kingdom maintains an embassy in Tel Aviv and consulates in Eilat[1] and Jerusalem. Israel has an embassy and a consulate in London.[2][3]

According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 14% of British people view Israel's influence positively, with 72% expressing a negative view.[4]


Pro-Israel rally in London

Britain issued the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration of 1917 and spent 31 years ruling Palestine under a League of Nations mandate, until that mandate was ended and Israel came into existence in 1948. British-Israeli relations improved during the Suez Crisis of 1956,[5][6] in which Israel, France and the United Kingdom conspired for the French and British to gain control of the Suez Canal, using an Israeli invasion of the Sinai Peninsula as a pretext, but all were forced to withdraw by the United States, marked a point when Israeli-British relations were at their best.[5][7] In the 1950s and 1960s the UK was seen as pro-Arab, maintaining close relations with Jordan and the Gulf states.[6]

Israeli-British relations were strained in the 1980s. During the 1982 Lebanon War, Britain imposed an arms embargo on Israel, which would not be lifted until 1994.[8] It has been alleged that during the 1982 Falklands War, Israel supplied weaponry to Argentina, after Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally ordered an airlift of military equipment, to avenge the hanging of his friend Dov Gruner by the British during the Mandate era.[9] During that decade, there were also two diplomatic incidents that involved operations by the Mossad (Israeli secret service). In 1986, a diplomatic incident took place when a bag filled with forged British passports was discovered in a telephone booth in Germany - the passports had been the work of Mossad, and were intended for the Israeli Embassy in London, to use in covert operations abroad. The British government, furious, demanded Israel promise to never forge its passports again, which was obtained. In 1988, two Israeli diplomats from the Mossad station of the Israeli Embassy in London were expelled and the Mossad station closed after it was discovered that a Palestinian living in London - Ismail Sowan, had been recruited as a double agent to infiltrate the PLO.[10]

Diplomatic relations[edit]

The UK Government's mission statement regarding Israel reads "We promote Britain’s security, prosperity and well-being, and regional peace, through partnership with Israel.[11]

Two State Solution

According to The Foreign & Commonwealth Office "the Foreign Secretary has made clear that there is no more urgent foreign policy in 2013 than restarting Israeli-Palestinian talks and making substantive progress towards the two-state solution...we are concerned by developments that threaten the viability of the two-state solution, including the construction of settlements on occupied land in the West Bank and East Jerusalem...Our goal is a secure and universally recognised Israel living alongside a sovereign and viable Palestinian state, based on the borders of 1967, with Jerusalem the future capital of both states, and a just, fair and realistic settlement for refugees...The British government is clear that, ultimately, the way to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is through direct negotiations between the parties. We continue to call on both sides to show the strong leadership needed to achieve peace, to take the necessary steps to build trust and to work towards the resumption of negotiations without preconditions."[12]

Commercial relations[edit]

British pavilion at the Orient Fair, 1934

Annual bilateral trade exceeds US$3 billion and over 300 known Israeli companies are operating in Britain.[13] While visiting Israel in November 2010, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague called UK-Israel science and business ties "one of the cornerstones of the relationship between Britain and Israel."[14]

In 2009, the United Kingdom's Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs issued new guidelines concerning labelling of goods imported from the West Bank. The new guidelines require labelling to clarify whether West Bank products originate from settlements or from the Palestinian economy. Israel's foreign ministry said that the UK was "catering to the demands of those whose ultimate goal is the boycott of Israeli products"; but this was denied by the UK government, who said that the aim of the new regulations was to allow consumers to choose for themselves what produce they buy.[15]

In 2011 the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Israel launched a new project aiming facilitate economic and business ties between the U.K. and Israel. Dubbed the UK–Israel Technologies Hub, the initiative seeks also to identify opportunities among Israeli and Palestinian Arab entrepreneurs. One of the goals of the project is to encourage British companies to set up R&D facilities in Israel in order to tap Israel's skilled engineering base. Cleantech development is among the sectors the Technologies Hub targets for promoting British-Israeli partnerships.[16]

A 2011 White Paper on Trade and Investment for Growth issued by the government of the United Kingdom pointed to Israel as a pivotal strategic partner for Britain's future. Figures released early in 2012 showed that Israel was the United Kingdom's largest trade partner in the Middle East, with bilateral trade between the two nations amounting to £3.75 billion ($6 billion) in 2011 – up 34% from the preceding year. Matthew Gould, Britain's ambassador to Israel, said the figures demonstrated that the effect of boycott movements on trade between the U.K. and Israel was minuscule. He added that one of his goals was to bring more Israeli businesses to the U.K.[17]

In 2011, the United Kingdom established a technology center at the British Embassy in Tel Aviv, known as the UK-Israel Tech Hub, which is the only such facility sponsored by a government at its embassy in the world, to encourage cooperation between Israeli and British high-tech companies. Tech Hub was inaugurated by George Osborne, who serves as Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer. The center has established the TexChange program, which selected 15 Israeli start-ups to travel to London and gain experience in high-tech in London. The program also offers Israeli companies access to more markets in the United Kingdom and Europe. Tech Hub has also brought British entrepreneurs to Israel to participate in Israel's high-tech scene.[18]

Cultural and educational relations[edit]

The Britain-Israel Research and Academic Exchange (BIRAX) was launched in 2008 to improve academic cooperation between universities in Israel and the UK.[19] BIRAX, created by the British Council in Israel in collaboration with Pears Foundation, brings together Israeli and British scientists through funding of joint research projects. In November 2010, ten British-Israeli research projects were selected to receive BIRAX funding. UK Foreign Secretary William Hague also announced the establishment of the UK-Israel Life Sciences Council to further scientific collaboration between the two countries.[14] The British Israeli Arts Training Scheme (BI ARTS) was established to improve links between the British and Israeli arts industries.[20]

In 2013, Raymond Dwek was appointed Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) in the Queen's New Year Honours for services to UK/Israel scientific collaboration.[21]

Diplomatic tensions[edit]

Arrest warrants[edit]

When he flew to England in 2005, retired Israeli general Doron Almog narrowly escaped arrest for war crimes after a UK Judge had issued a warrant in a British court, on the basis of the principle of universal jurisdiction. Almog was tipped off about the arrest and stayed on the plane until its return flight to Israel after 2 hours.[22] It was later revealed that the police failed to board the plane because they were denied permission by El Al, Israel's national airline, and feared an armed confrontation and the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport".[23]

In December 2009, an arrest warrant was issued for then leader of the opposition Tzipi Livni due to alleged war crimes committed during the 2008-09 Gaza War, when Livni was foreign minister.[24] These incidents strained relations between Israel and the United Kingdom, and Israel urged the UK to rethink its policies to prevent a further breakdown.[25] A few months earlier, former military chief Moshe Yaalon had called off a visit to Britain due to similar concerns.[26] Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak was also threatened with arrest, but the courts ruled that as a sitting minister he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.[27] British Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced that Britain would no longer tolerate legal harassment of Israeli officials in this fashion and arrest threats against visitors of Livni's stature would not happen again. To achieve this, British law would be reformed.[28] Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said that the risk of arrest was harming bilateral relations[29] but the law was not changed as promised. Israel halted the "special strategic dialogue" with Britain in protest.[30]

Legislation passed in 2011 under David Cameron's Conservative government altered the law, and required that the Director of Public Prosecutions give his consent to any private prosecution for war crimes under universal jurisdiction, to prevent politically motivated cases and to ensure that there was solid evidence. Justice Secretary Kenneth Clark explained that "the balance is struck between ensuring those who are accused of such heinous crimes do not escape justice and that universal jurisdiction cases are only proceeded with on the basis of solid evidence."[31] Livni arrived in the UK later that year in what was perceived to be a test case of the new legislation. The Crown Prosecution Service later revealed that it had received an application for an arrest warrant but no conclusion had been reached on whether there was sufficient evidence to support conviction. Foreign secretary William Hague then declared that Livni was on a "special mission," which granted her immunity from prosecution.[32] The "special mission" status was effective in protecting Livni in this case.[33]

Forged passports[edit]

In February 2010, Israel was suspected of forging British passports for use in a mission to assassinate Hamas leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai.[34]

On the 23rd of March 2010 the then foreign Secretary, David Miliband, reported to the House on the investigation by the UK Serious Organised Crime Agency (SOCA) into the use of counterfeit British passports in the killing of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai on 19 January. Mr Miliband reported that as the Dubai operation had been a very sophisticated one, using high-quality forgeries, the British Government had judged it highly likely that they had been created by a state intelligence service. Taking that together with other inquiries, and the link to Israel established by SOCA, the Government had concluded that there were compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports.[35]

"SOCA conducted an extremely professional investigation. The Israeli authorities met all the requests that SOCA made of them. SOCA was drawn to the conclusion that the passports used were copied from genuine British passports when handed over for inspection to individuals linked to Israel, either in Israel or in other countries."

"The Government take this matter extremely seriously. Such misuse of British passports is intolerable. It presents a hazard to the safety of British nationals in the region. Also, it represents a profound disregard for the sovereignty of the UK. The fact that that was done by a country that is a friend, with significant diplomatic, cultural, business and personal ties to the UK, only adds insult to injury."

"Diplomatic work between Britain and Israel needs to be conducted according to the highest standards of trust. The work of our embassy in Israel and the Israeli embassy in London is vital to the co-operation between our countries. So is the strategic dialogue between our countries. Those ties are important, and we want them to continue. However, I have asked for a member of the embassy of Israel to be withdrawn from the UK as a result of this affair, and that is taking place." [36]

Israel has a stated policy on security matters of neither confirming nor denying involvement[37] In Dublin, Israeli ambassador Zion Evrony also insisted he knew nothing about the killing of the Hamas commander. The Ambassador said that he had no information on the matter and would relay the messages he had received to his authorities.[38]


UK food labels are set to distinguish between goods from Palestinians in the occupied territories and produce from Israeli settlements. The Palestinian general delegation to the UK welcomed the move, but Israel said it was "extremely disappointed". [39]

UK government proposals to label products originating from the West Bank were criticized by Israel.[40][41]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ UK In Israel - About us
  2. ^ The Israeli Government's Official Website, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  3. ^ The Israeli Government's Official Website, by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs
  4. ^ 2013 World Service Poll BBC
  5. ^ a b David Newman (2010-03-28). "Repairing Israel-UK Relations". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  6. ^ a b Ian Black (2010-02-18). "Dubai killing deals another blow to faltering UK-Israel relations". Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  7. ^ "Israel threatens British boycott". The Times (London). 
  8. ^ Britain lifts arms embargo against Israel - The Independent
  9. ^ 'Begin aided Argentina during Falklands War to avenge the British' - Haaretz
  10. ^ Expelling Israeli diplomats: Thatcher did it first - Ynetnews
  11. ^ " government website
  12. ^ [1]|UK government website
  13. ^ Chamber of Commerce
  14. ^ a b Foreign Secretary William Hague hails UK-Israel science links
  15. ^ Ian Black and Rory McCarthy (2009-12-10). "UK issues new guidance on labelling of food from illegal West Bank settlements". The Guardian (United Kingdom). Retrieved 2012-01-05. ]
  16. ^ Kloosterman, Karin (28 November 2011). "UK opens door to Israeli high-tech". Israel21c. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  17. ^ Shemer, Nadav (29 February 2012). "UK envoy: Trade boom proves no Israel boycott". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  18. ^ Shamah, David (October 30, 2012). "High-tech diplomacy puts Israel and UK on the same page". The Times of Israel. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  19. ^ BI RAX
  20. ^ BI-Arts - Arts and culture - British Council - Israel
  21. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60367. p. 25. 29 December 2012.
  22. ^ Vikram Dodd and Conal Urquhart (2005-09-12). "Israeli evades arrest at Heathrow over army war crime allegations". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  23. ^ Dominic Casciani (2008-02-19). "Police feared 'airport stand-off'". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  24. ^ "UK ponders law change after Tzipi Livni arrest warrant". BBC News. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  25. ^ Roni Sofer (2009-12-15). "Israel: If UK doesn't act, relations will suffer". Ynet News. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  26. ^ "Israel minister calls off visit to Britain over fear of arrest over 'war crimes'". Mail Online (London). 2009-10-07. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  27. ^ Ian Cobain and Ian Black (2009-09-29). "Lawyers seek arrest of Israeli defence minister in UK for alleged war crimes". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  28. ^ Barak Ravid and Agencies (2009-12-19). "Israel confirms U.K. arrest warrant against Livni". Haaretz. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  29. ^ Barak Ravid (2010-01-05). "Deputy FM: Arrest warrants harming Britain-Israel ties". Haaretz. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  30. ^ "Israel halts 'special strategic dialogue' with Britain to protest arrest warrants". Haaretz. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  31. ^ "UK alters law targeting war crimes suspects". Associated Press (Boston). September 16, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  32. ^ Owen Bowcott (2011-10-06). "Tzipi Livni spared war crime arrest threat". The Guardian (London). Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  33. ^ Marcus Dysch (2011-10-11). "Livni visit did not test universal jurisdiction legislation". The Jewish Chrnicle. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  34. ^ Dubai Hamas assassination: 'Israeli hit-squad' used fake British passports - Telegraph
  35. ^
  36. ^
  37. ^ "UK warns of Israel travel amid passport scandal". CNN World. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  38. ^ "Dubai Hamas killing pledge by UK foreign secretary". BBC News. 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  39. ^ "Anger over West Bank foods labels". BBC News. 2009-12-11. 
  40. ^ Labels on West Bank products: food for thought for Israel – Telegraph Blogs
  41. ^ U.K. government urges businesses: Label products from settlements - Haaretz - Israel News

External links[edit]