France–Israel relations

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French–Israeli relations
Map indicating locations of France and Israel



After the Israeli Declaration of Independence in 1948 and in the early 1950s, France and Israel maintained close political and military ties. France was Israel's main weapons supplier until its withdrawal from Algeria in 1962. Three days before the outbreak of the Six-Day War in 1967, Charles de Gaulle's government imposed an arms embargo on the region, mostly affecting Israel.[1]

Under François Mitterrand in the early 1980s, French–Israeli relations improved greatly. Mitterrand was the first French president to visit Israel while in office.[2] After Jacques Chirac was elected president in 1995, relations declined due to his support of Yasser Arafat during the first stages of the Second Intifada.[3] After the election of Nicolas Sarkozy in May 2007, France's new leader said that he would refuse to greet any world leader who does not recognize Israel's right to exist.[4]

France has an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate-general in Jerusalem. Israel has an embassy in Paris and a consulate-general in Marseille.


June 14, 1960, first meeting between David Ben-Gurion and Charles de Gaulle at Élysée Palace
Golda Meir and French PM Guy Mollet in Tel Aviv, 1959

The Dreyfus affair between 1894 and 1906 was the first and rather bitter connection between the Zionist Movement and France. The ousting of a French officer of Jewish-German descent in a modern European state motivated Theodor Herzl in organizing the First Zionist Congress and pledging for a home for the Jewish in 1897. During the fourth Zionist Congress in London in 1900, Herzl said in his speech there that "...there is no necessity for justifying the holding the Congress in London. England is one of the last remaining places on earth where there is freedom from Jewish hatred." While the British Government began to recognize the importance and validity of the Zionist movement, the French staid abstent. The first closer connection between the Zionist Movement and France was during World War II between the years 1940–1944 when France was under German occupation.[5]


After France's liberation by Allied forces, David Ben-Gurion was confident that Charles de Gaulle would assist him in the founding of a Jewish state. On 12 January 1949 France recognized the existence of Israel and supported the decision for Israel to join the United Nations. In 1953 France started selling French weapons to Israel and became one of the closest allies and supporters of Israel[citation needed]. France then shared with Israel a strategic interest against radical Arab nationalism, as it had to cope with nationalist sentiment in its Algerian territories. During the late 1950s France supplied Israel with the Mirage - Israel's most advanced aircraft to date and their first serious combat aircraft.

In October 1957 an agreement was signed between France and Israel about the construction of the nuclear power plant in Israel, which was completed in 1963. Future Israeli President Shimon Peres was the politician who brokered the deal. In Michael Karpin's 2001 documentary A Bomb in the Basement, Abel Thomas, chief of political staff for France's defense minister at the time said Francis Perrin, head of the French Atomic Energy Commission, advised then-Prime Minister Guy Mollet that Israel should be provided with a nuclear bomb. According to the documentary, France provided Israel with a nuclear reactor and staff to set it up in Israel together with enriched uranium and the means to produce plutonium in exchange for support in the Suez War.[6][7]

The Suez Crisis of 1956 marked a watershed for Israeli-French relations.[8][9] Israel, France and the United Kingdom had conspired for control of the Suez Canal [8][10] Israel initiated a surprise invasion of Egypt, followed by the United Kingdom and France. The aims were to regain Western control of the Suez Canal and to remove Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser from power,[11] as well as reopening the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping and stop Egyptian-sponsored fedayeen raids into Israel.[12] After the fighting had started, the United States, the Soviet Union, and the United Nations forced the three invaders to withdraw.

France imposed an arms embargo on Israel before the beginning of the Six-Day War. After the embargo Israel had to go to a blitz because its air force could not maintain the planes for more than a couple of months without French spare parts. According to the New York Times, "this double game, however, ended when the Six-Day War in 1967 forced France to pick a side. In a shock to its Israeli allies, it chose the Arab states: despite aggressive moves by Egypt, France imposed a temporary arms embargo on the region — which mostly hurt Israel — and warned senior Israeli officials to avoid hostilities."[13]

The change of sides impaired as well the French-American relationship, as France was seen as an increasingly outdated and aggressive neocolonial power. The USA started to assume its current role as ally of Israel with the Six-Day War in 1967, while France decided to take sides with the Arab world to improve its relations after the independence of Algeria.[13]

French foreign minister Maurice Couve de Murville with Ben-Gurion

In 1960 Ben-Gurion arrived in France for Israel's first official visit. Until the Six Day War, France was the main supplier of Israel's weapons. After the Six-Day War in June 1967, Charles de Gaulle's government imposed an arms embargo on the region, mostly affecting Israel.[1] In 1969, de Gaulle retired and Israel hoped that new president Georges Pompidou would bring about better relations, but Pompidou continued the weapons embargo.


In 1981 François Mitterrand was elected 21st President of the French Republic. Mitterrand was the first left-wing head of state since 1957 and was considered a friend of the Jewish people and a lover of the Bible. In 1982 he visited Israel and spoke in the Israeli parliament, the Knesset. Both Israel and France deployed their armed forces to Lebanon during the Lebanese Civil War.


Tzipi Livni and French FM Douste-Blazy, 2006

In 2006 French exports to Israel rose to €683 million ($1.06 billion). France is Israel's 11th greatest supplier of goods and represents Israel's ninth largest market. France's main export items are motor vehicles, plastics, organic chemicals, aeronautical and space engineering products, perfumes and cosmetics.[14] The second-largest percentage of tourists that visit Israel come from France.[15]

On February 13, 2008, Sarkozy spoke at the annual dinner of the French Jewish CRIF (Conseil Représentatif des Institutions juives de France). The address was seen as a sign of newfound warmth between France's Élysée Palace and French Jewry, whose place in French society has been shaken in recent years following a surge in anti-Semitic attacks. "Israel can count on a new dynamic to its relationship with the European Union", said Sarkozy. "France will never compromise on Israel's security."

Israel welcomed Sarkozy's tough stance against the Iran-backed Hamas and Iran-backed Hezbollah. During the 2006 Lebanon War, France played a key role in Europe's efforts to get a quick ceasefire.[16]

On 30 June 2009, French President Nicolas Sarkozy urged Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to dismiss Israeli Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman from his post, saying "You have to get rid of that man. You need to remove him from this position".[17]

In January 2016 French Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius announced that France would convene an international conference with the objective of enabling new Israeli-Palestinian peace talks. He said, however, that if these talks were unsuccessful, then France would recognize a Palestinian state.[18][19] Israeli officials rejected what was considered an ultimatum, while Israeli opposition leaders said the French threat to recognize Palestine was triggered by the current Israeli government’s failed diplomacy.[20]

Cultural, scientific and technical cooperation[edit]

A French fire fighting plane (Bombardier Dash-8) preparing for takeoff in northern Israel

France's cultural, technological and scientific cooperation with Israel is based on bilateral agreements that date back to 1959.

In June 2007 a new French Institute opened in Tel Aviv. In honor of Israel's 60th anniversary of its independence, Israel was the official guest at the annual Book Fair in Paris in March 2008.

Since 2004, network research programs have been launched in medical genetics, mathematics, medical and biological imaging, as well as bioinformatics, with nearly 100 researchers involved in each. New programs are expected to be introduced in the areas of genomics, cancer research, neuroscience, astrophysics and robotics.

As part of the French culinary festival "So French, So Good," 12 respected French chefs visited Israel in February 2013 to work with Israeli chefs and hold master classes.[21]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b Cristol, Jay (2002-07-09). "When Did the U.S. and Israel Become Allies? (Hint: Trick Question)". History News Network. The Israelis continued to rely on their French military arms supplier until the 1960s, when Charles de Gaulle came to power. De Gaulle made peace with the Arabs and gave up the French claim to Algeria. DeGaulle then began to mend fences with the Arabs and the first victim of this new reality was the French-Israel connection.
  2. ^ Israel - Western Europe
  3. ^ Hershco, Tsilla: "The French Presidential Elections of May 2007: Implications for French-Israeli Relations", The Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies, May 29, 2007,
  4. ^ Sarkozy attacks Iran for its stance on Israel, YnetNews/Reuters, February 14, 2008,,7340,L-3506727,00.html
  5. ^ Rubenstein, Richard L., and Roth, John K. (2003). Approaches to Auschwitz: The Holocaust and Its Legacy, p.94. Louisville. Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press. ISBN 0-664-22353-2.
  6. ^ Inigo Gilmore (23 December 2001). "Israel reveals secrets of how it gained bomb". The Telegraph.
  7. ^ "Documentary Says Israel Got Nuclear Weapons From France". Fox News. Associated Press. 2 November 2001.
  8. ^ a b David Newman (2010-03-28). "Repairing Israel-UK Relations". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
  9. ^ Ian Black (2010-02-18). "Dubai killing deals another blow to faltering UK-Israel relations". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-01-12.
  10. ^ "Israel threatens British boycott". The Times. London.
  11. ^ Mayer, Michael S. (2010). The Eisenhower Years. Infobase Publishing. p. 44. ISBN 9780816053872.
  12. ^ Chaim Herzog and Shlomo Gazit, The Arab-Israeli wars: War and peace in the Middle East from the 1948 War of Independence to the present (3rd ed. 2008) pp. 113–117
  13. ^ a b Gary J. Bass (31 March 2010). "When Israel and France Broke Up". The New York Times.
  14. ^
  15. ^ VISITOR ARRIVALS(1), BY COUNTRY OF CITIZENSHIP, Central Bureau of Statistics
  16. ^ Tsilla Hershco and Amos Schupak, France, the EU presidency and its implications for the Middle-East Archived 2010-08-22 at the Wayback Machine, The Israel Journal of Foreign Affairs, Volume 3 No 2, July 19, 2009, pp. 63-73
  17. ^ Russia Today - Sarkozy to Netanyahu: fire your foreign minister
  18. ^ Israel Rejects French Ultimatum The Times of Israel, Jan. 29, 1016
  19. ^ France threatens to recognize Palestinian state if no progress with Israel USA Today, Jan. 29, 2016
  20. ^ Opposition blames government failings for French recognition threat The Times of Israel, Jan 30, 2016
  21. ^ Food for Thought, Jerusalem Post

External links[edit]