Israel–Tunisia relations

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Israeli-Tunisian relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and Tunisia



Israel–Tunisia relations refers to bilateral relations between Israel and Tunisia. Israel and Tunisia have maintained limited ties since the 1950s.[1]

Country comparison[edit]

Tunisia Tunisia Israel Israel
Populations 10,982,754 8,238,300
Area 163,610 km² (63,170 sq mi) 20,770/22,072 km² (8,019/8,522 sq mi)
Population density 63/km² (163/sq mi) 365/km² (945/sq mi)
Capital Tunis Jerusalem
Largest city Tunis Jerusalem
Government Unitary parliamentary republic Unitary parliamentary republic
First Leader Yusuf Sahib al-Tabi David Ben-Gurion
Current Leader Youssef Chahed Binyamin Netanyahu
Official languages Arabic Hebrew, Arabic
Main religions 96.8% Islam, 3% Atheism, 0.2% Christianity and Judaism 75.4% Judaism, 16.9% Islam
GDP (nominal) US$49.126 billion (US$4,506 per capita) US$305.707 billion (US$38,004 per capita)
GDP (PPP) US$129.140 billion (US$11,623 per capita) US$286.840 billion (US$35,658 per capita)
Military expenditures US$0.548 billion (1.3% of GDP) US$14.5 billion (6.9% of GDP)


The earliest contacts between Israel and Tunisia took place at the United Nations in New York in 1951-1952, when Tunisian representatives approached the Israeli delegation and Israeli labor leaders. In June 1952, Bahi Ladgham, a close confidant of Habib Bourguiba, met with Gideon Rafael seeking support for Tunisian independence. Bourguiba stated that he would not seek Israel's elimination and would work to promote peace in the region.[2] In 1956, after Tunisia declared independence, he met secretly with Ya'akov Tzur, Israel's ambassador to France. Later that year, Tsur met with the Tunisian finance minister, who sought Israel's assistance in building cooperative agricultural settlements.[3]

Operation Wooden Leg was an attack by Israel on the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) headquarters in Hammam al-Shatt, Tunisia, 12 miles from the capital of Tunis. It took place on October 1, 1985. Casualties 47-71 dead, around 15 of them were Tunisian civilians who were killed and about 100 wounded.[citation needed]

Tunisia claims it played a major role in secret talks between the PLO and Israel which led to the Declaration of Principles on Palestinian Self-Rule, signed in September 1993. Soon after, an Israeli delegation visited Tunisia for talks. Salah Masawi, director general of the Tunisian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, stated that he saw no obstacle to establishing diplomatic relations with Israel. In 1993, Yossi Beilin, then Israel's Deputy Minister for Foreign Affairs, visited Tunisia. Direct telephone links were established in July 1993. After the Tunisia offices of the PLO were closed in June 1994, the first Israeli tourists arrived.[4]

In 1994, channels of communication were opened with Israel through the Belgian embassies in Tel Aviv and Tunis.[5] Tunisian Foreign Minister Habib Ben Yahia and then-Israeli Foreign Minister Ehud Barak met in Barcelona in 1995 to expand official relations between the two countries after relations had been confined to "two communications channels" in the Belgian embassies in each of Tunis and Tel Aviv.[6] On Jan. 22, 1996, then US Secretary of State Warren Christopher announced "that for the first time Israel and Tunisia will establish official facilities called "interests sections" in each other's countries. By April 15 of this year, each nation will host representatives of the other government so as to facilitate political consultations, travel, and trade between their two countries". According to plan, Israel opened an interest office in Tunisia in April and six weeks later, in May, Tunisian diplomat Khemaies Jhinaoui went to Israel to open his country's interest office in Tel Aviv.[7]

Jerusalem Boys Choir visiting Djerba, 2007

Relations worsened in the early 2000s after the start of the Second Intifada. On October 22, 2000, President Ben Ali announced that he would break all diplomatic ties with Israel following the "violence in the Palestinian-controlled territories".[8] Israel expressed its disappointment at the Tunisian decision to sever relations and close the interest offices in Tel Aviv and Tunis. The Israeli Foreign Ministry said: "It appears that Tunisia has elected to renounce its potential role as a bridge for dialogue between Israel and its neighbours, thereby harming the critical effort to promote regional peace."[9]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Israel and the Maghreb at the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict: 1950s-1970s, Michael Laskier
  2. ^ Israel and the Maghreb at the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict: 1950s-1970s, Michael Laskier
  3. ^ Israel and the Maghreb at the height of the Arab-Israeli conflict: 1950s-1970s, Michael Laskier
  4. ^ The Middle East and North Africa 2003
  5. ^ "Tunisia Adds Its Name to the List of Those Initiating Ties with Israel". Jewish Telegraphic Agency. Retrieved 2017-11-14.
  6. ^ Europe and Tunisia: Democratization via Association, Brieg Powel
  7. ^ Family in the Middle East: Ideational Change in Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia
  8. ^ Arab Mass Media: Newspapers, Radio, and Television in Arab Politics
  9. ^ Tunisia: Stability and Reform in the Modern Maghreb