Israel–United Kingdom relations

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


United Kingdom
Diplomatic Mission
Israeli Embassy, London British Embassy, Tel Aviv
Ambassador Mark Regev Ambassador David Quarrey

Israel–United Kingdom relations, or Anglo-Israeli relations, are the diplomatic and commercial ties between the United Kingdom and Israel. The United Kingdom maintains an embassy in Tel Aviv and a consulate in Eilat;[1] it also maintains a consulate-general in Jerusalem that represents Britain in that city and the Palestinian territories.[2] Israel has an embassy and a consulate in London.[3][4]


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

Britain seized Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. Close cooperation between Britain and the Yishuv, the nascent pre-state Jewish community of Palestine, developed during this time when Britain received intelligence from the Nili Jewish spy network, which assisted British forces in conquering Palestine. Additionally, over 5000 Jews from various countries served in the Jewish Legion of the British Army which fought at Gallipoli and in the Palestine Campaign, although some Palestinian Jews also served in the Ottoman Army. In 1917, Britain issued the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration, which called for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Six weeks afterwards, British troops concluded the Palestine campaign, driving out the Ottoman army from Jerusalem, under the leadership of General Allenby. The British then took control of Palestine. Under British military rule, the Zionist enterprise was renewed. In 1920, Britain established its authority under the Mandate for Palestine granted by the League of Nations, which was confirmed in the San Remo agreement of 1922.[5] A High Commissioner was appointed with instructions to allow the Jews to build their national home.[6] and spent 31 years in charge of British Mandate Palestine under a League of Nations mandate that originally extended to both sides of the Jordan River, although Transjordan was separated from Palestine by the British.

In 1937, the Peel Commission presented a plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state. After this was rejected, the British District Commissioner for the Galilee, Lewis Yellard Andrews was assassinated by Arab gunmen in Nazareth.

In February 1947, the British government – having lost the will to maintain its power in Palestine, and having already decided to withdraw from India – announced it was handing the mandate back to the League of Nations. The British mandate was relinquished and the establishment of the State of Israel was affirmed by a United Nations General Assembly resolution.

British-Israeli relations improved during the Suez Crisis of 1956,.[7][8] In 1956, Egypt closed the Suez canal to ships bound to Israel, whilst encouraging violent terror attacks into Israel via Egyptian-controlled Gaza. In November 1956, Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt. This marked a point when Israeli-British relations were at their best.[7][9] In the 1950s and 1960s the UK was seen as pro-Arab, maintaining close relations with Jordan and the Gulf states.[8]

In 1975 the UK voted against the motion in the UN that “Zionism is racism.”

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.[10] 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.[11]

There were also two diplomatic incidents during the 1980s that involved operations by the Mossad (Israeli secret service). In 1986, a diplomatic incident took place when a bag containing eight forged British passports was discovered in a telephone booth in West Germany—the passports had been the work of Mossad,[12] and were intended for the Israeli Embassy in London, to use in covert operations abroad.[12] The British government, furious, demanded that Israel promise to never forge its passports again, which was obtained.[12] 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.[12]

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".[13]

Two State Solution According to The Foreign & Commonwealth Office "the Foreign Secretary has made it 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."[14]

In 2014, after the United Kingdom lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favour of a recognizing the state of Palestine, Israel braced for a potential "domino effect," since Britain is viewed as "one of the world’s friendliest countries to Israel."[15] However, the resolution passed was non-binding and not an official declaration.[16]

Popular opinion[edit]

According to a 2014 poll conducted by GlobeScan and the Program on International Policy Attitudes for the BBC World Service, the British public views Israel overwhelmingly negatively, while Israelis view the UK positively: 72% of British people were reported as holding negative views towards Israel, with only 19% holding positive ones.[17] The same poll recorded that 50% of Israeli respondents viewed the UK favourably, with only 6% doing so negatively.[17]

An October 2015 poll of the British public, commissioned by the Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre and carried out by the British market research firm Populus, indicated that 62% of Britons described themselves as viewing Israel negatively, while 19% said they were favourable to Israel.[18] In the same poll 52% of respondents said they considered Israel "an ally of Britain",[18] with 19% of respondents disagreeing with that description.[18] Respondents were asked if they agreed with the statement: "I don't boycott goods or produce from Israel and find it difficult to understand why others would single out Israel to boycott given everything else that's going on around the world at the moment"—43% said they agreed while 12% said they disagreed.[18] When asked if they would be more likely to boycott goods from Israeli settlements in the occupied territories than goods from Israel itself, 25% replied in the affirmative and 19% replied in the negative.[18]

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.[19] 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."[20]

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, which claimed that the aim of the new regulations was merely to allow consumers to choose for themselves what produce they buy.[21]

In 2011 the Embassy of the United Kingdom in Israel launched a new project aiming to 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.[22]

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, pointed out that 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.[23]

In 2011, the United Kingdom established a technology centre 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 served as Britain's Chancellor of the Exchequer. The centre has established the TexChange programme, which selected 15 Israeli start-ups to travel to London and gain experience in high-tech in London. The programme 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.[24]

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.[25] 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.[20] The British Israeli Arts Training Scheme (BI ARTS) was established to improve links between the British and Israeli arts industries.[26]

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.[27]

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.[28] 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 with El Al sky marshals and Almog's bodyguards, and the "international impact of a potentially armed police operation at an airport".[29] A minor diplomatic incident occurred, with the Israeli foreign minister Silvan Shalom calling the event an "outrage";[29] his British counterpart Jack Straw apologised for any embarrassment caused.[29]

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.[30] These incidents strained relations between Israel and the United Kingdom, and Israel urged the UK to rethink its policies to prevent a further breakdown.[31] A few months earlier, former military chief Moshe Ya'alon had called off a visit to Britain due to similar concerns.[32] Israeli defense minister Ehud Barak was also threatened with arrest, but the courts ruled that as a sitting minister he enjoyed diplomatic immunity.[33] 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.[34] Israel's deputy foreign minister Danny Ayalon said that the risk of arrest was harming bilateral relations[35] but the law was not changed as promised. Israel halted the "special strategic dialogue" with Britain in protest.[36]

Legislation passed in 2011 under David Cameron's Coalition 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."[37] 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.[38] The "special mission" status was effective in protecting Livni in this case.[39]

Israel's commemoration of the King David Hotel bombing[edit]

In July 2006 the British government protested against Israel's celebration of the anniversary of the King David Hotel bombing, an act of terrorism which killed 91 people of various nationalities, including some civilians. In the literature about the practice and history of terrorism, it has been called one of the most lethal terrorist attacks of the 20th century.[40] However, security analyst Bruce Hoffman wrote of the bombing in his book Inside Terrorism that "Unlike many terrorist groups today, the Irgun's strategy [by sending warnings to evacuate the hotel] was not deliberately to harm civilians. At the same time, though, the claim of Begin and other apologists that warnings were issued cannot absolve either the group or its commander for the ninety-one people killed and forty-five others injured ... Indeed, whatever nonlethal intentions the Irgun might or might not have had, the fact remains that a tragedy of almost unparalleled magnitude was inflicted ... so that to this day the bombing remains one of the world's single most lethal terrorist incidents of the twentieth century."[41]

The Menachem Begin Heritage Center held a conference to mark the 60th anniversary of the bombing of the King David Hotel in 1946 by the Irgun. The conference was attended by past and future Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and former members of Irgun.[42] The British Ambassador in Tel Aviv and the Consul-General in Jerusalem protested, saying: "We do not think that it is right for an act of terrorism, which led to the loss of many lives, to be commemorated", and wrote to the Mayor of Jerusalem that such an "act of terror" could not be honoured. The British government also demanded the removal of the plaque, pointing out that the statement on it accusing the British of failing to evacuate the hotel was untrue and "did not absolve those who planted the bomb."[43]

MK Reuven Rivlin (Likud), raised the British protest in the Knesset. The issue had a personal dimension for Tzipi Livni, Israel's then-foreign minister, as Irgun's chief operations officer at the time of the bombing was her father, Eitan.[44] To prevent escalation of the diplomatic row, Israel made changes in the plaque's text, but made greater changes in the English than the Hebrew version. The final English version says, "Warning phone calls has [sic] been made to the hotel, The Palestine Post and the French Consulate, urging the hotel's occupants to leave immediately. The hotel was not evacuated and after 25 minutes the bombs exploded. To the Irgun's regret, 92 persons were killed." The death toll given includes Avraham Abramovitz, the Irgun member who was shot during the attack and died later from his wounds, but only the Hebrew version of the sign makes that clear.[45]

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.[46]

On the 23 March 2010 the UK's 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 British government had concluded that there were compelling reasons to believe that Israel was responsible for the misuse of British passports.[47]

"SOCA conducted an extremely professional investigation," said Miliband. "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. ... 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."[48]

Israel has a stated policy on security matters of neither confirming nor denying its involvement.[49] In Dublin, the Israeli ambassador Zion Evrony said he knew nothing about the killing of the Hamas commander.[50]


The British government announced in 2009 that it would advise UK retailers and importers to distinguish whether imported produce from Judea and Samaria, on the West Bank, was made by Palestinians or in Jewish settlements. The Palestinian delegation to the UK welcomed the move, but Israel said it was "extremely disappointed".[51][52][53]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "British Embassy Tel Aviv - GOV.UK". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  2. ^ "British Consulate-General Jerusalem". GOV.UK. 2015-01-14. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  3. ^ [1] Archived March 29, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  4. ^ [2][dead link]
  5. ^ "The San Remo agreement 1920". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  6. ^ Gilbert, M., 2008, The Story of Israel (Carter)
  7. ^ a b David Newman (2010-03-28). "Repairing Israel-UK Relations". Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  8. ^ a b Ian Black (2010-02-18). "Dubai killing deals another blow to faltering UK-Israel relations". Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  9. ^ "Israel threatens British boycott". The Times. London. 
  10. ^ "Britain lifts arms embargo against Israel | World | News". The Independent. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  11. ^ "'Begin Aided Argentina During Falklands War to Avenge the British' - Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News Source". 2011-04-21. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  12. ^ a b c d "Expelling Israeli diplomats: Thatcher did it first - Israel News, Ynetnews". 1995-06-20. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  13. ^ "UK and Israel - UK and the world". GOV.UK. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  14. ^ "Working towards a two-state solution - Worldwide Priorities". GOV.UK. 2013-04-03. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  15. ^ Ilene Prusher / Jerusalem (2014-10-14). "Israel and Benjamin Netanyahu Grapple With British Vote on Palestine". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b "BBC World Service Poll : Negative Views of Russia on the Rise : Global Poll" (PDF). 3 June 2014. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  18. ^ a b c d e "British Attitudes Towards Israel Survey" (PDF). London: Britain Israel Communications and Research Centre. October 2015. Retrieved 19 November 2015. 
  19. ^ "לשכת המסחר ישראל בריטניה - Israel Britain Chamber of Commerce". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  20. ^ a b [3] Archived December 8, 2010, at the Wayback Machine.
  21. ^ Ian Black; 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. ]
  22. ^ Kloosterman, Karin (28 November 2011). "UK opens door to Israeli high-tech". Israel21c. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  23. ^ Shemer, Nadav (29 February 2012). "UK envoy: Trade boom proves no Israel boycott". The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved 4 March 2012. 
  24. ^ Shamah, David (October 30, 2012). "High-tech diplomacy puts Israel and UK on the same page". The Times of Israel. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  25. ^ "Israel". British Council. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  26. ^ "Israel". British Council. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  27. ^ The London Gazette: (Supplement) no. 60367. p. 25. 29 December 2012.
  28. ^ Vikram Dodd; Conal Urquhart (2005-09-12). "Israeli evades arrest at Heathrow over army war crime allegations". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  29. ^ a b c Dominic Casciani (2008-02-19). "Police feared 'airport stand-off'". BBC News. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  30. ^ "UK ponders law change after Tzipi Livni arrest warrant". BBC News. 2009-12-15. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  31. ^ Roni Sofer (2009-12-15). "Israel: If UK doesn't act, relations will suffer". Ynet News. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  32. ^ "Israel minister calls off visit to Britain over fear of arrest over 'war crimes'". Mail Online. London. 2009-10-07. Retrieved 2012-01-16. 
  33. ^ Ian Cobain; 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. 
  34. ^ Barak Ravid and Agencies (2009-12-19). "Israel confirms U.K. arrest warrant against Livni". Haaretz. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  35. ^ Barak Ravid (2010-01-05). "Deputy FM: Arrest warrants harming Britain-Israel ties". Haaretz. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  36. ^ "Israel halts 'special strategic dialogue' with Britain to protest arrest warrants". Haaretz. 2010-11-03. Retrieved 2012-01-30. 
  37. ^ "UK alters law targeting war crimes suspects". Boston. Associated Press. September 16, 2011. Retrieved October 31, 2012. 
  38. ^ Owen Bowcott (2011-10-06). "Tzipi Livni spared war crime arrest threat". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  39. ^ Marcus Dysch (2011-10-11). "Livni visit did not test universal jurisdiction legislation". The Jewish Chrnicle. Retrieved 2012-03-06. 
  40. ^ Rapoport, D.C., The Four Waves of Modern Terrorism, in Cronin, A. K. & Ludes, J. M. (eds.), Attacking Terrorism: Elements of a Grand Strategy, Georgetown University Press, 2004, Washington, DC., pp. 50-51
  41. ^ Hoffman, Bruce (1999). Inside Terrorism. Columbia University Press. pp. 48–52. 
  42. ^ "The Spirit of the King David Hotel - Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News Source". 2006-07-23. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  43. ^ Ned Parker and Stephen Farrell, "British anger at terror celebration", The Times, July 20, 2006
  44. ^ "Israel celebrates Irgun hotel bombers". Telegraph. 2006-07-22. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  45. ^ Prince, Eetta (2006-07-26). "Reflective truth - Features - Jerusalem Post". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  46. ^ Evans, Martin (2010-02-17). "Dubai Hamas assassination: 'Israeli hit-squad' used fake British passports". Telegraph. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  47. ^ "Statement: use of British passports in Dubai murder - News from Parliament - UK Parliament". 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  48. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (2010-03-23). "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 23 Mar 2010 (pt 0004)". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  49. ^ "UK warns of Israel travel amid passport scandal". CNN World. 2010-03-24. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  50. ^ "Dubai Hamas killing pledge by UK foreign secretary". BBC News. 2010-02-18. Retrieved 2012-03-07. 
  51. ^ "Anger over West Bank foods labels". BBC News. 2009-12-11. 
  52. ^ Kossoff, Julian (2009-12-10). "Labels on West Bank products: food for thought for Israel – Telegraph Blogs". Retrieved 2015-11-19. 
  53. ^ "U.K. Government Urges Businesses: Label Products From Settlements - Israel News - Haaretz Israeli News Source". 2009-12-10. Retrieved 2015-11-19. 

External links[edit]