Gary J. Bass: When Israel and France Broke Up





[Gary J. Bass is a professor of politics and international affairs at Princeton and the author of “Freedom’s Battle: The Origins of Humanitarian Intervention.”]

...[I]f Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu tries to push his luck on settlements or the peace process, he would do well to remember an unnerving precedent: Israel’s loss, in 1967, of what had been a robust alliance with France.

The French-Israeli relationship began in the mid-1950s, when Israel became a major customer for the French arms industry. But the bond was not merely commercial: at the time France was trying to quash a rebellion in Algeria, and it shared with Israel a strategic interest in combating radical Arab nationalism. In 1956, France and Israel even fought together against Egypt in the Suez crisis....

The bilateral bonds ran outside the government, too, with strongly pro-Israel public opinion, both among French Jews and non-Jews. But with the end of the Algerian war in 1962, de Gaulle began mending France’s ties to the Arab world and the relationship came under strain. For a while, France tried to balance its relationships: Israeli officials were heartily welcomed in Paris, and de Gaulle continued to speak of Israel as “the ally and friend” of France.

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....

In the same way that many French officials tried to balance France’s relationships in the Middle East after the end of the Algerian war, Mr. Obama undoubtedly hopes that he can reach out to the Arab world without damaging ties with Israel. But this history suggests that Mr. Netanyahu would be wise to ease the strain on the alliance before any words are uttered that cannot be unsaid.



comments powered by Disqus

Subscribe to our mailing list