The rapprochement between Germany and Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust is one of the most striking political developments of the twentieth century. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently referred to it as a ‘miracle’. But how did this ‘miracle’ come about? Drawing upon sources from both sides of the Iron Curtain and of the Arab–Israeli conflict, Lorena De Vita traces the contradictions and dilemmas that shaped the making of German–Israeli relations at the outset of the global Cold War. Israelpolitik offers new insights not only into the history of German–Israeli relations, but also into the Cold War competition between the two German states, as each attempted to strengthen its position in the Middle East and the international arena while struggling with the legacy of the Nazi past.
The rapprochement between Germany and Israel in the aftermath of the Holocaust is one of the most striking political developments of the twentieth century. German Chancellor Angela Merkel recently referred to it as a ‘miracle’. But how did this ‘miracle’ come about? Drawing upon sources from both sides of the Iron Curtain, this book reflects on the contradictions and dilemmas that shaped the making of German–Israeli relations at the outset of the global Cold War. The book is structured around a three-phase periodisation, from November 1949 to March 1955 (marked by Adenauer’s declaration that the Federal Republic of Germany (FRG) was ready to pay restitutions to the State of Israel for the Nazi persecution of the Jews, and by the East German refusal to do the same); April 1956 to February 1960 (characterised by the entanglement of the German–German Cold War and the Arab-Israeli rivalries in the aftermath of the Suez Crisis); and finally from March 1961 to October 1969 (characterised by the Eichmann trial, the establishment of official diplomatic relations between West Germany and Israel and by East Germany’s attempts to galvanise the discontent of West Germany’s Arab partners). By breaking this twenty-year period into three different phases, the book identifies the major changes in East and West German policy-making and, in each phase, it analyses why they took place at that particular point, and how they affected the overall dynamics of German–Israeli relations, the Cold War, and of the Arab–Israeli conflict.
The first part of the book opens in the late 1940s. Chapter 1 traces the early discussions between future representatives of West Germany, East Germany and the State of Israel. From 1949 onward, the question of German reparations to Israel began to acquire ever greater significance. The chapter challenges the widely held assumption that East Germany was, from the outset, hostile to the State of Israel, and revises the general portrayal of West Germany’s readiness to pay reparations to Israel as a grand moral gesture. Indeed, the chapter emphasises the early openness of representatives of the Soviet occupation zone (until 1949, later the German Democratic Republic, GDR) to sustaining Israel’s efforts to integrate Jewish refugees from Europe in Palestine and places Adenauer’s declaration on the question of reparations within the wider context of the reintegration of many former Nazis inside West German political institutions, including the embryonic West German Foreign Ministry.
Following months of discussion as to whether the two Germanys should pay reparations to Israel or not, representatives of West Germany and the State of Israel met in the Netherlands to negotiate on the matter, while Arab League members, especially Egypt and Syria, intensified their efforts against the signing and ratification of any such agreement. As these efforts failed, East German envoys concluded the GDR’s biggest trade agreement yet, with Egypt. Chapter 2 supplements the literature on the so-called Luxembourg Agreement (between West Germany and Israel) by providing a detailed account of the international context in which the negotiations took place. This did not just consist of the American, British and French influence on West Germany’s decision, but also included inter-Arab disagreements as to how to face the question of West German reparations to Israel; German–German rivalry; and superpower involvement in each Germany’s dealings with Middle Eastern audiences. This multifaceted international historical angle is used to reinterpret the debates about the significance of the agreement between West Germany and Israel, and to assess how the intensifying German–German rivalry played out in the Middle East in the early 1950s.
Chapter 3 spells out the strategies put in place in each Germany to wage their Cold War in the Middle East. The chapter examines the intensifying East German efforts to drive a wedge between West Germany and its Arab partners; to use the question of the FRG’s readiness to pay reparations to Israel to galvanise the German population against the Luxembourg Agreement; and to resist Israeli demands that East Germany, too, pay reparations to the Jewish state. Special attention is also paid to two West German political manoeuvres: the efforts to placate Arab concerns on the economic and military strength of the State of Israel following the signing of the Luxembourg Agreement, and the use of the agreement as a tool to bolster West Germany’s claim to international legitimacy. The chapter challenges the view that Arab–Israeli and Cold War rivalries started intertwining following the 1955 arms deal between Nasser’s Egypt and Communist Czechoslovakia. In fact, as this and the previous chapter show, by the early 1950s the Arab–Israeli conflict and the German–German Cold War were already firmly entangled.
The second part of the book commences with the Suez Crisis, and explores how the German–German and Arab–Israeli power struggles played out in the second half of the 1950s. Chapter 4 builds upon minutes of Council for Mutual Economic Assistance (COMECON) meetings, analyses of the West German intelligence services (BND), and assessments of the US National Security Council. These documents show that, as domestic and international crises developed in the second half of the 1950s, each Germany found itself increasingly at odds with its respective superpower patron. This deeply influenced German policy-makers and their perceptions of each Germany’s international role. On the one hand, the consequences of the Suez Crisis spread insecurity among the West German political elite regarding the extent of the American readiness to protect the interests of its Western European partners. On the other hand, East German leader Walter Ulbricht became increasingly intolerant of the Soviet constraints on East German overtures to Middle Eastern partners. Thus, the GDR intensified its international propaganda campaign against West Germany, focusing especially on the West German–Israeli entente to woo Arab audiences, with mixed results.
In the second half of the 1950s, Bonn refused to establish official diplomatic relations with Israel – a seeming contradiction of its initial stance on the Jewish state. Worse still, in December 1959 an unprecedented number of anti-Semitic attacks orchestrated by Stasi agents took place across the Federal Republic, reigniting deep anti-German feelings among the global public and damaging West Germany’s public image (Ansehen) – right on the eve of the very first personal encounter between Chancellor Adenauer and David Ben Gurion. Yet while the option of diplomatic relations with Israel faded, covert cooperation in the fields of security and commerce intensified. Offering a fresh take on the issue, the chapter shows how the FRG managed to use its rivalry against the GDR to its own advantage – both to justify not establishing formal diplomatic relations with Israel as well as to deflect Arab suspicion regarding the actual degree and realms of cooperation between the Federal Republic and the State of Israel.
The unexpected capture and trial of Adolf Eichmann drew widespread attention in both East and West Germany and opens the final section of the book. In June 1962, in a meeting with the Israeli Defence Minister Shimon Peres, Chancellor Adenauer expressed his gratitude for the ‘correct and honourable way’ in which the ‘Eichmann problem’ had been dealt with. As Adenauer’s words to Peres indicate, the Eichmann affair had stirred a sense of unease, and worry, in the FRG. Both German states sent officials to Jerusalem tasked with ensuring that the trial would not have negative repercussions on their international image and prestige – or, in the East German case, to actively try and mould the trial into a political tool to wage against their Cold War opponent.
In 1962 Gamal Abdel Nasser revealed four Egyptian-made missiles on the occasion of the tenth anniversary parade of the Egyptian revolution. Much of the Israeli foreign intelligence service’s attention started focusing on the German scientists who, by collaborating with Egypt, seemed to have played a crucial role in the development of the missiles. The Israelis thus began pressuring Bonn to remove the scientists from their Egyptian posts. Reviewing the internal discussions within the East and West German governmental and intelligence establishments, the chapter contextualises the episode of the German scientists in Egypt within the broader framework of German–German and Arab–Israeli relations. Instead of giving in to the Israeli requests, many in Bonn emphasised the importance of dealing with the issue of the scientists in a way that would not negatively influence the stance of the Arab states on the German question. The majority of West German policy-makers were wary of losing Egyptian support before the upcoming non-aligned conference in Cairo, scheduled for September 1964. And, paradoxically, GDR representatives began seeing points of overlap between Israeli and East German interests.
The Federal Republic of Germany and the State of Israel eventually established official diplomatic relations in 1965. This chapter challenges the familiar definition of 1965 as a moment of unprecedented harmony in West German–Israeli relations (when ‘two dancers finally begin dancing to the same tune’, to use one image employed in the existing historiography). In fact, there were such low expectations about the future of the newly established diplomatic mission in Israel that the initial location where the West German delegation set up its office was the Sheraton Hotel in Tel Aviv – so as to be ready to pack up and leave at any moment. Yet the embassy remained in place and its employees witnessed one of the most significant developments in the history of the modern Middle East: The Six-Day War. As previously neglected primary sources from the East German intelligence services (Stasi) and the Soviet Foreign Ministry show, the war further complicated the debate both on the role of the two Germanys in the Middle East, and in the international arena more broadly. Two years later, in 1969, the GDR and five Arab countries – Egypt, Iraq, Sudan, Syria and South Yemen – established diplomatic relations.