France

   The relationship between France and Israel has evolved through a series of stages over the years, as had France's relationship with the Zionist Movement in the earlier decades of the 20th century. Although France voted for the Palestine Partition Plan in November 1947 and recognized Israel in 1949, relations between the two states remained cool. In 1950, France joined with the United States and Great Britain in a Tripartite Declaration that sought to stabilize the situation in the Middle East by limiting arms supply to the region. In subsequent years the relationship between the two states improved, and by 1954-55, France and Israel had signed a number of agreements relating to arms supply and nuclear energy. A political-military marriage of convenience between Israel and France developed as the revolt against France in Algeria gained support from President Gamal Abdul Nasser in Egypt and Nasser clashed with France over the nationalization of the Suez Canal. France and Great Britain reached a secret agreement with Israel that led to the Sinai War (1956). France became Israel's primary supplier of military equipment (including tanks and aircraft) until the Six-Day War (1967), and close links were established in other sectors as well. France also assisted Israel in the construction of a nuclear reactor at Dimona in the Negev.
   However, after Charles de Gaulle came to power in France in 1958 and suggested a need to resolve the Algerian issue, relations between Israel and France began to cool—a trend that accelerated after the accord in 1962 that led to Algerian independence. The Six-Day War became a more significant watershed, as France announced in early June an embargo on arms shipments to the Middle East, a decision that severely and negatively affected Israel because France was Israel's primary arms supplier. De Gaulle's antipathy to Israel and its policies grew after the 1967 war, and the trend accelerated even further when Georges Pompidou became president. After Israel's raid on the Beirut airport in December 1968 (following a terrorist attack on an El Al aircraft in Athens, Greece), France imposed a total embargo on arms deliveries to Israel. In December 1969, Israel smuggled five gunboats (that had been built for Israel and paid for) out of Cherbourg harbor. This led to an intensification of the embargo and a deterioration in relations that was further compounded by growing French dependence on Arab oil and a desire to sell military equipment to the Arab states. Among the factors in the relationship were French efforts to secure the Venice Declaration of the European Community in 1980, which was condemned by Israel.
   Relations improved when Francois Mitterrand became president and paid a state visit to Israel in early 1982. Relations in other sectors also improved in subsequent years despite some interruption in the trend as a result of the War in Lebanon (1982). Bilateral relations were again strained during the intifada and Al-Aksa intifada as France, under President Jacques Chirac and along with much of the rest of the European Union, adopted a perspective on the Arab-Israeli peace process that most Israelis interpreted as pro-Palestinian in orientation. Also complicating Jerusalem's bilateral relationship with Paris was a significant rise of anti-Semitic incidents in France, many of them attributed to the country's increasingly large and restive Muslim population. Chirac's criticism of Israel's military actions in Gaza and Lebanon in the summer of 2006 as "disproportionate" also contributed to bilateral tensions. At the same time, France continued to use its historical and commercial contacts with Syria and Lebanon in an effort to facilitate progress toward peaceful relations with Israel on those two fronts.
   The election of conservative candidate Nicolas Sarkozy to succeed Chirac as France's president in May 2007 was generally perceived as a positive development in Israel-France bilateral relations. This perception was reinforced by more forceful positions adopted by the new French government with regard to such regional security issues as Iran's nuclear ambitions and Syria's intervention in Lebanon.
   See also Foreign Policy.

Historical Dictionary of Israel. .

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