Special to the JTA Emergent Spanish-israeli Relations
Menu JTA Search

Special to the JTA Emergent Spanish-israeli Relations

Download PDF for this date

In defiance of Arab pressures, Spain is moving to recognize the State of Israel, exchange Ambassadors, and normalize official relations for the first time in recent history.

Libya and Saudi Arabia have fronted the drive to block Israel from obtaining full diplomatic status in Madrid, but the year-old government of Prime Minister Felipe Gonzalez has held firm. A recent meeting of the Council of Ministers authorized officials of the government to take part in several activities sponsored by the Israeli government, and to officially invite Israeli representatives to Spanish events.

“Although there is no date for our first exchange of Ambassadors,” said Samuel Hadas, Israel’s principal representative in the Spanish capital, “positive steps have been taken to bring this about.”

Without quotable comment on the Arab provocation, he said during an interview here, “Our policy is step-by-step progress, avoid confrontations, defuse crises, and accumulate successful official contacts.”

ARAB STRUGGLE TO REPRESS ISRAEL

The chronology of Israel’s “step-by-step” diplomacy, as Hadas calls it, reflects a curious corner in the backstage struggle of the Arabs to repress Israel. In March, 1983, Spain’s Prime Minister Gonzalez said in a speech while visiting Morocco, “The Arab world has no greater friend than Spain”–but he at the same time alluded to “future diplomatic communication with Israel.”

Until that moment, official relations with Israel had been in deep freeze since the state was founded. A breakthrough occurred when the national airlines of both countries gave each other landing rights.

But immediately, inauguration of service was paralyzed by fear of terrorist attacks on E1 A1 and Iberia aircraft, sponsored by Libya, according to observers in close touch with the Spanish government.

On June 23, Edgar Bronfman, president of the World Jewish Congress, had a secret meeting with Gonzalez in New York at which the process of initiating airline service was worked out. On July 1, Bronfman and Jacques Torczyner, a member of the WJC Board of Governors, met with the Prime Minister in Madrid. Gonzalez then had on paper the decision to establish diplomatic relations with Israel.

SAUDI ARABIA INTERVENES

Final action was scheduled for the end of August, according to the knowledgeable diplomatic correspondent, Alberto Miguez, but intense pressure from Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, caused hesitation, and Gonzalez declared the matter of diplomatic status for Israel would have “no priority.”

Inside the government, confusion was rising, according to Miguez. A few days before, the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Fermando Moran, had met in New York with Jewish leaders and told them the decision to recognize Israel would be implemented “rapidly,” but in Madrid, addressing Parliament, he declared it would be “delayed.”

However, while the Foreign Minister was saying action in Israel’s recognition had stopped, the Council of Ministers in Madrid voted a decision to “intensify interchanges” and they designated the Minister of Transportation, Tourism and Communications, Enrique Baron, to organize a program of official activities with the Israelis. The Arabs responded with “carrot-and-stick” tactics. In October, Saudi Arabian representatives came into Madrid with a contract offer to purchase Spanish-made armaments. Libya openly denounced Gozalez’s moves toward Israel and threatened to break diplomatic relations with Spain if relations were actually established.

It got them nowhere. The press quoted government sources as interpreting the arms deal to be a scheme to influence Spain against friendship with Israel, and the Saudi Defense Minister, Prince Abdul-Rahman Bin Abdul Azizz, went home with nothing more than a promise that the contract would be studied.

Activities initiated by Transportation and Tourism Minister Baron, for official contacts with Israel, began to create an impression that Gonzalez’s idea for diplomatic recognition was already a fait accompli, according to reporters with inside government contacts. They also reported airline security “collaboration using sophisticated anti-terrorist methods of the Israelis.”

Col. Muammar Quaddafi of Libya was furious; he started bombarding Foreign Minister Moran with messages delivered direct to his office.

SECRET VISITS TO ISRAEL REPORTED

Meanwhile, the press was reporting that prominent members of both Spain’s major political parties were making a series of visits to Israel, Spanish and Israeli officials were participating in each others’ tourism promotions, and Israeli educators were official delegates to a Congress organized by Spain’s Ministry of Education.

The public in Spain, including the Jewish community there, has long been dubious that Israel would ever gain official recognition, due to the nation’s dependence on Arab oil, for one thing, and also, the Spanish King’s close ties of friendship with the Saudi royal family.

There was therefore, some astonishment last summer when the King granted an audience to Hadas. He declines to predict when diplomatic recognition will come but says, “When it does, that will be something of an historic moment. We are the only democratic nation without official status in Spain, despite the existence of major economic, cultural and ethnic ties between us.”

Hadas, officially, is head of the Madrid office of Israel’s World Tourism Organization. However, newspapers in the capital have been referring to him as the “unofficial ambassador.” He is a man in his 50’s, slight of build, soft spoken but dynamic, with an easy smile.

He has been living in Madrid with his wife and children for about a year-and-a-half. He is a career diplomat, with previous posts in the Israel Foreign Office in Jerusalem as information officer, in the Embassy to Colombia as charge d’affaires, and as Ambassador to Bolivia.

“My job now? ‘Coordinator’ of our two countries’ maturing relations,” Hadas says.

Founding Funders

The digitization of the JTA Archive would not have been possible without the generous support of the following donors:
  • The Gottesman Fund
  • Righteous Persons Foundation
  • Charles H. Revson Foundation
  • Elisa Spungen Bildner and Robert Bildner, in honor of Norma Spungen
  • George S. Blumenthal
  • Grace and Scott Offen Charitable Fund