(Editor’s note: Private and public contacts between Israel and the Soviet Union and the Soviet bloc countries have been going on for a number of years. These contacts were reported first by the Jewish Telegraphic Agency in 1982 in an article by Charles Allen, Jr. upon his return to the United States from Central Europe. The JTA is republishing his report for background reference in view of the Israeli-Soviet talks in Helsinki last month and the meeting on September 22 between Israeli Premier Shimon Peres and Soviet Foreign Minister Eduard Shevardnadze.)
In the midst of a swing through Central Europe, I learned from astute and reliable Foreign Ministry and journalistic sources that medium level Israeli diplomats allegedly have made off-the-record approaches to selected Eastern bloc offices about “near-term normalization” of relations between Israel and the Soviet bloc, including, of course, the Soviet Union. Israel does not have diplomatic relations with Soviet bloc countries with the exception of Rumania.
A diplomat of the Federal Republic of Germany had told me before leaving for Europe that “Just prior to the Israeli invasion of Lebanon, reports of several (such) contacts were made, and we’ve taken them seriously.” After the massacre of Palestinians in the Sabra and Shatila camps in Beirut September 1982, this source averred, such attempts had been made by “low and middle level” Israeli envoys.
These asserted representations were made on “third-country soil,” that is, on neutral territory that “positively took place in the United States as well as Western Europe,” according to the West German diplomat.
A diplomatic source in the German Democratic Republic told me of such probes that “have taken place over the years.” On one occasion, the source stated, “an Israeli official said that ‘we know how active you were in taking action against Nazi war criminals after the war’.” While it is not widely known in the United States, East Germany’s aggressive prosecution of war criminals and collaborators is a matter of record.
The Israeli official, allegedly, also stated that “Jerusalem” has “always been mindful” of East Germany’s stringent laws and measures against anti-Semitism in contrast to the “constant anti-Semitic and neo-Nazi upsurges” in West Germany.
Thus far, the purported Israeli probes have been quickly rebuffed. “In light of the Lebanon matter and the PLO (which is recognized by East Germany), we told them (the Israelis) that such possibilities simply do not exist at this time,” the East German source said.
Consensus interpretations of these rumored gambits by the Israelis in Europe view their moves toward East Germany as an attempted opening to the Soviet Union. Even before my departure from the United States, unconfirmed reports of Israeli demarches toward Moscow had appeared in the press.
When asked to evaluate such reports, a Dutch journalist in an Eastern European capital opined: “Yes, I think that such low-level soundings have been taken. It makes sense from the Israeli side to do so. They must keep all options open, short of any public overtures to the PLO itself. Their invasion of Lebanon is, like it or not, a massive mistake, as events will show. There is a grim winter ahead in Lebanon. Her (Israel’s) area of maneuverability is seriously reduced. They must examine other options.
“Moreover, assume an Israeli probe toward the Arabs. Assume further that comes the spring, (Premier Menachem) Begin and (Defense Minister Ariel) Sharon are turned out. Assume a strong condemnation from the special board of inquiry into the camp massacres. Israel must absolutely have ready an opening of its own, no matter how small, to the East.”
It is of relevant interest to note that other Berlin-based journalists — notably from Italian, French and Swiss media — told me of similar reports as the ones which reached me.