Israel Studies 6.2 (2001) 1-32
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Israel and Algeria amid French Colonialism and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1954-1978
Michael M. Laskier
Israel and the Maghrib states have never technically been in a state of war, nor have they ever enjoyed a real peace. Although for several decades discreet links between Israel, Morocco, and Tunisia led to greater understanding and limited cooperation against the backdrop of turbulent Arab-Israeli politics, Algerian-Israeli relations never crystallized into anything viable and remained at an impasse. 1 This article highlights 1) the intricacies of the complex Algerian-Israeli relations, beginning with the Algerian war of independence on 1 November 1954 up to the 1978 Egyptian-Israeli Camp David peace accord; 2) the reasons why ties between the two countries were deadlocked; and, 3) the long-range consequences of these ties.
The Algerian War of Independence and the Franco-Israeli Alliance: 1954-1962
From the early or mid-1950s, Algerian-Israeli relations have been affected by the complexities of regional tensions that surrounded them. On one hand, since 1954, Israel's Middle East confrontation states contributed funds and other forms of assistance to the anti-French forces of the Algerian Front de la Liberation Nationale (FLN). In return, they expected the FLN to manifest hostility toward Israel and Zionism. On the other hand, Israel entered into military and intelligence cooperation with the French--special ties that were woven between Paris and Jerusalem before 1955, and which were prompted by Egypt's endorsement of the FLN, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser's support for Fida'iyyun incursions from Gaza, and the closing of a major arms deal between Egypt and the Soviet bloc. [End Page 1]
The spirit of the Franco-Israeli collaboration reached its zenith in the Israeli-Anglo-French Sinai/Suez campaign of October-November 1956 and pushed Israel into the orbit of French colonial policies. In exchange for supplying 200 AMX 13 tanks and 72 Mystère fighter planes, the French intelligence agency (SDECE) demanded that Israel help France counteract the activity of the FLN in Europe and elsewhere. 2
While we lack the data that would enable us to determine if this plan was carried out, Algerian-Israeli relations were in any case marred by Israeli involvement in training self-defense units among Algeria's Jews. In 1955, the Mossad established a special force in the Maghrib known as the Misgeret [Framework]. The Misgeret was active in Algeria in the three central departements [regions] of Constantinois, Oranie, and Algerois. In the Constantinois, it consisted of about one hundred young members whose unit commanders underwent training in France or Israel. Possessing French citizenship, like the overwhelming majority of Algerian Jewry, they were reservists in the French army stationed in Algeria and thus experienced in the handling of weapons. The Misgeret created weapons caches, and only its Algerian unit commanders could have access to the Israeli emissaries in charge. Between May 1956 and the end of 1961, Misgeret neutralized terrorist activity aimed against Algerian Jews. 3 The Muslims may not have known about Misgeret, but they suspected some form of Israeli-inspired local Jewish "commando activity."
Not least a negligible factor at the root of tense Algerian-Israeli relations had been Israel's consistent pro-French vote at the UN opposing Maghribi national sovereignty. In essence, Israel echoed the policy of the Quai d'Orsay (French Foreign Ministry) that anything connected to Morocco, Tunisia, and Algeria was a purely internal French matter. In November 1960, on the occasion of one of the UN debates over Algeria, the Israeli Foreign Ministry put forth before its Sub-Saharan African allies three justifications for its anti-Algerian policy. First, the forces leading the Algerian Revolution had aligned themselves with the very Arab states that denied Israel's right to exist. This alignment was especially relevant in the case of Egypt, the main center for demands for a war of annihilation against Israel. For its part, the FLN had publicly neither challenged Arab attitudes nor expressed reservations about it.