The history of Israel’s turbulent relations with the Eastern bloc nations during the Cold War has one exception, Romania. Unlike other Warsaw Pact members, Romania did not sever relations with Israel following the 1967 war. Central to these relations was Romanian Communist leader Nicolai Ceausescu, who managed to establish himself as an important figure among both Arabs and Israelis. This article will examine Romanian–Israeli relations during the 1970s and especially Ceausescu’s role in the Egyptian–Israeli peace negotiations. Recent Israeli and some Romanian documents released from the Israeli State Archive and the Begin Centre reveal much about Israel’s attitude towards Romania and Ceausescu’s involvement in the Middle East, and serve to shed light on a heretofore neglected aspect of Israeli foreign policy. Some of the main issues to be addressed are Ceausescu’s influence on Egyptian and Israeli decision makers, Israel’s prime motives in maintaining a close relationship with Romania, the importance of Romanian Jewry’s position to Israel’s policy vis-à-vis Romania and the extent to which these relations represented a back channel that facilitated some contact with the Kremlin. All these will be examined against the larger backdrop of the Cold War and the Arab–Israeli conflict.
In June 1967, when the Soviet Union and its Warsaw Pact partners decided to break off diplomatic relations with Israel following the outbreak of the Six Day War, it came as a surprise to many that Romania refused to do the same. This paper investigates previously unpublished documents in order to retrace the decision-making process in Bucharest and offer a rational answer to the question: why did Romania choose to ignore Moscow’s decision? Was it a demonstration of support for Israel as it appeared at the time and, if so, what were the reasons behind it? Archival insight demonstrates that Romania’s decision to maintain diplomatic relations with Israel can best be understood in the general framework of its relations with Moscow. Striving to gain autonomy in the Communist bloc and fight off Soviet domination, Romanian decision-makers preferred to engage in their own analysis of the events in the Middle East before assuming one decision or another. Their conclusions led them to believe that Moscow’s policy had been adventurous and to break relations with Israel would have implied confirmation and reinforcement of Moscow’s role in the Middle East.