Soviet Embassy Bombed in Tel Aviv
Today, the former Soviet embassy still stands in central Tel Aviv and is known as the Levine House. Photo: Nir Kafri

February 9, 1953

The Soviet Union’s diplomatic outpost in Tel Aviv is bombed, leading the Soviets to break off diplomatic relations a few days later. One Soviet diplomat and the wives of two others are injured by the blast of 70 pounds of explosives in the garden, and the building is damaged.

Brawls break out in Tel Aviv between people protesting the bombing and counterdemonstrators the day that the Soviets break off diplomatic ties.

“The apologies of the Israeli Government have been contradicted by numerous facts of direct participation by the Israeli Government in fanning hatred for the Russian Government and in inciting hostile actions against Russia,” the Soviet Union says in an official statement released through the Tass news agency. The statement cites “the obvious connivance of the Israeli police” in the bombing.

The Soviet Union, which supported the U.N. partition plan for Palestine in 1947, sent its legation to Israel in 1948 with the hope of gaining a socialist foothold against the United States during the Cold War. But the Soviets saw that effort as a failure by mid-1952 as Israel embraced the United States and its Western allies and as Soviet attempts to regain Russian property were halted by the Israeli government. Israel experienced an anti-Soviet campaign amid fears of persecution of the 2.5 million Jews living behind the Iron Curtain and as anti-Zionism increased as an official policy of the Soviet Union and its Communist allies.

The Netherlands represents Israeli interests in Moscow during the diplomatic break. Israel and the Soviet Union announce the resumption of diplomatic relations July 21, 1953, while Israeli promises to find and punish the bombers.

The bombing is blamed on an Israeli terrorist group that calls itself the Kingdom of Israel and is known to the public as the Tzrifin Underground. The leader of the group, former Lehi member Yaakov Heruti, denies involvement in the explosion, and the government lacks proof. But Heruti and other Kingdom of Israel members are sentenced to prison sentences of one to 12 years for other attacks and plots and for the danger they pose to state security. Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion commutes the sentences after two years.

The Soviet Union again breaks off diplomatic relations after the June 1967 war, and official ties are not fully restored until 1991.