Soviet Union Recognizes Israel
One of the Avia S-199 fighter aircraft delivered to Israel as part of the Czech arms deal in 1948. Photo: Israel National Archives
May 17, 1948

The Soviet Union officially recognizes the state of Israel, three days after Israel declared independence and the United States immediately offered de facto recognition of the new state’s provisional government.

The Soviet Union supports the state of Israel as part of its Cold War rivalry with the Western powers, especially the United Kingdom, whose mandate over Palestine has ended with Israel’s creation. The Soviets expect that Israel will be an opponent of Britain after years of increasingly violent Jewish resistance to British rule and British limits on Jewish immigration, as well as British efforts to maintain influence with Arab nations, especially Egypt, Jordan and Iraq. The Jewish state also has a socialist foundation through institutions such as kibbutzim and has a socialist-leaning provisional government under David Ben-Gurion, so even though the Soviet Union has tried to suppress Jewish identity and Zionism, it hopes to find a natural political and ideological ally in Israel.

Soviet support proves valuable in Israel’s War of Independence. While the United States and Britain have banned arms shipments to Israel, the Soviet Union works through intermediaries, especially Czechoslovakia, to supply weapons to Israel. Many of the weapons are captured German arms from World War II, including Messerschmitt fighter planes.

The Soviet refusal to allow Jewish emigration to Israel and Israel’s commitment to democratic institutions quickly prove fatal to bilateral relations, however, and Israel aligns with the United States, which provides formal, legal recognition of the new state Jan. 31, 1949.