Margaret Thatcher: An embedding Zionist

By Martin Bright, January 5, 2012

Margaret Thatcher may not have had the visceral or spiritual connection to Israel felt by Tony Blair or Gordon Brown but her premiership marked a sea-change within the Conservative Party, which has defined its policy ever since.

Mrs Thatcher's anti-Communism and uncompromising position on terrorism made her naturally lean towards Israel in the Middle East.

As the academic and former Israeli government adviser Jonathan Spyer has pointed out, UK policy in the Middle East can generally be divided between the "diplomatic approach", which allies itself with existing regimes or those it judges likely to seize power, and the "strategic" approach, which divides regimes into those judged moderate and those thought to be a threat.

The first approach has traditionally been promoted by the Foreign Office and is generally hostile to Israel, whereas the "strategic approach" has often been preferred by Downing Street and sees Israel as a natural ally (although Attlee and Heath were exceptions to this rule).

This did not mean that the Thatcher-era marked a golden era of UK-Israel relations. As the JC revealed in 2010, secret papers released by the National Archives showed that she thought Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin was the "most difficult" man she had to deal with, a man whose policy on West Bank settlements was "absurd".

In June 1981, she unleashed the full force of her fury at Israel after the bombing of Iraq's Osirak nuclear reactor. In 1983, she made plain her opposition to former Irgun fighter Eliahu Lankin becoming Israel's ambassador to the UK, as she viewed him as a terrorist. He later withdrew.

Despite a sometimes testy relationship with Israel itself, Mrs Thatcher embedded pro-Zionism within her party - and the essentially sympathetic approach of the Cameron-Osborne leadership of the Conservatives remains part of her political legacy.

Last updated: 1:16pm, April 8 2013