Israeli-Palestinian Conflict: Czechoslovakia


Figure 1.--

Czechoslovakia after World War II played a key role in equipping the Jewish Agency (JA) with modern military weapons. This was at a time that the British attempted to prevent the Jews from obtaining weapons while the Arab Governments (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt) surrounding Palestine were well armed with modern weapons. The JA after the UN Partition vote launched a major effort to obtain weapons as part of Operation Balak (June 1947). Most countries refused to sell weapons under the excuse that selling weapons would escalate violence. After Israel declared its independence, the JA became the Israeli Government and continued a desperate search for weapons as the surrounding Arab Governments invaded. One country that did sell Israel weapons was Czechoslovakia. This began before the Communist take over in the country. Czechoslovakia like most of Europe was devastated by World War II and thus export sales in hard currency was attractive. This was especially the case as the Czechs possessed large quantities of weapons seized from the defeated Germany Army. These weapons were of little value to the Czechs and the opportunity to sell them a real opportunity. Czech industrial plants were a key part of the German war economy. And these plants turned out German-designed weapons which could be sold. The Czech Ministry of National Defense (Secretariat D) under General J. Heřman negotiated the sales. There does not seem to have been any commitment to Israel on the part of the Czechs, but rather the commercial benefits motivated the Czech sales. The first large contracts included 200 MG 34 machine guns, 4,500 P-18 rifles and 50.4 million rounds of ammunition (January 14, 1948). At the time the Israeli Defense Agency (IDA) had only a hodge-podge of small arms. More and heavier weapons followed. Thus ironically, NAZI weapons played a key role in establishing Israel. The Czechs also provided military aircraft and helped train pilots. Some of the aircraft reached Israel through Yugoslavia. The Czech arms were the first high-quality military-grade arms the Israelis were able to obtain in any numbers and thus played a key role in their success in the First Arab-Israeli War (1948-49). The Communists had not yet seized control of Czechoslovakia when the arms sales to Israel began. Even so the Communists were already very important and the Red Army still occupied the country. These sales could not have been made without Soviet knowledge or if Stalin had objected. After the Communists seized control of the Government the sales were continued for a time. Stalin was, however, reassessing policy toward Israel and the Arabs. The Czech Government ended the arms sales (October 1949). From this point, Czech foreign policy including relations with Israel and the Arabs, like those of the other Soviet Eastern European satellite states, were dictated in Moscow.

World War II (1939-45)

Hitler remiliatized the Rhineland (1935) and conducted the Anschluss bringing Austria into the Reich (April 1938). Hitler's next target was the Sudetenland. The Czechs were prepared to fight. The British and French were not. British Primeminister Nevil Chamberlin delivered the Sudetenland to Hitler at the Munich Conferece (October 1938). He mused how terrible it was that war should be threatened by a "... quarel in a far away country by people of which we know little." The advanced Czech arms industry played an importan role in the German war effirt. Chamberlain brought a few months of peace, but at the cost of delivering a substantial arms manufacturing capability to the Germans, substantially increasing the Reich's war making capability. And the Germans significantly expanded what was already there during the War. Czechosolvakis (the Protectorate of Bohemia and Moravia) was a secure location because it was on the outer extent of the range of Alied bombers. Not only were there important assembly lines in Czechoslovakia, but there were also stores of arms and munition at the end of the War. NAZI policies in Bohemia and Moravia were much more begin that later implemented in Poland, but became more severe as the occupation progressed, especially after the appointment of Reinhard Heydrich as Reich Protctor (Governor). The Czechs as the first occupied country, were the first to be drafted for forced labor in Germany. Hitler convinced that the Czeches were being treated to lightly, appointed Reinhard Heydrich to replace the first NAZI Reich Proctor. The Czechs were among the people to be ethnically cleansed as part of Generalplan Ost. Heydrich's assasination by British-trained patriots ere the cause of horendous reprisals by the SS.

Post-War Czechoslovakia (1945-48)

Czechoslovakia after World War II played a key role in equipping the Jewish Agency (JA) with modern military weapons. This was at a time that the British attempted to prevent the Jews from obtaining weapons while the Arab Governments (Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Jordan, and Egypt) surrounding Palestine were well armed with modern weapons. The JA after the UN Partition vote launched a major effort to obtain weapons as part of Operation Balak (June 1947). Most countries refused to sell weapons under the excuse that selling weapons would escalate violence. After Israel declared its independence, the JA became the Israeli Government and continued a desperate search for weapons as the surrounding Arab Governments invaded. One country that did sell Israel weapons was Czechoslovakia. This began before the Communist take over in the country. Czechoslovakia like most of Europe was devastated by World War II and thus export sales in hard currency was attractive. This was especially the case as the Czechs possessed large quantities of weapons seized from the defeated Germany Army. These weapons were of little value to the Czechs and the opportunity to sell them a real opportunity. Czech industrial plants were a key part of the German war economy. And these plants turned out German-designed weapons which could be sold. The Czech Ministry of National Defense (Secretariat D) under General J. Heřman negotiated the sales. There does not seem to have been any commitment to Israel on the part of the Czechs, but rather the commercial benefits motivated the Czech sales. The first large contracts included 200 MG 34 machine guns, 4,500 P-18 rifles and 50.4 million rounds of ammunition (January 14, 1948). At the time the Israeli Defense Agency (IDA) had only a hodge-podge of small arms. More and heavier weapons followed. Thus ironically, NAZI weapons played a key role in establishing Israel. The Czechs also provided military aircraft and helped train pilots. Some of the aircraft reached Israel through Yugoslavia. The Czech arms were the first high-quality military-grade arms the Israelis were able to obtain in any numbers and thus played a key role in their success in the First Arab-Israeli War (1948-49). The Communists had not yet seized control of Czechoslovakia when the arms sales to Israel began. Even so the Communists were already very important and the Red Army still occupied the country. These sales could not have been made without Soviet knowledge or if Stalin had objected.

Stalin and Israel

The issue of Stalin and anti-Semitism is a long complicated one. His attitude toward Israel and by extension Soviet policy is but one aspect of this. There is no doubt that he was anti-Semitic, but not pathologically so. Unlike Hitler is attitudes toward Jews seems to have varied over time. Fortunately for Israel, the issue of Israel seems to have arisen at time hen he was relatively well diposed toward Jews. Stalin from an early age must have been ffected by the anti-Semitism endemic in Tsarist Russia. Many early Bolsheviks were Jewish. These were men with whom Stalin worked with and also competed aginst for power. Stalin turned to Jews to head the NKVD, this was probably no accident as it made it easier to blame them for excesses' and purge them--burying secrets of his own opersonal involvment. The Soviet Government after the War revived the Jewish Autonomous Oblast. Some 10,000 Jewish DPs migrated to Birobidzhan (1946-48). These were presumably for the most part committed Communists, many of who belived the propganda about the Soviet Union as a worker's paradise. [Weinberg, pp. 72-75.] The Council of Ministers of the USSR announced after the War a plan to improve the infrastructure in what might be called a Soviet Zion. Mikhail Kalinin was a leading Soviet advocare of the Birobidzhan project (since the late-1920s) and considered it as a 'Jewish national state' that could be revived through 'creative toil'. It is during this ohse that the issue of Isrel abnd the partition of Plestine surfaced in the new United Nations (1947). We do not know just how Soviet policy was determined at this time. A range of factors would have been involved. Jews had loyally supported Stalin and the Sioviet Uniin in World War II. The Soviets would have favored the dismantling of the Brirish Empire and the withdrawl of Britain from Palestine. The Palestinian leadership had sized with the NAZIs. The Grand Mufti after failing with pro-NAZI efforts in Palestine, Iraq, and Iran, spent the War in Berlin making pro-NAZI radio broadcasts to the Arab world and helping to organize Moslem SS units in the Balkans. There was no Palistinian Communist Party. In contrast there was a very strong left-wing faction of the Zionist movement. Just how all of this influenced Stalin we are not sure. We do know that Stalin ameto support the concept of a Jewish state. The Soviet Union joined the United States in supporting the partition of the Palestine Mandate into separate Jewish and Arab states (1947). And the Soviets did not prevent the Czechs from supplying vitaly needed weaponry to the Israelis. [Berdichevsky] We note Soviets actions against Jews ordered by Stalin (early 1948). Stalin began purging war-time allies, most notably the Jewish Anti-Fascist Committee. NKVD agents apparently murdered Solomon Mikhoels in a purported Minsk car accident (January 1948).

Communist Czechoslovakia (1945-89)

After the Communists seized control of the Government the arms sales to Israel continued for a time. Stalin was, however, reassessing policy toward Israel and the Arabs. The Czech Government ended the arms sales (October 1949). While there was a string lefy\t0wuing compnent to Zionism, it was within a context of a strong democratic context, Stakin was unable to ciontrol it. And the new Jewisgh state wa mostly oriented toward America and not the Soviet Union. As a result, Soviet policy shifted to viewing Israel as part of a colonial vestigein the Middle East. And at home, Stalin began to view Jews as a potential 'fifth column'. We are not sure why he came to see this. The development of a pro-Western Israel in the Middle East may have been a factor here. From this point, Czech foreign policy including relations with Israel and the Arabs, like those of the other Soviet Eastern European satellite states, were dictated in Moscow.

Sources

Berdichevsky, Norman. "Israel’s Allies in 1948: The USSR, Czechoslovakia, American Mainline Churches and the Left" (September 20, 2010).

Weinberg, Robert. Stalin's Forgotten Zion: Birobidzhan and the Making of a Soviet Jewish Homeland (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1998).







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Created: 5:26 AM 4/9/2013
Last updated: 5:26 AM 4/9/2013