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Peacekeepers' killings in Lebanon led government to halt Israeli plans to open Irish embassy

Irish troops have been deployed to the region with the UN since the 1970s.

Irish troops stationed with UNIFIL in Lebanon (file photo)
Irish troops stationed with UNIFIL in Lebanon (file photo)
Image: RollingNews.ie

A PROPOSAL BY Israel to open an Irish embassy in the mid-1980s was abandoned after two members of the Defence Forces were killed by forces linked to the Middle Eastern country while serving in Lebanon.

State Papers released this week under the 30-year rule reveal that former Minister for Foreign Affairs Peter Barry prepared a memorandum for Government in December 1986 that sought official approval for Israeli to establish a consulate here.

But a second draft memorandum prepared in February 1989, which also supported the opening of an embassy, shows that the first memorandum was not submitted after Private William O’Brien and Corporal Dermot McLaughlin were killed while serving with the UN mission to Lebanon.

Israel and Lebanon have been engaged in an ongoing conflict since the former declared its independence in 1948. The ongoing conflict has seen a number of clashes between both sides, including a number of invasions of Lebanon by Israel since 1978.

The United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL) was established in 1978, after the first invasion, and members of the Irish Defence Forces have participated in the mission ever since.

In December 1986, Private O’Brien was on sentry duty at an Irish post in Lebanon when he was struck by a bullet believed to have been fired from an area occupied by the Israel-supporting De Facto Forces.

The following month, Corporal McLaughlin was killed after a shell struck a UN post in southern Lebanon, an incident believed to have been a deliberate and unprovoked attack by Israel.

According to the 1989 memorandum, the two killings caused the Irish government to stop considering Israeli plans to open an Israeli embassy in Ireland, which had been sought by the Middle Eastern country since the mid-1970s.

“The Israeli authorities have continued over the years to raise this matter at most meetings with Irish representatives at political and official level,” it read.

“The issue has also been raised by representatives of the Jewish community in Ireland and elsewhere, by distinguished political visitors from the US and from time to time, by the embassy of the United States.”

Explanations no longer credible

The draft memorandum, prepared following pressure from Israel, US officials and the Jewish community in Ireland, laid out several reasons why previous governments had resisted pressure to open an Israeli embassy in Ireland before 1989.

They included an unwillingness by the government to reciprocate such a move, the existing access Israeli diplomats in London had to Irish representatives, a fear that an Israeli embassy could see “some of the more militant Arab countries” seek similar representation, and concerns about the security risk that such an embassy would pose.

It was also noted that Israeli actions in southern Lebanon and the Occupied Territories had meant previous calls to open an embassy in Dublin were “inopportune”.

However, the draft memorandum said that the Irish government was increasingly unable to credibly maintain these positions.

“It is difficult to continue to base a refusal to accept a resident Israeli embassy on the grounds which we have offered over the years since the issue was first raised in 1976,” it read.

“In the absence of really plausible reasons for such a refusal, our position is open to misrepresentation as showing anti-Israel bias and there is a danger that it could be seen in this way in some quarters in the United States.”

It noted that Turkey, South Korea and Norway had embassies in Dublin without Ireland having consulates in those countries, and that Israel felt it was unable to make proper representations to Ireland from London.

“Israel is seriously critical of our political stance on the Middle East and particularly concerned about our EEC presidency,” it read.

“It believes that it cannot make its viewpoint adequately known through the intermittent presence in Ireland of its refusal to accept a resident embassy… as a further indication of an anti-Israel tilt in our policies.”

Better channel to express views

The draft memorandum also claimed that Ireland had already opened resident embassies from Iran and Egypt, and that Iraq could also ask for an Irish embassy, which it was felt invalidated concerns about representation from “militant” Arab countries.

It was further felt that the government’s issue with Israeli policies had existed for a long time, and that it was unlikely there would ever be a “wholly suitable time” to accept an Irish embassy in that regard.

It was even argued that a resident embassy would give the government a better channel to make its views known to Israeli authorities.

Concerns about potential security provisions at an Israeli embassy in Ireland were also addressed.

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“If a decision is taken for political reasons to allow the establishment of a resident Israeli mission, the provision of appropriate security cannot be considered an insurmountable problem,” the memorandum read.

“Moreover, we cannot easily argue that we are unwilling or unable to carry out the normal responsibilities of a host State.”

An economic argument was also made, with figures showing that Irish trade with Israel grew from £4m in exports and £6.9m in imports in 1977, to more than £31m in exports and £17.3m in imports in 1987.

It was suggested that by opening an embassy, joint ventures could be carried out in the areas of technology, scientific research, horticulture and tourism.

However, Israel’s embassy in Ireland did not open until 1994. No reason was given for the earlier postponement of the plans. 

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