A Window on the Middle East: Eliyahu Sasson and the Israeli Legation in Turkey, 1949–1952
The above quotations reflect the principal activities of the Israeli legation in Ankara, and of its minister, Eliyahu Sasson. The minister’s salon, renowned in Ankara’s diplomatic circles, served as a prime source of information, as well as promoting the work of the legation; it was conducted out of motives of pure, undiluted patriotism: “Mrs Sasson has no call for concern, [the women] are not young, they are 5560, stout, and their main conversation is, in a nutshell, gossip”.3 Clandestine meetings with Arabs-messengers, collaborators and informants-caused the Turkish capital to replace Cyprus as a principal sphere of operations for Israel’s intelligence community. “Turkey is one of the best sources of information on developments in the Middle East,”
pronounced the Foreign Ministry’s Director-General, Walter Eytan, and he issued instructions for Israel’s contacts and influence in Turkey to be expanded to the maximum.4 Turkey’s importance to Israel in these respects was a result not only of its geographical location and the associated strategic value placed on Turkey in the emerging East/West rivalry, but also of its proximity to the Arab world, which made it easier to develop undercover contacts at all levels. Reflecting Turkey’s importance to Israeli diplomatic and intelligence interests at this time, the Ankara legation archives, for the period from 1949 into the 1950s, offer unique opportunities for comprehending Israel’s Middle Eastern policies during the first years of statehood. This is largely due to the fact that Israel’s minister to Turkey was then Eliyahu Sasson, a colourful and articulate character who was a selfstyled expert on Middle Eastern affairs. His diplomatic style was but one aspect of his unconventional approach to foreign policy (by Israeli standards of the time). His outspoken opinions on a wide variety of subjects, reflecting a pragmatic approach and an understanding of the need frequently to review policy in the light of objectives and achievements, are preserved in great quantity in the records of the legation (for he was also an indefatigable correspondent), together with the letters of sympathizers and protagonists within the Foreign Ministry. Thus, just as Ankara provided Israel with a window on the Middle East in those early days, so today these archives offer historians an equally valuable insight into Israel’s attitudes to the Middle East at that time.