John Nicholls, British ambassador to Israel, presenting his credentials to Yitzhak Ben Zvi
Britain seized Palestine from the Ottoman Empire during the Sinai and Palestine Campaign of World War I. Close cooperation between Britain and the Yishuv, the nascent pre-state Jewish community of Palestine, developed during this time when Britain received intelligence from the Nili Jewish spy network, which assisted British forces in conquering Palestine. Additionally, over 5000 Jews from various countries served in the Jewish Legion of the British Army which fought at Gallipoli and in the Palestine Campaign, although some Palestinian Jews also served in the Ottoman Army. In 1917, Britain issued the pro-Zionist Balfour Declaration, which called for the establishment of a national home for the Jewish people in Palestine. Six weeks afterwards, British troops concluded the Palestine campaign, driving out the Ottoman army from Jerusalem, under the leadership of General Allenby. The British then took control of Palestine. Under British military rule, the Zionist enterprise was renewed. In 1920, Britain established its authority under the Mandate for Palestine granted by the League of Nations, which was confirmed in the San Remo agreement of 1922. A High Commissioner was appointed with instructions to allow the Jews to build their national home. and spent 31 years in charge of British Mandate Palestine under a League of Nations mandate that originally extended to both sides of the Jordan River, although Transjordan was separated from Palestine by the British.
In 1937, the Peel Commission presented a plan for a Jewish state and an Arab state. After this was rejected, the British District Commissioner for the Galilee, Lewis Yellard Andrews was assassinated by Arab gunmen in Nazareth.
In February 1947, the British government – having lost the will to maintain its power in Palestine, and having already decided to withdraw from India – announced it was handing the mandate back to the League of Nations. The British mandate was relinquished and the establishment of the State of Israel was affirmed by a United Nations General Assembly resolution.
British-Israeli relations improved during the Suez Crisis of 1956,. In 1956, Egypt closed the Suez canal to ships bound to Israel, whilst encouraging violent terror attacks into Israel via Egyptian-controlled Gaza. In November 1956, Britain, France and Israel attacked Egypt. This marked a point when Israeli-British relations were at their best. In the 1950s and 1960s the UK was seen as pro-Arab, maintaining close relations with Jordan and the Gulf states.
In 1975 the UK voted against the motion in the UN that “Zionism is racism.”
Israeli-British relations were strained in the 1980s. During the 1982 Lebanon War, Britain imposed an arms embargo on Israel, which would not be lifted until 1994. It has been alleged that during the 1982 Falklands War, Israel supplied weaponry to Argentina, after Prime Minister Menachem Begin personally ordered an airlift of military equipment, to avenge the hanging of his friend Dov Gruner by the British during the Mandate era.
There were also two diplomatic incidents during the 1980s that involved operations by the Mossad (Israeli secret service). In 1986, a diplomatic incident took place when a bag containing eight forged British passports was discovered in a telephone booth in West Germany—the passports had been the work of Mossad, and were intended for the Israeli Embassy in London, to use in covert operations abroad. The British government, furious, demanded that Israel promise to never forge its passports again, which was obtained. In 1988, two Israeli diplomats from the Mossad station of the Israeli Embassy in London were expelled and the Mossad station closed after it was discovered that a Palestinian living in London, Ismail Sowan, had been recruited as a double agent to infiltrate the PLO.