There is a mounting speculation here and abroad that the Soviet Union is moving toward the resumption of diplomatic relations with Israel that were broken following the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
The Israeli government, however, appears determined to insist that none of Moscow's friendly gestures in recent months can be considered a substitute for actual diplomatic relations, which Moscow could have tomorrow if it would come straight out and ask.
The Israelis suspect that the Soviets are trying to have their cake and eat it too by seeming to appear more reasonable toward Israel without having to actually take the big step of resuming relations.
The Soviets, according to Israeli analysts, feel squeezed out of the Middle East game and, as cochairmen of the Geneva conference, they want to reestablish their bona fides in the region by appearing to be more even-handed and impartial in the conflict. The Israelis have long charged that Moscow cannot play a constructive role in the Middle East because it is so one-sided on behalf of the Arabs.
Israeli's official position is that it would welcome a resumption of diplomatic relations with the Soviets at any time. Privately, there is no desire to help Moscow regain influence in the Middle East but if diplomatic relations were offered outright, Israel would not refuse.
Officials here say, however, there is "absolutely no sign" that would lead Israel to believe Moscow is really serious this time. Hints, usually from Eastern European sources, have, come before and have led to nothing. Officials describe contacts with the Soviets as "absolutely meaningless" in terms of indicating a serious desire to resume diplomatic relations.
The latest speculation arose because of the recent disclosure that a Soviet trading company, Intorg, had offered to sell goods to Israel. The offer, addressed to the Tel Aviv Chamber of Commerce, was widely reported in the Israeli and foreign press as a breakthrough in Soviet-Israeli relations. It is now reported, however, that the company involved is a West German company and not Soviet. The confusion is symbolic of the entire history of the rumors involving Soviet-Israeli relations.
During the past year, however, there have been several indications, no matter what the motive, that the Soviets were trying to better their relatins with Israel:
There have been several instances of Soviet diplomats calling at Israeli missions to talk or to deliver position papers and proposals in person.
Soviet and Eastern European diplomats have been whispering into the ears of favored journalists that a move toward diplomatic relations with Israel was under way.
Earlier this month pro-Syrian Palestinian leader Zuheir Mohsein said, following the visit of Yasser Arafat to Moscow, that the Soviets had told Arafat that diplomatic relations with Israel were being seriously considered.
An Israeli official was allowed to attend a Comecon meeting in Moscow last year as an observer and took the opportunity to discuss diplomatic relations.
Last week, for the first time, Israel allowed Soviet U.N. personnel to enter Israel from Egypt.
As for trade with the Soviet bloc, Israel began barter agreements of a very limited nature several months ago with Czechoslovakia and East Germany through Western companies acting as middle men. There is some indication that a similar barter agreement will be worked out with Poland.
Israel already has trade relations with Hungary, Rumania, Yugoslavia and Bulgaria that reached a level of $90 million last year. The only Eastern European country with which Israel maintains diplomatic relations is Rumania.