The Soviet Union's two most authoritative newspapers have prominently featured messages from Israel in a move suggesting that the Kremlin may be interested in mending fences with the Jewish state.
Last night, the government newspaper Izvestia gave unusual prominence to a message Israeli President Chaim Herzog sent to Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet leader, on the 40th anniversary of the allied victory over Nazi Germany.
It was the first time a communication by an Israeli leader was published in the Soviet press since Moscow broke relations with Israel during the 1967 Middle East war. The publication of Herzog's message suggested that the Israeli president should expect a reply from Gorbachev.
The Communist Party daily Pravda this morning gave unusually good display to a statement of an Israeli Committee for Celebrations of the Victory Over Fascist Germany, signed by a number of Israeli intellectuals including nine non-Communist members of Israel's parliament.
Herzog's message to Gorbachev said that the Jews "will never forget the huge contribution of the Red Army in the final destruction of Nazi monsters in Europe and its assistance in the freeing of Jews who survived concentration camps." He also noted that Jews fought the Nazis in ghettos and forests and served in all allied armies during the war.
In connection with the anniversary, Herzog said, he wanted to "express my best wishes to the Soviet people and leadership." He added: "I want to join you in your desires that the ideals that inspired the whole of humanity 40 years ago serve in the future for efforts to avert war."
For some time now, Israel has signaled its desire to establish normal relations with all countries of the world, including the Soviet Union. But from Israel's point of view, improvement in relations between Moscow and Tel Aviv would have to be initiated by Moscow, which broke off the formal links in the first place.
Moreover, Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir has said that Israel would not accept Moscow's involvement in the Middle East peace process until relations between them are restored.
While publication of the two messages fit into the current Kremlin themes of the preeminence of the Soviet role in defeating Nazi Germany, their appearance in Izvestia and Pravda also raised speculation in diplomatic circles here that they may be designed as a signal of Moscow's intention to seek better relations with Israel.
According to western analysts, the Kremlin's diplomatic posture toward the region has been modified since last summer. The Soviets appear to have moved away from an overwhelming reliance on their Arab clients and have shown increasing reluctance to be drawn into either inter-Arab quarrels or Arab-Israeli arguments.
However, no early resumption of diplomatic relations should be expected, according to diplomats. The conciliatory gestures may produce an upgrading of the existing links and lead to more substantive talks if Shamir and Soviet Foreign Minister Andrei Gromyko meet in New York in September.
The Soviet Union and Israel have been represented by other parties in each other's capitals, but direct low-level contacts have been conducted over the years. Also, Gromyko and Israeli foreign ministers have met at the United Nations.