1. The Israeli who tried to broker the deal was none other than Shimon Peres, who at that time was the Israeli defense minister and is currently the president of the country.
2. The pro-Israeli hawks in the United States as well as in Israel have argued that Iran should be sanctioned and even invaded for trying to develop nuclear weaponry. When critics rightfully point out that this is a profound double standard as Israel already has nukes, the hawks reply by saying that Iran (unlike the “responsible” State of Israel) cannot be trusted and that it may sell the technology to other parties. And yet here we have Israel selling nukes to not just any country but what was at that time the pariah state of the world, apartheid-era South Africa. Israel wasn’t just trying to sell nuclear weapons to Denmark or Sweden. Rather, it was trying to deal these weapons to–in the words that we hear so often now–“the worst of the worst.”
3. Perhaps the reason why Israel saw no problem in giving nuclear weapons to an apartheid state is because Israel itself is one. Nelson Mandela, who led the fight against apartheid in South Africa, wrote of Israel:
The so-called “Palestinian autonomous areas” are bantustans. These are restricted entities within the power structure of the Israeli apartheid system…Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law. It has, in particular, waged a war against a civilian population, in particular children.
According to the article below: “South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.” Said one apartheid state to another apartheid state: Rub my back and I’ll rub yours.
The Guardian reports:
Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.
The “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.
The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.
The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.
They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.
A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were “never any negotiations” between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.
South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.
The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. At the talks Israeli officials “formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal”.
Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.
The memo, marked “top secret” and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: “In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere.”
But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.
The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available.” The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.
The use of a euphemism, the “correct payload”, reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong’s memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.
In addition, the only payload the South Africans would have needed to obtain from Israel was nuclear. The South Africans were capable of putting together other warheads.
Botha did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel’s prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.
South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.
The documents confirm accounts by a former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. After his release with the collapse of apartheid, Gerhardt said there was an agreement between Israel and South Africa called Chalet which involved an offer by the Jewish state to arm eight Jericho missiles with “special warheads”. Gerhardt said these were atomic bombs. But until now there has been no documentary evidence of the offer.
Some weeks before Peres made his offer of nuclear warheads to Botha, the two defence ministers signed a covert agreement governing the military alliance known as Secment. It was so secret that it included a denial of its own existence: “It is hereby expressly agreed that the very existence of this agreement… shall be secret and shall not be disclosed by either party”.
The agreement also said that neither party could unilaterally renounce it.
The existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu to the Sunday Times in 1986. He provided photographs taken inside the Dimona nuclear site and gave detailed descriptions of the processes involved in producing part of the nuclear material but provided no written documentation.
Documents seized by Iranian students from the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution revealed the Shah expressed an interest to Israel in developing nuclear arms. But the South African documents offer confirmation Israel was in a position to arm Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.
How much news coverage do you think this will get? I’m guessing somewhere between virtually none and none.
And here’s another also from The Guardian:
Secret documents revealing offer to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa cast fresh light on alliance
It’s the relationship that never was. Kept to the shadows, it was shielded behind secret agreements and disinformation that dressed up military cooperation as mining deals.
But when the spotlight occasionally flickered over one of the most intimate and enduring alliances of the postwar years, Israel was quick to underplay its deep military ties with apartheid South Africa as nothing more than a necessity of survival without a flicker of ideological affinity.
But as is shown by Sasha Polakow-Suransky’s book, The Unspoken Alliance, that relationship went beyond mere convenience.
For years after its birth, Israel was publicly critical of apartheid and sought to build alliances with the newly independent African states through the 1960s.
But after the 1973 Yom Kippur war, African governments increasingly came to look on the Jewish state as another colonialist power. The government in Jerusalem cast around for new allies and found one in Pretoria. For a start, South Africa was already providing the yellowcake essential for building a nuclear weapon.
By 1976, the relationship had changed so profoundly that South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster, could not only make a visit to Jerusalem but accompany Israel’s two most important leaders, Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres, to the city’s Holocaust memorial to mourn the six million Jews murdered by the Nazis.
Neither Israeli appears to have been disturbed by the fact that Vorster had been an open supporter of Hitler, a member of South Africa’s fascist and violently antisemitic Ossewabrandwag and that he was interned during the war as a Nazi sympathiser.
Rabin hailed Vorster as a force for freedom and at a banquet toasted “the ideals shared by Israel and South Africa: the hopes for justice and peaceful coexistence”.
A few months later, the South African government’s yearbook described the two countries having one thing in common above all else: “They are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples.”
A year earlier, Israel had offered to sell South Africa nuclear warheads.
“South Africa’s leaders yearned for a nuclear deterrent – which they believed would force the west to intervene on their behalf if Pretoria were ever seriously threatened – and the Israeli proposition put that goal within reach,” Polakow-Suransky says in the book.
The deal did not go through but there was plenty of other cooperation in the development of military technology.
Alon Liel, a former Israeli ambassador to Pretoria who headed his foreign ministry’s South Africa desk in the 80s, once told the Guardian that gold-rich South Africa funded the joint military projects and Israel provided much of the technical knowledge.
“After 1976, there was a love affair between the security establishments of the two countries and their armies,” he said. “We were involved in Angola as consultants to the [South African] army. You had Israeli officers there cooperating with the army. The link was very intimate.”
By the late 1970s, South Africa was Israel’s single largest customer for weapons.
Polakow-Suransky establishes that the relationship was so intimate that in the mid-1970s, South Africa lifted the safeguards supposed to govern how the yellowcake was used to prevent nuclear proliferation.
In return, Israel sent South Africa 30 grams of tritium, which gives thermonuclear weapons the boost to their explosive power. The delivery was enough to build several atomic bombs, which South Africa did in the coming years.
Peres was central to the relationship. He was defence minister at the time of Vorster’s visit to Jerusalem and twice served as prime minister during the 1980s as the alliance with the apartheid government solidified.
Five years ago, I asked him about the morality of ties with the white regime.
“Every decision is not between two perfect situations. Every choice is between two imperfect alternatives. At that time the movement of black South Africa was with (PLO leader Yasser) Arafat against us. Actually, we didn’t have much of a choice. But we never stopped denouncing apartheid. We never agreed with it,” he said
And a man like Vorster?
“I wouldn’t put him on the list of the greatest leaders of our time,” said Peres.
Yet attempts by the man who is now Israel’s president to portray his country as forced in to a reluctant alliance with an ideological foe are undermined by his enthusiastic expressions of common ideals.
In 1974, Peres wrote to the South African information minister, Eschel Rhoodie, speaking of the “unshakeable foundations of our common hatred of injustice and our refusal to submit to it”.
Peres was not alone. Rafael Eitan, the former Israeli military chief of staff, was among those who spoke of his sympathy for the white regime’s position. So did Ariel Sharon, the future prime minister.
In the late 80s, as international pressure on the apartheid government grew, Israel’s political leadership decided it was time to retreat. But Liel said that the security establishment balked.
“When we came to the crossroads in 86-87, in which the foreign ministry said we have to switch from white to black, the security establishment said, ‘You’re crazy, it’s suicidal’. They were saying we wouldn’t have military and aviation industries unless we had had South Africa as our main client from the mid-1970s; they saved Israel. By the way, it’s probably true,” he said.
And from BBC News:
Mordechai Vanunu, the technician who revealed that Israel had nuclear weapons, has begun a three-month jail term for violating the terms of his release in 2004.
Mr Vanunu was convicted by an Israeli court in December 2009 and sentenced to six months’ community service.
He refused, saying he would be in danger of being assaulted by a member of the Israeli public.
The court then returned him to jail instead.
Mr Vanunu spent 18 years in jail for revealing the existence of the clandestine Israeli nuclear programme.
Before being led away he shouted “You didn’t get anything from me in 18 years; you won’t get anything in 3 months. Shame on you, Israel.”
He was arrested on suspicion that he met foreigners, violating conditions of his 2004 release from jail.
His lawyer said his arrest was because of his relationship with his Norwegian girlfriend, not for revealing secrets.
After his release from prison in 2004, the Israeli authorities banned Mr Vanunu from speaking to foreign media and travelling abroad.
In 2007, Mr Vanunu, a Jewish convert to Christianity, was sentenced to six months in prison for breaking the conditions of his parole.
Here’s Glenn Greenwald doing an awesome job talking about this double standard (although I’m sure he’d have a lot more to say now that this news of Israel dealing nukes came out):