Graphic: Tamiko G. Muhammad

( – Israeli President Shimon Peres denied reports May 24, that he offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa when he was defense minister in the 1970s.

The Guardian newspaper of London published top-secret South African documents revealing that a secret meeting between then-defense minister Shimon Peres and his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha, ended with an offer by Mr. Peres for the sale of warheads and missiles to deliver them.

The documents provide the first official written evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, despite its policy of neither confirming nor denying its nuclear program. “Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place,” said the statement from the office of Mr. Peres.


The documents published in the Guardian were first uncovered by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, a South African, Jewish writer and a senior editor at Foreign Affairs. Mr. Polakow-Suransky went through 7,000 pages of classified South African documents while researching his new book “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa.”

“In 1975 the Israeli government offered to sell the apartheid regime in South Africa, an advanced, sophisticated nuclear weapon, with a ballistic missile,” John Steinbach, a journalist, nuclear activist, and researcher who has also written about the Israeli-South African relationship, told The Final Call.

“They offered the Jericho II missile with a nuclear weapon attached to it. They offered to sell it–no strings attached–to South Africa, at the height of the apartheid regime, according to internal South African documents.

“The only reason why the South Africans, the only reason why (P.W.) Botha turned it down was, that it was too expensive. The Israelis were demanding too much money. And of course we know the South Africans went on to develop their own (maybe a dozen or so) crude nuclear weapons,” said Mr. Steinbach, the author of a 13,000 word report detailing the secret Israeli development and deployment of nuclear weapons.

But what’s worse than that shocking revelation about the Israeli-apartheid connection, according to Mr. Steinbach, is a decision–taken May 28, with unanimous approval, including that of the U.S.–by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty Review Conference.

That conference’s final document addressed “the importance of Israel’s accession to the NPT.” Israel, which has not signed the treaty, is believed to hold the only nuclear arsenal in the Middle East, a stockpile the Jewish state would have to relinquish after joining the treaty as a non-nuclear weapon state.

“The big news,” coming out of the conference which issued a report for the first time, “is that it’s Obama now, and not Bush,” said Mr. Steinbach. The conference has called for the establishment of a nuclear free Middle East in two years. “And they have named Israel, demanding that Israel sign the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty.” Israel, India and Pakistan, are the three non-signatories of the treaty believed to have nuclear weapons.

The decision by the conference “also puts the Obama administration and the Israelis in a very difficult situation, because this is in the final report and the U.S. signed off on it,” Mr. Steinbach said.

In the 1970s, Israel needed uranium to develop its nuclear arsenal, according to Mr. Steinbach. “The two nations did collaborate, very strongly on missile technology. In my paper I look at the Republic of South Africa ballistic missiles and the Jericho ballistic missiles from Israel, and I look at them side-by-side and they are identical.

“We have to remember that during the peak of the apartheid years, not only was South Africa considered to be a rogue state, and it was boycotted by many of the nations of the world, but Israel was also in that same category, and so the two of them helped each other out a lot.

“One of the things that Israel did was to facilitate sales of South African technology and South African products around the world, through Israel. So, it’s a very complicated and complex relationship. Certainly there was a tremendous amount of nuclear collaboration between the two nations,” Mr. Steinbach said.

The failed nuclear deal was not the only relationship between Israel and apartheid South Africa, according to Mr. Polakow-Suransky.

“What’s interesting about the Guardian revelations is this is really just the tip of the iceberg,” Mr. Polakow-Suransky told Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! “It’s not necessarily what I would have chosen as the most stunning revelation in this book, because what happened afterwards is there were deals that did go through. This one didn’t go through.

“But throughout the late ‘70s and the mid-1980s, these two countries were cooperating in South Africa on building missile technology that the South Africans intended to use for a second generation of their nuclear weapons. I have documents from 1984 from the South African Defense Force talking about how they have to go to Israel and meet all of the Israelis who are about to move down to South Africa and work on the missile testing range, because the Israelis had greater expertise in the field of rocketry, and these Israelis all needed cover stories.

“And so, the document from 1984 instructs South African officials to go and interview all of them and make sure that their cover stories are intact, so when a bunch of Israelis show up in a small seaside town in the middle of nowhere in South Africa, they have an excuse for being there,” the author said.

Israel’s “unspoken alliance” with apartheid South Africa lasted up until the end of minority rule, almost until the transition to democracy in South Africa. “As late as 1989, the two countries were still cooperating in this field,” he said.

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