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Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Guardian claims Israel offered to sell nukes to South Africa

London's Guardian publishes a copy of what it claims is a 1975 agreement by then-Israeli Defense Minister (and current President) Shimon Peres to sell nuclear warheads to the South African apartheid regime.
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.
Peres' office has issued a strong denial (I received this by email).
Spokesperson's Department

Office of the President

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Response to the article published by The Guardian today:

There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by The Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons. Unfortunately, The Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts.

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.

The Office of the President regrets The Guardianís decision to publish such an article without requesting comment from any Israeli officials.

The Office of the President intends to send a harsh letter to the editor of The Guardian and demands the publication of the true facts.

For More Information:

Ayelet Frish ñ Spokesperson of the President 050-620-5111 Meital Jaslovitz ñ Assistant to Spokesperson of the President 050-420-5230

3 HaNassi St., Jerusalem Israel 92188 Tel. +972-2-6707256 Fax.

+972-2-6707295

Email: spokesperson@president.gov.il
The Guardian is serially anti-Israel and constantly trying to draw parallels between Israel and the South African apartheid regime. But even the BBC isn't buying this one (Hat Tip: Honest Reporting UK).
But the evidence contained in the report could be argued to be circumstantial, the BBC's Middle East correspondent Tim Franks says.

A previously declassified memo written by South Africa's military Chief of Staff laid out the benefits to South Africa of acquiring Israel's Jericho ballistic missiles with nuclear warheads attached.

That memo was written on the same day as the meetings which Mr Peres now denies took place.

In the end, the South Africans rejected the deal because it was too expensive.

They developed their own nuclear weapons programme, which was dismantled between 1983 and 1993.
In an email I received on Monday, Professor Gerald Steinberg of Bar Ilan University notes:
1) On the specific issue of nuclear weapons, there is apparently nothing new in this book. Speculation regarding cooperation is repeated -- and that fact that despite his efforts, Polakow-Suransky failed to uncover new evidence suggests that these claims are fabricated. McGreal's latest Guardian article involving Israel is purely ideological (surprise).

2) The idea that Israel would sell its most carefully guarded nuclear secrets to South Africa is inconsistent with all the available evidence. However, due to the sensitive nature of the issue, and the policy of ambiguity, Israeli responses are necessarily very guarded.

3) As in the case of Iran under the Shah, Israel apparently did sign contracts regarding missile development and manufacture with South Africa. This in no way implies nuclear related cooperation. All missiles are capable of carrying nuclear, conventional, and other warheads -- people who refer to the Jericho as nuclear capable demonstrate their ignorance.

4) We know (and I wrote about) Israel's need to export weapons and technology in the 1970s, after France stopped cooperation and sales of combat aircraft, naval craft, etc., and the UK reneged on the sale of advanced tanks, in which Israel had played an important role in the development process. In addition, the US connection was uncertain and very costly. Thus, in order to survive, Israel suddenly was forced to produce its own weapons and electronics, at a very high cost, and this costs needed to be offset with exports. The same approach was followed by all the other arms producers, which made billions from sales to Arab buyers (Saudi Arabia) -- a market not available to Israel. But the survival of the US, USSR, UK, France, etc. was not at stake. And with a very limited market, before the China connection, major contracts and sales to South Africa and Iran provided the only serious options.

5) Israeli officials at the time, particularly Peres and Rabin, appeared to be entirely unaware of the moral and political implications of military cooperation with the South African apartheid regime. If serious discussions of these dimensions took place at high levels of the Israeli government, I am not aware of them. Had such discussions taken place, the outcome may have been unchanged, but the decisions would have been made on the basis of cost-benefit analysis, and not "seat of the pants" policy making.
The JPost reports that 'additional sources' claim that the papers shown by the Guardian were 'completely fabricated.'
And here's the bottom line: Did Israel sell nuclear weapons to South Africa? The answer is no.

1 Comments:

At 3:34 AM, Blogger NormanF said...

Israel and South Africa cooperated because they faced an identical threat from the Soviet-led bloc whose expansionism was of great concern in the 1970s. That was when the Cold War was at its height. I would not be surprised if the two countries exchanged knowledge on how to deter "doomsday" threats. But that is a far stretch from saying they actively cooperated in the development of nuclear weapons - for which no real proof exists.

 

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