Kudos to the Guardian’s Chris McGreal for having published and interpreted a series of official agreements concluded between Israel and South Africa in the mid-1970s, when the government in South Africa was at the height of its pursuit of apartheid. (HT: omop.)
In 1974, the U.N. General Assembly formally determined that apartheid constituted a crime against humanity. Ah, but that didn’t prevent Israel’s then defense minister (and current president) Shimon Peres from sending a fawning letter to South Africa’s Information Minister in November 1974 saying that the two countries share a “common hatred of injustice,” and urging a “close identity of aspirations and interests.”
McGreal writes that the new documents were uncovered by U.S. researcher Sasha Polakow-Suransky, as part of his research for his soon-to-be-published book on the relationship between the two countries while South Africa was still in its apartheid phase. Officials in the present South African government apparently felt little need to continue to keep the documents secret.
McGreal writes that the newly revealed “top secret” minutes of meetings held by 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 ‘three sizes’ can be understood, from other documents in the collection, to refer to warheads that could be conventional, chemical, or nuclear.
- 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.
It was in September 1979 that a U.S. satellite, the “Vela Hotel”, detected a double flash of light over the South Atlantic that many specialists thought was an emission from a nuclear test conducted from a South African naval vessel, quite likely in coordination with Israeli specialists.