How Israel offered nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa

Secret agreement signed by South Africa's minister of defence PW Botha and Israel's minister of defence Shimon Peres in 1975.

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.

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.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

4 thoughts on “How Israel offered nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa

  1. Norman Morley

    I find it interesting that no one questions the alliance between Israel & South Africa? Why not? Is it because both countries are/were raciest? Was it because South Africa was under siege while Israel was/is occupying another s land? Isn’t what Israel treating the Palestinians similar to Apartheid? Indeed, if this is conformation that Israel has the bomb, what does it say about them? It’s time for the U.S. to withdraw from the middle east before the Atomic s start going off. The pace being taken today, requires the World to stand up and demand a settlement, is possible, before it’s too late. Egos & B.S. be damned, the pettiness that abounds today, effects everyone in the World. Since when has the minority been given the right to choose for the majority, about life or death?

  2. Dieter Heymann, Houston, USA

    When the laboratory of Professor Kistemaker in Amsterdam, The Netherlands began to develop ultracentrifuges for the enrichment of U235, the Government of South Africa made a gauche attempt to penetrate that development by asking whether the South African engineer Mr. Imo Bock could work at Kistemaker’s lab. Mr. Bock was eventually allowed to work at that lab but was forbidden to set foot in specific areas of the lab. To the best of my knowledge he never did set a foot in any of these areas. All of this predated the cited secret agreement of 1975 by at least ten years. While I have no evidence that the South African Government attempted to get ultracentrifuges with the aim of making U235 bombs it fits the broader story aired here.
    Interestingly, the Pakistani atomic spy Mr. Khan used exactly the same ruse to worm his way into the Eurenco labs as the South African Government had tried for Mr. Bock to worm his way into the ultracentrifuge project in Amsterdam, namely: “Mr. Bock is an intelligent engineer who cannot enlarge his knowledge here in South Africa any further, can he work in your lab, Prof. Kistemaker”? The question from where Khan got this identical ruse remains unsolved today.

Comments are closed.