Israel denies nuclear exchange talks with SA

2010-05-25 08:29

Israel never “negotiated the exchange” of nuclear weapons with

South Africa, President Shimon Peres said, denying a report that he personally

offered missiles to the apartheid regime in 1975.

A book by an American academic released today claims to document

negotiations between Israel and South Africa on nuclear-capable Jericho

missiles, plus warheads, as part of extraordinarily tight military relations

between Israel and the pariah government in Pretoria.

“The Unspoken Alliance. Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid

South Africa” by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, quotes official South African documents

on meetings between Peres, who was then defence minister, and his South African

counterpart PW Botha.

According to the account, Peres and Botha met in 1975 in Zurich,

Switzerland, where Botha “expressed interest in buying the Jerichos if they came

with ‘the correct payload’, and that ‘Minister Peres said the correct payload

was available in three different sizes’”.

The terminology in the memo, Polakow-Suransky writes, “makes clear

that Botha was talking about nuclear warheads”.

If the minutes were proven to be authentic, they would provide

documentary evidence for Israel’s possession of nuclear weapons – a fact which

is widely accepted but which the Jewish state has neither confirmed nor

denied.

However, the allegation prompted a strongly worded response from

Peres’ office yesterday.

“There exists no basis in reality for the claims published this

morning... that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of

nuclear weapons,” it said.

“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 statement said the allegations were based on “selective

interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts”, it

added.

At the time of the Zurich meeting, South Africa had not yet

acquired nuclear capabilities and would not do so for several years.

The book says the warheads deal was aborted because Botha thought

it was premature and too expensive.

However, military ties only strengthened,

according to the account, right up into the 1980s when South Africa’s white

supremacist regime was struggling to circumvent crippling international

sanctions.

These military ties included everything from lucrative sales of

Israeli conventional weapons to South Africa to the purchase of South African

uranium by Israel and a top secret programme in which Israeli specialists moved

to a South African rocket testing base on the Indian Ocean coast.

“Nuclear missiles notwithstanding, the Israelis were extremely

eager to sell anything and everything to Pretoria,” the book says.

Polakow-Suransky writes that “Israel’s government did its utmost to

prevent me from getting” the research into the little-reported alliance.

But

eventually, South African defence officials gave him access to previously secret

documents “due in no small measure to the fact that the people whose records I

sought are no longer in power in Pretoria.”

The book is published by Random House in the US.

Israel is widely believed to be the only nuclear power in the

Middle East, with around 200 warheads, but has maintained a policy of deliberate

ambiguity about its capabilities since the mid-60s.

In September 1979 the two countries allegedly carried out a secret

nuclear test an offshore platform in the southern Indian Ocean.

The revelation

came to light in another declassified document which was released in the US

capital, Washington, in 2006 at the request of the security studies centre at

Georgetown University.

The document, which was prepared for the White House, said Israel

and South Africa were cooperating on military issues, including nuclear

research.

“The Unspoken Alliance” reports a “smoking gun” on Israeli-South

African military ties as late as May 1989 when the Soviet, today’s Russia, and

the US’s Central Intelligence Agency satellites noticed what seemed to be a

Jericho 2 rocket launch off the southern coast of South Africa.

“It confirmed that Israel was still cooperating with Pretoria two

years after pledging to halt military ties,” the book says.

South Africa eventually dismantled its nuclear weapons programme

under the United Nations’ supervision.



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