Here's a story that popped up, but seems to have disappeared. At least in the US. In case you needed further evidence that journalism is all but dead in the US, consider this stunning interview on Al Jazeera.
You are in for a shock if you expected arabic TV to be hard on Israel. The interviewer was very hard on the guest, Sasha Polakow-Suransky. Polakow-Suransky is a senior editor at Foreign Affairs. That is the flagship publication of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Polakow-Suransky did a fine job of explaining the import of the documents he obtained from the South African government. They clearly support the long-held belief Israel entered into a nuclear arrangement with the apartheid government of South Africa in the 1970s, when Shimon Peres was Minister of Defense.
First, some background.
On September 22, 1979, a US satellite designed to monitor compliance with the 1963 Partial Test Ban Treaty prohibiting atmospheric testing of nuclear bombs detected "an event" in the Indian Ocean off the coast of South Africa.
The detected event was a signature double flash consistent with the explosion of a nuclear device. Although the validity of that observation has been officially questioned, there is no doubt corroborating evidence through other data collection channels support the original interpretation of a nuclear detonation on or near the surface of the water.
The immediate interpretation at the time was the satellite had detected a nuclear test likely representing a collaboration between Israel and South Africa.
Israel has consistently denied this, as did the apartheid South African government. However, the present South African government seems a lot less concerned about protecting the former apartheid government. They released a series of documents to Polakow-Suransky that shed light on the relationship between Israel and the apartheid regime of the day. The new documents make Peres look more like Pakistan's AQ Khan than Carter's Secretary of Defense, Harold Brown.
Here are the highlights of the interview
In response to the opening question of what the documents show, Polakow-Suransky states:
Pokalow-Suransky (0:33) : What these specific documents confirm is there were high-level discussions between the two defense ministers in March and April, 1975... The topic of these meetings was Jericho missiles....Shimon Peres has now denied that he ever made an explicit offer (of nuclear weapons). However, what's clear from reading these documents and subsequent South African documents that were written later that day and in the following days is that the South Africans perceived there was a nuclear offer on the table.
Interviewer (1:04) : Ok, let me stop you there. A Jericho missile, is that a nuclear-capable missile or is that a specific nuclear weapon? Just to be very clear.
Polakow-Suransky (1:25) : It's a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead.
Interviewer (1:29) : Ok, so those were on the table and we've got General Armstrong, South African Lieutenant General Armstrong, saying "we need the correct payload" ... that's a quote... and Shimon Peres says in return "we've got three sizes", now what does that mean?
Polakow-Suransky (1:45) : Well, it's a bit ambiguous and there are various different interpretations of that, but the way the South Africans interpreted that which is clear from Armstrong's memo (caution PDF) written later that day... is that the South Africans were only interested in one kind of payload. They were interested in nuclear warheads and Armstrong wrote a memo to his superiors in the South African Defense Force that day arguing that nuclear weapons would be beneficial for South Africa, that it would enhance South Africa's defense strategy, and if you look at later documents that I also have in my possession from as late as 1979, the South Africans were only interested in Jericho missiles if they carried a nuclear warhead... so in subsequent years it was clear what the South Africans were interested in and how they interpreted Peres' offer.
Interviewer (2:43) : So is there actually, to coin a phrase here, a "smoking gun" that we can see here?... Is there the definitive thing here that says a nuclear weapon was going to be sold to South Africa if this plan had gone through?
Polakow-Suransky (3:05) : There is not a smoking gun in the sense that you just laid out. What there is is evidence that this was discussed at the very highest levels between two defense ministers and that the issue of nuclear weapons was broached and the South Africans believed it was on the table. The deal didn't go through as the Guardian story noted... However, in subsequent years, the South Africans and the Israelis cooperated on building more advanced versions of the Jericho and testing them in South Africa and that lasted well into the 1980s almost until 1990.
Interviewer (3:42) : All the documents you have... are from the South African side. The reason I ask you is I'm wondering if you have anything from the Israeli side. Shimon Peres has come out and said "There is no Israeli document and there is no Israeli signature on any document."
Polakow-Suransky (4:05) : Yes, the documents are all coming from the South African side. However, the South Africans kept very good records, and that included all of their correspondence with the Israelis. So if you go through the South African archives you will see many of them with Israeli signatures on them and I have one of them here with me that has Shimon Peres' signature on it...This was signed four days after the Armstrong memorandum on March 31st, dated April 3rd 1975. However, I should note this document is a secrecry agreement and it essentially binds both parties to maintaining the secrecy of all all their relations... Peres' signature is not on the minutes from the meeting he attended four days earlier. However, those minutes confirm that Peres was discussing the possibility of nuclear warheads.
Interviewer (5:05) : Ok... I'm going to read again from the release from President Shimon Peres, "Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There is no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place."
Polakow-Suransky (5:35) : Correct... he is speaking as a politician and somewhat predictably weaseling his way out of this situation ... I think if you look at all of these documents together and piece them together... its very clear that the South Africans would not have written the memorandum about nuclear weapons and their benefits to South African defense strategies on the same day as the meeting with Mr. Peres if this offer had not been discussed during the meeting. If you connect the dots it is pretty clear what was going on... I would also like to add ... it is entirely probable that he did not have the approval of Prime Minister Rabin when he conducted these discussions with the South African defense minister and that may also be why this deal never went through in addition to the South Africans balking at the high cost.
Interviewer (7:26) : Does this make a mockery of the nuclear ambiguity that Israel has always held?
Polakow-Suransky (7:50) : This has been known for a long time... The new story here is that this was discussed at a very very high level with the South Africans in 1975 at a time when South africa was ... seeking a nuclear capability... the two countries continued to cooperate well into the 1980s on South Africa's nuclear-capable missile program and Israelis were very very important in that effort because they had much more expertise in the field of rocketry and delivery systems and they helped the South Africans a great deal with that in the 1980s.
Having lived through a period of almost ten years during which we were expected to believe incredible things and ignore obvious signs... I think this merits a little closer attention.
It's clear Israel is a nuclear power. Anyone who denies that is either a fool or a liar. This material is more evidence they are also proliferators. That is consistent with their behavior in other areas of arms dealing. I'm not talking about Uzis. Israel sells advanced missile systems, advanced missile defense systems, tanks as well as surplus US equipment. That is not news.
This begs the question of why Israel is allowed to continue as a nuclear power without signing the NPT or any other international agreements. It is increasingly difficult to turn a blind eye to this.