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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.

Originally posted to 8ackgr0und N015e on Mon May 24, 2010 at 10:24 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Obama agrees Israel should join the N.P.T. (6+ / 0-)

    and I diaried it last May: Obama calls on US allies Israel + Pakistan to join N.P.T.

    In the year since Obama urged those two American allies (and recipients of large amounts military aid) to join the NPT, the pressure the U.S. has exerted on those to countries to conform to the international norm has been underwhelming.

    "These old Wall Street boys are putting up an awful fight to keep the government from putting a cop on their corner." - Will Rogers

    by Lefty Coaster on Mon May 24, 2010 at 11:46:36 PM PDT

  •  Nope (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    This material is more evidence they are also proliferators.

    At best, it is evidence that the other party to negotiations believed they were offering to be proliferators.

    Israel was trying to sell a missile. Missiles come with multiple payloads. To translate "payload" to mean "nuclear payload" is just wishful thinking for one attempting to indict Israel. Even with that goal in mind, the best you or the interview could come up with is "South Africa thought ..." and not "Israel did."

    You have a huge paint brush, but no paint.

    Done with politics for the night? Have a nice glass of wine with Palate Press: The online wine magazine.

    by dhonig on Tue May 25, 2010 at 03:48:49 AM PDT

    •  Oh please (11+ / 0-)

      Israeli cooperation with South Africa's nuke programme is well-known. What's new here is the alleged offer to directly sell the apartheid regime nuclear weapons. Now, you can try to argue that the South African government was just completely crazy and believed, without any basis, that Peres was seriously considering selling them nuclear equipment, or you can accept the obvious, namely that they had a reasonable basis for thinking that.

      As for Shimon Peres - we knew he was up to his neck in racist oppression and terrorism already, so his a) involvement in trying to sell nukes to an avowedly white supremacist regime, b) signing of a secret military deal with said white supremacist regime, and c) repeated gushing praise for the "values" and "hatred of injustice" Israel shared with that regime are just the icing on the cake. Seriously, what does it take for the guy to be stripped of his Nobel Peace Prize already?

    •  This is ridiculous dhonig (9+ / 0-)

      Set aside your "Israel can do no wrong" hat for a minute.  This...

      To translate "payload" to mean "nuclear payload" is just wishful thinking for one attempting to indict Israel.

      ....ignores quite a few things, namely that a) South Africa was years away from being able to build nuclear weapons at the time, b) the apartheid regime had the ability to put together every other kind of missile except nuclear.  So why would they have been cooperating with Israel? Their only interest in the Jericho missiles was for their nuclear capability.

      Policy, Peace and Progress Before Party

      by Alec82 on Tue May 25, 2010 at 04:53:08 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

  •  It doesn't surprise me at all (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    livosh1, 8ackgr0und N015e

    I think what's lost here is the origin of Israel's nuclear program: it wasn't to hold sway over Arab states, it was to deter the Soviet Union.  Golda Meir's charge to Israel's scientists was to develop missile that could reach the southern Soviet Union, which they did.  This deterrent was, to the Israeli government, vindicated in 1973 when the Soviet Union threatened to intervene (with the US convulsed by Watergate) but didn't.

    South Africa was in the same situation in the mid-1970s: they didn't want nukes to threaten their pathetic neighbors, they wanted them to make sure the USSR didn't directly enter the war in Namibia or Angola.  They would never have been able to reach Soviet territory though, so their quest for nukes was not as sensible.

    This machine makes fascists feel bad. (Meteor Blades-approved version)

    by Rich in PA on Tue May 25, 2010 at 04:53:43 AM PDT

  •  Thanks for covering this, 8N! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    8ackgr0und N015e, Alec82

    There was also a good interview on Democracy Now:

    And what’s interesting about the Guardian revelations is this is really just the tip of the iceberg. It’s not necessarily what I would have chosen as the most stunning revelation in this book, because what happened afterwards is there were deals that did go through. This one didn’t go through. But throughout the late '70s and the mid-1980s, these two countries were cooperating in South Africa on building missile technology that the South Africans intended to use for a second generation of their nuclear weapons. I have documents from 1984 from the South African Defense Force talking about how they have to go to Israel and meet all of the Israelis who are about to move down to South Africa and work on the missile testing range, because the Israelis had greater expertise in the field of rocketry, and these Israelis all needed cover stories. And so, the document from 1984 instructs South African officials to go and interview all of them and make sure that their cover stories are intact, so when a bunch of Israelis show up in a small seaside town in the middle of nowhere in South Africa, they have an excuse for being there.
    The question of whether Peres had authorization from Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin is an interesting one. Peres has a long history as a foreign policy freelancer. He built Israel’s relationship with France in the 1950s, which was crucial for Israel’s own nuclear weapons program. And Peres did a lot of this behind the scenes as a mid-level official in the Defense Ministry, and he did not have the authorization of the Foreign Ministry or of his superiors. And so, this may be another instance of Peres acting on his own. But the key point is that the South Africans took it seriously. They perceived the offer as on the table. And that is what Peres has not responded to yet.

    AMY GOODMAN: South Africa providing Israel with yellowcake uranium?

    SASHA POLAKOW-SURANSKY: OK, well, another revelation in the book that the Guardian didn’t pick up on. Let me explain this one. It’s a little bit more complicated, but basically South Africa began to supply Israel with yellowcake uranium in 1961. South Africa has a great deal of natural resources, including uranium, and Israel needed it. It started in small amounts, and the shipments went to Israel. They were protected under bilateral safeguards, so not IAEA-style safeguards like we see today. This was an agreement between the two countries that the uranium would only be used for peaceful purposes. Between 1961 and 1976, the stockpile built up in Israel to about 500 tons of uranium.
    And the Israeli government, in the last few days, has responded to my allegations, saying, "We do not see any documents on Israeli letterhead." I have documents on Israeli Ministry of Defense letterhead showing the itinerary of Fanie Botha in Israel in July 1976. Not only did he meet with Shimon Peres, he met with Prime Minister Rabin, the head of Israel’s nuclear research community, and various other top generals in the military. The press passed it off as a discussion over new mining ventures. But people discussing new mining ventures don’t meet with the prime minister and the defense minister.

    "Trolling is a sad reality of internet life...Directly replying to the content of a trollish message is usually a waste of time"

    by Rusty Pipes on Wed May 26, 2010 at 02:51:33 PM PDT

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