This is a guest post by AKUS
The Guardian has gone nuclear (“postal” may be more accurate) over the “revelation” that South Africa approached Israel in 1975 in an apparent effort to obtain nuclear technology. Unfortunately, its sources are tainted, as usual, in its rush to judgment once again.
The case the Guardian tries to build against Israel (in the hope of “demonstrating” that Israel is an apartheid state and a nuclear proliferator) is that Israel offered nuclear weapons technology to South Africa in 1975, during the period when the Apartheid regime was in power. It bases its claim primarily on a new book, “The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa”, by an American researcher – or a researcher at an American think-tank, at any rate – Sasha Polakow-Suransky.
However, there are massive flaws in the story the Guardian is trying to sell:
1. Listen to the following interview with Sasha Polakow-Suransky on Al-Jazeera. No matter how often the Al-Jazeera anchor tries to get him to say it, Sasha Polakow-Suransky will only say that South Africa may have approached Israel, but there is no document at all which actually states that Israel offered or agreed to provide nuclear weapons to South Africa in 1975. The closest he gets to claiming that Israel offered South Africa nuclear weapons is to say the documents show that “the South Africans perceived that there was a nuclear offer on the table” (at 1.02).
2. In a blog entry on the Guardian’s website, A responsible nuclear power? , Julian Borger provides the following which similarly rebuts the Guardian’s claims (my emphasis added):
Avner Cohen, the author of Israel and the Bomb, and the forthcoming The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel’s Bargain with the Bomb, has taken issue with the headline of the piece.
While there is no doubt (as the documents point out) that there was a SA probe to Israel for nuclear weapons, which stimulates a certain opaque Israeli response made by the Israeli Minister of Defense, Shimon Peres, there is no proof whatsoever that Israel ultimately officially OFFERED those weapons to SA. In fact, I know that Israel did not: Israel neither offered and passed along nuclear weapons (and materials) nor weapons designs to the South Africans. Whatever the SA discussed among themselves in memos, and regardless of what Minister Peres told them, Prime Minister Rabin and the people in charge of the Israeli nuclear program (Mr. Shaleheveth Freier) were never willing to pass along weapons components and/or designs to the SA. Nothing like that ever formally offered to SA, regardless of Peres’ reference to the “correct warhead.” At the end of the day South Africa did not ask and Israel did not offer the “correct payloads.”. Israel did behave as a responsible nuclear state.
3. Pik Botha, former Foreign Minister of South Africa and someone closely connected to the South African Atomic Energy Board, responded to the Guardian claims that Israel offered nuclear weapons to South Africa with this:
“I doubt it very much. I doubt whether such an offer was ever made. I think I would have known about it.”
4. One of the documents provided by the Guardian as “proof” includes the following:
Note that it clearly states “That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in the RSA or acquired elsewhere” and there is no mention whatsoever of Israel. The document is headed “ISRAEL AND THE SOUTH AFRICAN BOMB” with no reference to the source other than that it is a “Declassified memo from General RF Armstrong” who was, according to Chris McGreal, “South Africa’s military chief of staff”.
5. As even the Guardian has had to admit in an amendment to the initial Chris McGreal article Shimon Peres has completely denied the story. His denial has belatedly been published by the Guardian – Israeli president denies offering nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa – even though, typically, the Guardian sub-head editor cannot resist attempting to cast doubts on Peres’ veracity rather than letting the readers judge for themselves – “Shimon Peres dismisses claims relating to secret files but US researcher says denials are disingenuous” despite the fact that both Sasha Polakow-Suransky and Avner Cohen back up Peres’ assertion, as does the memo referenced above:
Israel‘s president, Shimon Peres, today robustly denied revelations in the Guardian and a new book that he offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa when he was defence minister in the 1970s.
His office said “there exists no basis in reality” for claims based on declassified secret South African documents that he offered nuclear warheads for sale with ballistic missiles to the apartheid regime in 1975. “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,” it said.
Neither Polakow-Suransky nor the Guardian has provided such a document, and can do nothing better than claiming that “if you connect the dots…” – you come to whatever conclusion you would like.
6. Another piece of “evidence” offered by Chris McGreal is the “account” by a traitor to the then regime spying for the USSR who first, apparently, made the hardly-reliable claim upon his release from prison after the end of apartheid that:
“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”.
But, in fact, there is no such documentary evidence of the offer to this day, as Sasha Polakow-Suransky himself, the purveyor of the rumor or theory had to admit on Al Jazeera.
7. Not one of the documents offered by the Guardian actually mentions nuclear weapons in any context that an Israeli representative signed. The most pathetic of the examples of “proof” is in the collection of The memos and minutes that confirm Israel’s nuclear stockpile assembled by Chris McGreal. In one such document, minutes from a meeting indicated that “Minister Peres said that the correct payload was available in three sizes” referring apparently to the Jericho missile codenamed “Chalet”. From this McGreal inferred that the “three sizes” referred to conventional, chemical and nuclear rather than the more logical inference of three different weights (the Jericho I has been estimated to carry a payload of 450-650 kg and the Jericho II 750-1000 kg; the size of the payload influencing the distance the missile would travel). In the video of Polakow-Suransky above, he even has to admit that Peres’s reference to “three sizes” is “a bit ambiguous and there are various different interpretations” (at 1.46). In another document, a Letter from Shimon Peres, 11/11/1974, Peres’s “confirmation” is nothing more than a polite diplomatic letter thanking a Dr. Rhoodie, apparently a South African PR flack, for his assistance in making Peres’ trip to South Africa successful and offering to do the same for him when he next visited Israel.
8. The Guardian even roped in Gary Younge to write an article that rivals the worst in quality, innuendo, and false accusations that CiF is capable of presenting that tries to defend Richard Goldstone by claiming that “[a]s we learn elsewhere in the Guardian today, it even offered to sell the South African regime nuclear weapons”.
In fact, even the Guardian has now has to skirt around that claim. Younge goes even further into the realms of hypocrisy by citing a completely false statement from Sasha Polakow-Suransky:
“Throughout the 70s and 80s Israel had a deep, intimate and lucrative relationship with South Africa,” explains Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship With Apartheid South Africa. “Israel’s arms supplies helped to prolong the apartheid regime’s rule and to survive international sanctions.” No criticism of Goldstone’s complicity from representatives of the Israeli state can be taken seriously that does not acknowledge and condemn Israel’s even greater support of the self-same system.
Anyone with the slightest knowledge of South African armaments knows that most of its weapons came from Britain, France and Belgium and were in service at the time of these discussions – for example, the South African Airforce at the time used English Electric Canberra bombers (Period of Service: 1963 – 1991), British Hawker Sidderley Buccaneers (Period of Service: 1965 – 199) and French Dassault-Breguet Mirage fighters (Period of Service: 1965 – 1986) and the army used Belgian FN rifles and machine guns and British-made Alvis Saracen “88” Prototype used extensively to suppress riots in the townships – yet neither Younge nor the Guardian claims that these massive amounts of weaponry, dwarfing anything Israel may have provided, imply that Britain, France and Belgium are or were apartheid states.
9. Perhaps most significant if not obvious of all: there is no evidence that Israel ever sold Jericho missiles to South Africa or that Israel sold nuclear weapons to South Africa (South Africa ended up developing them themselves).
Finally, there are two additional points worth noting regarding the Guardian’s endless desire to blacken Israel’s name at every opportunity.
First, Chris McGreal is now supposed to be the Guardian’s Washington correspondent, but like all good Guardianistas cannot let go of his hatred of Israel. Like a mongrel returning to a bone he has to keep on gnawing at Israel. Even when posted into the capital of the most powerful country in the world, where world affairs such as the global economy might, one would think, pique his interest, his concern is trying to drag up dirt on Israel.
Secondly, the Guardian, as it does so frequently, rushes to judgment with a story before it checks the most basic facts, and lavishes on it exaggerations, innuendo, and false claims. Belatedly, it now has to grudgingly print rebuttals by Peres and Avner Cohen, after regurgitating someone else’s news on CiF, as McGreal has done with Polakow-Suransky’s book.