South Africa and Israel: birds out of favor flock together

South Africa's apparently close military links with Israel have again come to light. Never far behind are questions by critics whether the United States, as Israel's main benefactor, knowingly turns a blind eye to the relationship.

The latest evidence pointing to an Israeli-South African connection is the remote-controlled spy plane, or ''drone,'' shot down by Mozambique May 23.

South Africa has voiced ignorance of the incident in such a way as to all but confirm that the drone was launched by the South African Defense Force. And military analysts here suspect that the drone - either the design or the product itself - came from Israel.

The drone spy incident is reinforcing the opinion among analysts here that Israel does not comply with the 1977 mandatory United Nations arms embargo against South Africa. Israel insists that it does.

South Africa guards all armaments information with such secrecy that it is difficult to prove to what extent Pretoria relies on foreign sources for military hardware or design. But as one knowledgeable observer notes: ''There is no doubt there is an exchange of technology'' between Israel and South Africa.

In South African government circles, particularly in the military, there is nothing but praise for how Israel has dealt with the threat of terrorist incursions. South Africa's own approach to dealing with rising guerrilla insurgency seems patterned after the Israeli hard-line approach to terrorism.

''South African generals now consciously emulate the flamboyance of the Israeli generals,'' says Paul Moorcraft, author of a book on the South African Defense Force.

Analysts say the links between South Africa and Israel may be spawned in part by a similar outlook. Both states feel besieged and are ringed by ideological enemies. Some analysts say the two countries have drawn together as a result of the joining of diplomatic forces of black African states and Arab countries after the 1973 Middle East war.

The most significant link suspected is in the nuclear field. Some allege that the two countries are helping each other, with South Africa providing Israel with uranium and enrichment expertise, and Israel providing Pretoria with nuclear know-how.

In another example, military analysts here say South Africa's new fleet of naval strike craft are practically identical to Israel's. Moorcraft says it appears that three of the South African vessels were built in Israel.

The drone was shot down by Mozambique in an atmosphere of tension between that country and South Africa. A large bomb explosion in central Pretoria on May 20, set by the outlawed African National Congress (ANC), led to a retaliatory raid by the South African air force into Mozambique. Pretoria said it was after ANC bases in Mozambique.

The drone was apparently on a reconnaissance flight of some kind when shot down. The Mozambican government said the plane was accompanied by another which escaped.

Drones have been in use for a number of years in other parts of the world. But it came as a surprise to military analysts here that South Africa had any.

The drone's capability would be of considerable value to South Africa in detecting ANC operations in neighboring countries. This intelligence was previously assumed to have been gathered from on-the-ground informers and infiltrators.

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