Did Israel offer to sell South Africa nuclear weapons?
Israel has long kept silent on its nuclear weapons capability. But The Guardian newspaper reported today that it had written proof of an Israel nuclear program as early as 1975. Or does it?
(Page 2 of 2)
“Peres was talking about three sizes – and the size can also be interpreted as the range of the missile – and indeed... in a separate document, Israel was offering South Africa to participate in extending the range of the Jericho missiles from 500 km to 4,000 and even 6,000 km," he added.Skip to next paragraph
The Guardian's interpretation
Mr. Polakow-Suransky and the Guardian argue that while there is no smoking gun – no memo signed by an Israeli official that admits or implies the existence of Israeli nuclear weapons – the sequence of meetings and memos results in only one possible conclusion: that the sole reason South Africa was seeking Jericho missiles was so they could fit them with nuclear warheads. And that's what South Africans thought was being offered, says Polakow-Suransky in an interview with Al Jazeera TV today.
Critical to the interpretation of the documents is one South African memo labeled “Top Secret” that was declassified years ago, in which a Lt. Gen. – who had attended a meeting by Peres and Botha earlier in the day – analyzed the Jericho missiles offered by Israel.
The merits of the deal meant that “certain assumptions have been made,” among them “that the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in the RSA [Republic of South Africa] or acquired elsewhere.” The document goes on to describe the “need for a nuclear deterrent.”
The Guardian suggests that the “three sizes” later referred to by Peres “are believed to refer to conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons,” though that is not specified in the documents. South African notes of the meeting say that the “correct payload was available in three sizes.” But the following paragraph notes different missile ranges that might apply to long-range Jericho missiles of 3,000 km or 6,000 km – and makes no comment about any warheads.
Such a nuclear deal never happened, wrote Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb, who went farther than Melman in comments posted in a Guardian blog today:
... 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.
Indeed, that is the question: Did Israel behave as a responsible nuclear state?
The publication of the documents, coming during the final week of the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference, is ill-timed for Israel. Even as it has sought to take a backseat to a Western push for UN sanctions against Iran, Israel has been heavily criticized during the month-long conference as hypocritical – asking Iran to be fully transparent about its nuclear program when it has refused to do so about its own for years.
- NPT 101: Which countries have nuclear weapons?
- NPT 101: Why Iran sees nuclear 'hypocrisy'
- Full Israel news coverage