AMERICAN intelligence reports connecting Israel to South Africa's development of medium-range missiles capable of carrying warheads into the heart of black Africa have evoked barely a whimper from Congress, which doles out more than $1 billion annually in military aid to Israel. Congressional inaction on this dangerous development is testimony to the failure of most House and Senate members to check Israel's abuses of human rights, including its historical flirtations with the practitioners of apartheid - financed partly by American tax dollars.
NBC News reported in late October that US intelligence believes that South Africa has developed a missile remarkably similar to the Israeli Jericho. Although this latest revelation is chilling, most members of Congress have long been aware of the Israeli-South African military connection. Yet during Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir's visit to Washington this month, the handful of black and Jewish congressmen who met with him delivered only a timid admonition, threatening to suspend some computer technology.
Even Ron Dellums, the Democratic chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus, who attended the meeting, has failed to back his condemnation of the Israeli-South African military connection with legislative action. The acclaimed South Africa sanctions bill, sponsored by Dellums, was seriously weakened after he dropped two key provisions that, if passed, would have been a major setback for pro-South Africa policymakers in Tel Aviv. The abandoned provisions threatened cutoffs of US aid to countries that arm the apartheid regime and process South African raw materials. Israel was the most direct target of these provisions.
Despite public condemnation of apartheid, Israel in 1969-70 began galvanizing ties to South Africa through a series of diplomatic and military exchanges. The relationship was based on an energy-for-guns agreement - South Africa promised, after 1973, to provide Israel with a million tons of coal a year by 1979, as well as uranium supplies and coal gasification know-how. Israel reciprocated by supplying South Africa with 420-ton Resheef gunboats, sea-to-sea Gabriel missiles, quantities of electronic fencing equipment, and counterinsurgency techniques and devices for use against ANC and SWAPO guerrillas in South Africa and Namibia.
The most controversial aspect of the Israel-South Africa military relationship is in the nuclear field. On Sept. 22, 1979, a US satellite recorded a flash of light over the south Atlantic, which the Defense Intelligence Agency concluded was a nuclear explosion. Evidence suggests that the detonation culminated a South African-Israeli joint venture, with the former providing uranium and enrichment expertise, and the latter supplying the nuclear capability.
Now in possession of what is believed to be ballistic missiles, South African nuclear know-how has been elevated to a tangible means of mass destruction.
Growing numbers of members of Congress can muster the courage to take on the National Rifle Association, which wants to put assault rifles in the hands of anyone who can pay $150; surely a handful can find the backbone to protest Israel's use of American tax money to aid South Africa's nuclear military buildup. Congress cried out over Nicaragua's alleged attempt to smuggle a planeload of weapons to Salvadoran rebels in contravention to the Central America peace accords; why this shameful silence on the issue of Israeli transfer of arms and technology to one of the world's worst violators of human rights?
Since 1980, according to a 1989 United Nations report, more than 1 million blacks have been killed in South African-perpetrated wars in Angola and Mozambique. Almost half that number were young children. When South African President John Vorster visited Israel in 1976, he was picketed by survivors of the Nazi death camps, who, unlike their government, had not forgotten that Vorster and many of his Nationalist Party comrades supported Adolf Hitler.
In the hands of South Africa's far right, including high-level officers in the South African defense forces, nuclear missiles will create a perpetual climate of fear. The most dire scenario would have the white rulers of South Africa, threatened by an ever increasing external and internal majority, with their back against the wall and their finger on the button. The South African-Israeli produced missile, with a range of 1,300 miles, could be aimed to strike Luanda, Maputo, Harare, Lusaka, or within the South Africa itself.
Certainly our elected officials, particularly liberal congressmen like Sen. Ted Kennedy and Rep. Howard Wolpe - among the most vehement and consistent crusaders against apartheid - have considered these possibilities.
A suspension of US military aid to Israel, tied to cessation of Israeli arms transfers to South Africa, would demonstrate that Congress doesn't limit debate about human rights violations to Manuel Noriega and Daniel Ortega. It would do justice to both those Israeli survivors of the death camps and those living victims of South Africa's wars who want desperately to believe ``never again.''