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Secret Documents reveals Israeli possession of nuclear weapons

May 25, 2010

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres and P W Botha

The secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres, now president of Israel, and P W Botha of South Africa. Photograph: Guardian

The Guardian reports:

Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state’s possession of nuclear weapons.

The “top-secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa‘s defence minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defence minister and now its president, responded by offering them “in three sizes”. The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that “the very existence of this agreement” was to remain secret.

The documents, uncovered by an American academic, Sasha Polakow-Suransky, in research for a book on the close relationship between the two countries, provide evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons despite its policy of “ambiguity” in neither confirming nor denying their existence.

The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa’s post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request and the revelations will be an embarrassment, particularly as this week’s nuclear non-proliferation talks in New York focus on the Middle East.

They will also undermine Israel’s attempts to suggest that, if it has nuclear weapons, it is a “responsible” power that would not misuse them, whereas countries such as Iran cannot be trusted.

A spokeswoman for Peres today said the report was baseless and there were “never any negotiations” between the two countries. She did not comment on the authenticity of the documents.

South African documents show that the apartheid-era military wanted the missiles as a deterrent and for potential strikes against neighbouring states.

The documents show both sides met on 31 March 1975. Polakow-Suransky writes in his book published in the US this week, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s secret alliance with apartheid South Africa. At the talks Israeli officials “formally offered to sell South Africa some of the nuclear-capable Jericho missiles in its arsenal”.

Among those attending the meeting was the South African military chief of staff, Lieutenant General RF Armstrong. He immediately drew up a memo in which he laid out the benefits of South Africa obtaining the Jericho missiles but only if they were fitted with nuclear weapons.

The memo, marked “top secret” and dated the same day as the meeting with the Israelis, has previously been revealed but its context was not fully understood because it was not known to be directly linked to the Israeli offer on the same day and that it was the basis for a direct request to Israel. In it, Armstrong writes: “In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) That the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads manufactured in RSA (Republic of South Africa) or acquired elsewhere.”

The significance of this revelation is that it is the first documentary evidence that Israel possesses nuclear weapons.  It is an open secret that Israel has for years been in the possession of (an estimated) 200 nuclear warheads, although its official policy has always been a refusal to either confirm or deny nuclear capabilities.  Or rather that it would not be the first country to “introduce” them to the Middle East, meaning that it would possess them and let everyone know it, but refrain from making it official policy.

The exposure of the documents between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa is damaging on two fronts.  First, retroactively in the respect that Israel was ready to pursue a policy of proliferating nuclear weapons to non-nuclear weapon states.  Although the deal fell through due to costs on the South African side, it is a damning indictment of past Israeli state actions and the willingness to cooperate and foment the dissemination of weapons of mass destruction to other states, which is bad enough own its own but takes on a somewhat more unpalatable moral taint when the state in question was the racist and oppressive apartheid regime in Pretoria.  Granted, condemning a state for its past actions is often a more than useless effort, for though the present is built on that past, it is also free from it in that it has its own prerogatives and responsibilities to answer for in the here and now.  But it worth noting that it is not some distant past that is being condemned, far disconnected from today’s Israel; indeed some of the key political figure in power in 1975, such as then defense minister and now Israeli president Shimon Peres, are still at the top of the government today.

Secondly, the matter of possessing nuclear weapons is clearly quite relevant both in the context of Israeli politics and the broader regional relations of the Middle East.  One of the main themes that continues to surface in domestic Israeli politics is the threat that Iran poses to the Jewish state, specifically in relation to the Iranian uranium enrichment program, which Israel, the US, and more broadly Europe maintains is aimed at developing weapons-grade material, an allegation which Iran has vehemently denied.  The Iranian position has been backed up by a systematic lack of evidence from its accusers as well as multiple reports from the IAEA that there is no evidence for such allegations.  To go further, the latest US intelligence estimates on Iran have discounted the possibility of Iran having an active nuclear weapons program and stated that the emergence of one in the near future is not a pressing threat.  But leaving the Iranian program aside, the stance of Israel (and its US sponsor) is hypocritical for a number of reasons.  Iran is a signatory of the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty along with every other country in the world outside Israel, Pakistan, India, and North Korea.  As such it nuclear facilities are open to inspectors of the IAEA and it is part of the established international framework for nuclear regulation.  Israel has decided to remain outside of this international consensus and thus is far more of a rouge state in this sense than Iran.  A rouge state with nuclear weapon capability.

Secondly, Iran has attempted numerous times to pass declarations in the UN general assembly to declare the Middle East a nuclear free zone, something that one would think would be welcomed by all parties involved that share in the desire to see a safer and more peaceful world.  These efforts have been routinely blocked by Israel and the US as they are a direct reference to the nuclear arsenals that the two countries maintain in the Middle East.  So we have the scenario where a country that has no nuclear weapons and is calling for the establishment of a nuclear weapons free zone in the region (Iran) is being threatened with attack and sanctions for having the possible potential of developing nuclear weapons at some unknown future date by countries (Israel, US) that actually do possess nuclear weapons, known for their historically aggressive military tendencies, and in the case of Israel, remain outside of all international law and regulations regarding nuclear weapons.  It is hard to fit all the twists and turns into one coherent sentence, but the hypocrisy of the situation should be clear to all.

Without being an apologist for the Iranian regime, Iran is entitled to rights as a signatory of the NPT and one of those rights is the free development of nuclear technology for peaceful purposes.  Israel, in seeking to contain the regional influence of Iran, which in economic or military terms is certainly far less than its political and rhetorical means, has been taking a stance that is not tenable.  The majority of the world is on the side of Iran in this matter and the days of the US calling the shots, often though its client proxy states such as Israel, are coming to an end.  The Israeli hawks see a nuclear Iran as a worst possible scenario, but the downward spiral that Israel is currently experiencing both domestically and internationally is due to its many internal contradictions, not least of which are the ongoing occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip, the development of an apartheid society both within the Occupied Territories and within Israel proper, as well as the aforementioned nuclear hypocrisy, is slowly but surely bringing the world together in opposition to the Zionist regime.  This is true of it traditional opponents, such as the masses of the Muslim world, as well those who have traditionally shown support for the Jewish state in Europe and elsewhere.  As Israeli exceptionalism grows it only serves to turn the Jewish state into a pariah in the eyes of world.

Paul Woodward has been following this story and provides more analysis and information on his War In Context site.  As always I recommend a visit to his site for the latest on this story.

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