From Maurice Ostroff May 29, 2010
Response to the Guardian’s sensational article
“Secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons”
The above May 24 article demands a right of reply because it is blatantly misleading, as evidenced by the hero of the story himself, Sasha Polakow-Suransky. He is quoted as having uncovered evidence of an Israeli offer of nuclear arms to South Africa (SA), although he contradicted this claim during a TV interview with Al Jazeera, in which he said categorically that the alleged discussions in SA were not about nuclear arms. They were about the Jericho missile and there was no actual offer mentioned in the documents; South Africans only perceived there was an offer on the table.
All pretences of academic integrity are thrown to the winds when a researcher claims that nuclear arms were offered knowing, as he admitted,that that this was not the case and when he presents as factual, a “perceived ” offer.
This is what was said:
Interviewer: “..is it actual nuclear material that was to come from Israel, or was it knowledge, know how, advice?
Pokalow-Suransky: ..The topic of these meetings was Jericho missiles….Shimon Peres has now denied that he ever made an explicit offer. However, what’s clear from reading these documents and subsequent South African documents that were written later that day and in the following days is that the South Africans perceived there was a nuclear offer on the table”.
Interviewer: Ok, let me stop you there. A Jericho missile- is that a nuclear-capable missile or is that a specific nuclear weapon? Just to be very clear?”
Polakow-Suransky: “It’s a missile that can carry a nuclear warhead”.
And further on
Interviewer : “So is there actually, to coin a phrase here, a “smoking gun” that we can see here?… Is there the definitive thing here that says a nuclear weapon was going to be sold to South Africa if this plan had gone through?”
Polakow-Suransky: “There is not a smoking gun in the sense that you just laid out. What there is, is evidence that this was discussed at the very highest levels between two defense ministers and that the issue of nuclear weapons was broached and the South Africans believed it was on the table. “
First of all it is important to stress that the alleged negotiations took place in 1975, at a time when the USA and other countries were dealing freely with South Africa and exchanging high level visits, e.g. in 1984 PM Thatcher invited SA’s PM P.W. Botha to visit Britain. Secondly, Suransky admits that there is not the slightest suggestion in the documents he refers to, that the nuclear warhead he assumes the South Africans had in mind, would be supplied by Israel.
In the circumstances the title, “Secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons” is glaringly inaccurate. The inference that “the issue of nuclear weapons was broached and that the South Africans believed it was on the table” is nothing more than Mr. Suransky’s opinion, formed, in his words, by” connecting the dots” and inexcusably presented as factual.
But good journalism precludes presenting of opinion as fact and should be accurate and balanced. Accuracy requires not only avoidance of misinformation but also presentation of all relevant facts that assist the reader to understand the topic even when some of them conflict with the writer’s preconceived views. Omitting relevant information distorts the perception of events and misinforms the public. Balance requires the presentation of a perspective, so that the reader can evaluate the event in relation to surrounding circumstances.
Any reader who takes the trouble to listen to the Al Jazeera interview with Mr. Suransky will be convinced that this article lacks both accuracy and balance. The interview is available at
The article creates the false impression that Israel was the principal supporter of apartheid SA and this intense focus on Israel’s involvement with the South African nuclear program while ignoring the total context deserves an examination of the facts.
Israel’s alleged involvement in SA’s nuclear program is based on two main factors.
1. In 1977 SA was reported to have bartered 50 tons of yellowcake for 30 grams of Israeli tritium that the South Africans did not use in manufacturing nuclear devices. Tritium can only be used to amplify the output of an implosion bomb not a gun type bomb. According to the nonproliferation Review, SA Africa opted for a gun type, rather than an implosion device. The tritium was therefore not used in SA’s nuclear weapon program and instead it was eventually used in devices such as road signs.
2. In 1979 SA and Israel allegedly conducted a joint nuclear test in the South Atlantic that was believed to have been detected by the US Vela reconnaissance satellite, but a panel of experts ordered by President Carter, concluded in May 1980 that the signal was more likely due to a meteoroid hitting the satellite. Other experts concluded that Vela had detected a nuclear detonation but there was no certainty as to the whether the originator was Israel, SA or perhaps Russia. An unclassified report issued by the US National Security Council may be viewed at http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB190/04.pdf
By any standard, Israel’s involvement is insignificant by comparison with major players like Norway which supplied 6 to 7 kg of heavy water, the USA, Britain, Pakistan France, Belgium, Switzerland, China, the Federal Republic of Germany and Western Germany who supplied enriched uranium and complete reactors as cataloged by The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI).
SA was among several main nodes of the Pakistani nuclear-related network headed by the infamous Pakistani, A.Q Khan that exported know-how on uranium enrichment and centrifugation technology. On May 2, 2007 the Johannesburg Mail and Guardian reported that in the trial of Gerhard Wisser and Daniel Geiges Wisser they admitted involvement with A.Q.Khan and that their company, set up in 1966, supplied parts imported from Germany to SA’s state Uranium Enrichment Corporation (Ucor) during the late 1970s and early 1980s.
In return for supplying about 40,000 tons of uranium oxide to the US, SA sent over ninety scientists and technicians for training in the US and the US supplied SA with a nuclear research reactor (SAFARI-I) plus about 100 kg of weapon-grade uranium fuel over a ten year period, including 1975 when the alleged meeting with Peres took place. The US ineffectively halted its support in 1976 in response to SA’s refusal to sign the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT).
In 1976 the French Framatome-Framateg undertook to supply nuclear fuel and services for Koeberg atomic power station and between 1980 –1982, two German firms, exported an ultrasound device used in the fuel fabrication process. In 1981, China supplied SA with 60 tons of unsafeguarded enriched uranium that enabled SA to triple weapons-grade uranium output.
Others involved were the Franco-Belge de Fabrication de Combustibles (FBFC), MAN-Energie of the Federal Republic of Germany, Synaton of Belgium and the Kaiseraugst nuclear power firm – a joint venture of Switzerland, France and West Germany and French Thomson-CSF. As late as 1990, Framatome was still supplying nuclear fuel and Scandiflash of Sweden sold SA a “roentgen absorber” which made it possible to carry out a nuclear explosion under laboratory conditions.
The Guardian’s insistence on ignoring all the above readily available information must be ascribed either to overt bias or perhaps to implicit or hidden bias, a concept which postulates that our social behavior is not completely under our conscious control as described by Americans for American Values, a consortium of researchers and social justice advocates. See http://americansforamericanvalues.org/
Main Sources of information
“Chronology of SA’s Nuclear Program” by Zondi Masiza published in
The Nonproliferation Review/Fall 1993 and a report by The Nuclear Threat Initiative (NTI) and the Nuclear Control Institute, Washington
and Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 5. Spiegel online March 13,
2006 A.Q. Khan’s Nuclear Mafia
Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons
Exclusive: Secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons
Chris McGreal in Washington The Guardian, Monday 24 May 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
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.”
But South Africa was years from being able to build atomic weapons. A little more than two months later, on 4 June, Peres and Botha met in Zurich. By then the Jericho project had the codename Chalet.
The top secret minutes of the meeting record that: “Minister Botha expressed interest in a limited number of units of Chalet subject to the correct payload being available.” The document then records: “Minister Peres said the correct payload was available in three sizes. Minister Botha expressed his appreciation and said that he would ask for advice.” The “three sizes” are believed to refer to the conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons.
The use of a euphemism, the “correct payload”, reflects Israeli sensitivity over the nuclear issue and would not have been used had it been referring to conventional weapons. It can also only have meant nuclear warheads as Armstrong’s memorandum makes clear South Africa was interested in the Jericho missiles solely as a means of delivering nuclear weapons.
In addition, the only payload the South Africans would have needed to obtain from Israel was nuclear. The South Africans were capable of putting together other warheads.
Botha did not go ahead with the deal in part because of the cost. In addition, any deal would have to have had final approval by Israel’s prime minister and it is uncertain it would have been forthcoming.
South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs, albeit possibly with Israeli assistance. But the collaboration on military technology only grew over the following years. South Africa also provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its weapons.
The documents confirm accounts by a former South African naval commander, Dieter Gerhardt – jailed in 1983 for spying for the Soviet Union. After his release with the collapse of apartheid, Gerhardt said 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.
Some weeks before Peres made his offer of nuclear warheads to Botha, the two defence ministers signed a covert agreement governing the military alliance known as Secment. It was so secret that it included a denial of its own existence: “It is hereby expressly agreed that the very existence of this agreement… shall be secret and shall not be disclosed by either party”.
The agreement also said that neither party could unilaterally renounce it.
The existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme was revealed by Mordechai Vanunu to the Sunday Times in 1986. He provided photographs taken inside the Dimona nuclear site and gave detailed descriptions of the processes involved in producing part of the nuclear material but provided no written documentation.
Documents seized by Iranian students from the US embassy in Tehran after the 1979 revolution revealed the Shah expressed an interest to Israel in developing nuclear arms. But the South African documents offer confirmation Israel was in a position to arm Jericho missiles with nuclear warheads.
Israel pressured the present South African government not to declassify documents obtained by Polakow-Suransky. “The Israeli defence ministry tried to block my access to the Secment agreement on the grounds it was sensitive material, especially the signature and the date,” he said. “The South Africans didn’t seem to care; they blacked out a few lines and handed it over to me. The ANC government is not so worried about protecting the dirty laundry of the apartheid regime’s old allies.”