Israel’s atomic lies and apartheid

June 10, 2010

Stanley Heller, host of the public access TV show The Struggle, looks at revelations that the Israeli government offered to sell nuclear weapons to apartheid South Africa.

SASHA POLAKOW-Suransky, a senior editor at Foreign Affairs magazine (produced by the very mainstream Council on Foreign Relations), has issued a new book in which he reveals that in March of 1975, Shimon Peres, Nobel Peace Prize winner and current president of Israel, offered to sell the apartheid government of South Africa nuclear bombs.

He did this in his capacity as defense minister of Israel. The UK daily, the Guardian, recently published the documents in a group of articles.

The deal didn't go through, because South Africa found the price too high. It is not clear if Peres had approval of then-Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin to make the deal. The Israeli president's office denies the accusation, saying Polakow-Suransky's charges are based on "interpretation" and not on "facts." The New York Times report on the denial does not mention it was the South African regime that was interpreting the offer as one of nuclear arms!

There are many serious implications here: 1) Israel has nuclear weapons and thus may be ineligible for U.S. foreign aid; 2) Shimon Peres is a monster who was willing to sell nuclear bombs to a regime that practiced the international crime of apartheid; and 3) The notion that "mad mullahs" in Iran can't be trusted with nuclear weapons while the freedom-loving Israeli government can be trusted is total nonsense.

THE YEAR 1975 was when the Portuguese colonial empire fell apart. Revolutionaries took over Mozambique. It was the same year as the Soweto Uprising in South Africa. At the very time the apartheid government was reeling, Shimon Peres came riding to the rescue with an offer of genocidal weapons.

In 1977, the apartheid government in Zimbabwe (then called Rhodesia) and the South African government created and armed a counter-revolutionary military force that plunged Mozambique into a decade of civil war. Estimates say 900,000 people died. The carnage didn't put a crimp into Israeli-South African relations.

It's been long known that then-Defense Minister Ariel Sharon had gone to South Africa in 1981 and advised them on getting more modern weapons to fight "Soviet-supplied" troops--i.e., the African National Congress of Nelson Mandela. Sharon was trying to sell more Uzis and gunboats and the like. His despicable act pales besides Peres' nuclear offer of 1975.

On Al-Jazeera TV, Polakow-Suransky, author of Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, was quizzed on whether the documents he had got from the South African government had a "smoking gun," something saying explicitly that Peres was offering nuclear weapons to South Africa.

Polakow-Suransky said there was no such "gun," but then explained that judging from what South Africans wrote about their talks with Peres, it's clear they were talking about nuclear weapons. For instance, Peres used the words "correct payload" to be put on Israeli "Jericho" missiles that he offered to South Africa.

South Africa was able to make every form of conventional missiles by itself, so "correct payload" could only have referred to nuclear missiles. The nuclear-armed Jericho missiles were codenamed "Chalet units."

Polakow-Suransky says that a high South African military officer named Dieter Gerhardt, who had spied for the USSR, said on his release from prison in the 1990s that 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," which he said were atomic bombs. Until now, Plakow-Suransky says there were no documents that gave credibility to his accusation. Now he says they are confirmed.

Plakow-Suransky doesn't mention it, but Dieter Gerhartdt made another charge. He said in 1994 that he had been told that South Africa and Israel had conducted a joint nuclear bomb test.

In 1979, a U.S. Vela satellite detected a "double-flash" of an atmospheric nuclear explosion in the South Atlantic. Though the Vela satellite had worked flawlessly 41 times before, the finding was contested and the Carter administration set up a scientific panel that concluded there "probably" had not been a nuclear explosion. Now that Gerhartdt's comment about Chalet has proved accurate, his second accusation should be taken seriously, and an investigation should be opened.

ARAB GOVERNMENTS and educated readers knew that Israel had nuclear weapons for decades, but the fact didn't come into common knowledge until 1986, when a former Israeli technician named Mordechai Vanunu gave documents to the London Sunday Times about it.

Vanunu was then kidnapped by Israeli agents in Italy, found guilty of treason and sentenced to 18 years in prison. Almost all of it was served in solitary confinement.

He served his entire sentence, but when he was free, the government issued a military order forcing all kinds of restrictions on him, including banning him from leaving the country and meeting with any foreigners. The official reason for the restrictions is that Vanunu might give away further secrets--absurd on the face of it since anything Vanunu remembers is now 24 years old, and that he is free to talk to any Israeli (including Israeli Palestinians) who might want to let the world know of more "secrets."

Vanunu defied the restrictions (which Amnesty International regards as "unlawful") on numerous occasions--openly and publicly trying to go to the West Bank, to meet with the media and with his Norwegian girlfriend. Police have raided his room in a Jerusalem church, and he has been arrested many times and sentenced to prison.

On May 23, the day the Guardian published its report on Peres and South Africa, Vanunu was taken to an Israeli prison for three months.

Vanunu has won a number of peace prizes, including the Right Livelihood Award. He's been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize many times (including nominations by a previous Nobel Peace Prize winner, the late Joseph Rotblat).

However, on March 1, 2009, he wrote:

I am asking the committee to remove my name from the list for this year's list of nominations. I cannot be part of a list of laureates that includes Shimon Peres, the president of Israel. He is the man who was behind all the Israeli atomic policy.

Peres established and developed the atomic weapon program in Dimona in Israel...Peres was the man who ordered the kidnapping of me in Rome, Italy, September 30, 1986, and for the secret trial and sentencing of me as a spy and traitor for 18 years in isolation in prison in Israel.

Until now, he continues to oppose my freedom and release, in spite of my serving a full sentence of 18 years. From all these reasons, I don't want be nominated and will not accept this nomination. I say no to any nomination as long as I am not free--that is, as long as I am still forced to be in Israel. WHAT I WANT IS FREEDOM AND ONLY FREEDOM.


Call on Congress to hold a serious investigation into whether Israel has nuclear weapons and whether it is now disqualified for U.S. foreign aid. Have Congress demand the necessary documents from Israel.

Ask the South African government to question former Commodore Dieter Gerhartdt under oath about what he knows about Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation, and for a full-scale investigation.

Call for the immediate freeing of Mordechai Vanunu and for permission for him to leave Israel.

Demand Israel sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and make its facilities available to International Atomic Energy Agency inspections.

Ask Jimmy Carter what the U.S. knew about Israeli nuclear weapons when he was president, and whether his administration tried to cover up the findings of the Vela satellite

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