Mission & Name
US Foreign Policy (Dr. El-Najjar's Articles)
Nuclear Offer to Apartheid Regime Blows Diplomatic Cover
By Jonathan Cook
Redress, May 31, 2010
Israel faces unprecedented pressure to abandon its official
policy of “ambiguity” on its possession of nuclear weapons as the
international community meets at the United Nations in New York this week to
consider banning such arsenals from the Middle East.
equivocal stance on its atomic status was shattered by reports on Monday
that it offered to sell nuclear-armed Jericho missiles to South Africa’s
apartheid regime back in 1975.
The revelations are deeply
embarrassing to Israel given its long-standing opposition to signing the
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, arguing instead that it is a “responsible
power” that would never misuse nuclear weapons technologies if it acquired
Reports of Israel’s nuclear dealings with apartheid South
Africa will also energise a draft proposal from Egypt to the UN
non-proliferation review conference that Israel – as the only nuclear power
in the region – be required to sign the treaty.
are already said to be discomfited by Washington’s decision earlier this
month to agree a statement with other UN Security Council members calling
for the establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear arms.
"Israeli officials are ... discomfited by Washington’s decision ... to agree
a statement with other UN Security Council members calling for the
establishment of a Middle East zone free of nuclear arms. "
The policy is
chiefly aimed at Iran, which is believed by the US and Israel to be secretly
developing a nuclear bomb, but would also risk ensnaring Israel. The US has
supported Israel’s ambiguity policy since the late 1960s.
of Israel’s programme is also due to be debated at a meeting of the UN’s
nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency, in Vienna next
The administration of US President Barack Obama is reported
to have held high-level discussions with Israel at the weekend to persuade
it to consent to proposals for a 2012 conference to outlaw weapons of mass
destruction in the Middle East.
As pressure mounts on Israel, local
analysts have been debating the benefits of maintaining the ambiguity
policy, with most warning that an erosion of the principle would lead
inexorably to Israel being forced to dismantle its arsenal.
the Israeli security consensus, Yossi Melman, a military intelligence
correspondent for the Haaretz newspaper, also cautioned that declaring
Israel’s nuclear status “would play into Iran's hands” by focusing attention
on Tel Aviv rather than Tehran.
Israel refused to sign the 1970
Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty, having developed its first warhead a few
years earlier with help from Britain and France.
Tom Segev, an
Israeli historian, reported that Israel briefly considered showing its
nuclear hand in 1967 when Shimon Peres, Israel’s current president, proposed
publicly conducting a nuclear test to prevent the impending Six-Day War.
However, the test was overruled by Levi Eshkol, the prime minister of the
"Israel refused to sign the 1970 Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty,
having developed its first warhead a few years earlier with help from
Britain and France."
Mr Peres, who master-minded the nuclear programme,
later formulated the policy of ambiguity, in which Israel asserts only that
it will “not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons to the Middle East”.
That stance – and a promise not to conduct nuclear tests – was accepted
by the US administration of Richard Nixon in 1969.
analysts, the agreement between Israel and the US was driven in part by
concerns that Washington would not be able to give Israel foreign aid –
today worth billions of dollars – if Israel declared itself a nuclear state
but refused international supervision.
Nonetheless, revelations over
the years have made it increasingly difficult for the international
community to turn a blind eye to Israel’s arsenal.
a technician at the Dimona nuclear energy plant in the Negev, provided
photographic evidence and detailed descriptions of the country’s weapons
programme in 1986. Today the Israeli arsenal is estimated at more than 200
In 2006 Ehud Olmert, then the prime minister, let slip
Israel’s nuclear status during an interview with German TV when he listed
“America, France, Israel and Russia” as countries with nuclear arms.
Even more damaging confirmation was
provided this week by Britain’s Guardian newspaper, which published
documents unearthed for a new book – The Unspoken Alliance by Sasha
Polakow-Suransky, an American historian – on relations between Israel and
South Africa’s apartheid regime.
"...top-secret papers reveal that in
1975 Mr Peres, then Israel’s defence minister, met with his South African
counterpart, P.W. Botha, to discuss selling the regime nuclear-armed
missiles... Pretoria later developed its own bomb, almost certainly with
top-secret papers reveal that in 1975 Mr Peres, then Israel’s defence
minister, met with his South African counterpart, P.W. Botha, to discuss
selling the regime nuclear-armed missiles. The deal fell through partly
because South Africa could not afford the weapons. Pretoria later developed
its own bomb, almost certainly with Israel’s help.
Polakow-Suransky said, had fought to prevent declassification of the
Despite publication by the Guardian of a photographed
agreement bearing the date and the signatures of both Mr Peres and Mr Botha,
Mr Peres’s office issued a statement on Monday [24 May] denying the report.
Israel’s increasingly transparent nuclear status is seen as an obstacle
to US efforts both to impose sanctions on Iran and to damp down a wider
potential nuclear arms race in the Middle East.
This month the US
surprised officials in Tel Aviv by failing to keep Israel’s nuclear
programme off the agenda of the IAEA’s next meeting, on 7 June. The issue
has only ever been discussed twice before, in 1988 and 1991.
of the growing pressure of Israel to come clean, Binyamin Netanyahu, the
Israeli prime minister, declined an invitation to attend a nuclear security
conference in Washington last month at which participants had threatened to
question Israel about its arms.
At the meeting, US President Barack
Obama called on all countries, including Israel, to sign the
A draft declaration being considered at
the UN review conference later this week again demands that Israel – and two
other states known to have nuclear weapons, India and Pakistan – sign the
Egypt has proposed that the 189 states that have signed the
treaty, including the US, pledge not to transfer nuclear equipment,
information, material or professional help to Israel until it does so.
Reuven Pedatzur, an Israeli defence analyst, warned recently in Haaretz that
there was a danger the Egyptian proposal might be adopted by the US, or that
it might be used as a stick to browbeat a recalcitrant Israel into accepting
greater limitations on its arsenal. He suggested ending what he called the
“ridiculous fiction” of the ambiguity policy.
Emily Landau, an arms
control expert at Tel Aviv University, however, said that those who believed
Israel should be more transparent were “misguided”. Ending ambiguity, she
said, would eventually lead to calls for Israel’s “total and complete
The last Non-Proliferation Treaty review conference,
five years ago, failed when the US repudiated pledges to disarm and refused
to pressure Israel over its nuclear programme.
Jonathan Cook is a writer
and journalist based in Nazareth, Israel. His latest books are “Israel and
the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle
East” (Pluto Press) and “Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in
Human Despair” (Zed Books). His website is
A version of this article originally appeared in
The National, published in Abu
Dhabi. The version on this website is published by permission of Jonathan