On 24 May 2010, the Guardian newspaper (UK) published an article entitled 'Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons' alleging that 'secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons'. Prompted by the publication of Sasha Polakow-Suransky's new book, 'The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's secret alliance with apartheid South Africa', this article has sparked international media coverage, resulting in denials from Israel regarding the veracity of these allegations.
A number of the documents in question were released to SAHA under the Promotion of Access to Information Act (PAIA) in the course of a special project on the South African apartheid-era nuclear weapons history conducted in 2003 and 2004 and are now archived in SAHA's Freedom of Information Programme Collection (AL2878).
One of these documents was a memorandum dated 21 March 1975, from Chief of the Defence Staff (Lt-Gen. R. F. Armstrong) to the Chief of the South African Defence Force (Admiral H. H. Biermann) about Israel's Jericho Weapon System, declassified by the Department of Defence in September 20031. Verne Harris and Sello Hatang, SAHA staff members at the time of this declassification, explain:
'[this memorandum] argued that a significant nuclear threat to South Africa had emerged, justifying the acquisition of a nuclear weapons capability. The threat envisaged was that a hostile African nation might acquire a nuclear weapon from China, and that a United States pursuing East-West detente could not be counted upon to come to South Africa's aid. Armstrong contended that the vulnerability of aircraft to modern air defences, as demonstrated in the 1973 Yom Kippur War, warranted a missile or other stand-off delivery system, such as a guided glide bomb. He concluded:
'In spite of the considerable cost involved in acquiring even a limited number of missiles with the JERICHO weapon system, in view of the potential threat which faces the RSA in the foreseeable future, the possession of such a system will greatly add to our ability to negotiate from a position of strength.'
This memorandum is significant mainly for what it reveals about Israeli-South African military collaboration and the strategic thinking of certain high-level South African Defence Force (SADF) officers at the time'2.
Another document receiving attention is a top secret agreement about military ties between South Africa and Israel dated signed shortly after the Armstrong memorandum, on 30 March 1975, by PW Botha and Shimon Peres that includes a clause stating "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
The SAHA project through which the release of these documents was secured is discussed in detail in the following publications:
- Verne Harris, Sello Hatang, Peter Liberman. 'Unveiling South Africa's Nuclear Past,' Journal of Southern African Studies, 30, 3, 2004, pp. 457-476
- Gould, Chandre. 2009. 'The nuclear weapons history project'. In Paper Wars: Access to Information in South Africa. ed. Kate Allan. Johannesburg: Wits University Press, 2009
To view these documents at the SAHA archives, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
1 This memorandum is archived at SAHA in SAHA Collection AL2878: The Freedom of Information Programme Collection, A3.1.1
2 Verne Harris, Sello Hatang, Peter Liberman. 'Unveiling South Africa's Nuclear Past,' Journal of Southern African Studies, 30, 3, 2004, pp. 457-476
3 This agreement is archived at SAHA in SAHA Collection AL2878: The Freedom of Information Programme Collection, A3.2.1