The Israel-South Africa nuclear arms story

In the growing campaign to delegitimize Israel, exaggerated accusations of military cooperation and recklessly false allegations of nuclear cooperation are again beginning to surface. It has therefore become important to look at the facts.

On May 24 2010 the Guardian published what it described as a sensational revelation titled “Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons.
Exclusive: Secret apartheid-era papers give first official evidence of Israeli nuclear weapons”

The article by Chris McGreal described documents, said to be uncovered by Sasha Polakow-Suransky, purporting to provide evidence of a secret military agreement signed by Shimon Peres and P W Botha under which Israel allegedly offered to sell nuclear warheads to the apartheid regime,. It alleged that “top secret” minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 show that South Africa’s defense minister, PW Botha, asked for the warheads and Shimon Peres, then Israel’s defense minister responded by offering them “in three sizes”.

Below is my response which The Guardian refused to publish

To the editor, The Guardian

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: “ 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. “


The Context
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 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

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

Click here for exaggerated claims of non-nuclear cooperation

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

Strategic Insights, Volume VI, Issue 5. Spiegel online March 13, 2006 A.Q. Khan’s Nuclear Mafia,1518,405847,00.html





About the Author
Maurice Ostroff is a founder member of the international Coalition of Hasbara Volunteers, better known by its acronym CoHaV, (star in Hebrew), a world-wide umbrella organization of volunteers active in combating anti-Israel media and political bias and in promoting the positive side of Israel His web site is at