Secret documents show Nobel prize-winner Shimon Peres met P W Botha in 1975 to talk about deal. Catrina Stewart reports
The Israeli President, Shimon Peres, discussed selling nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa when he was defence minister in the 1970s, according to ground-breaking claims in a new book.
Secret South African documents show that Mr Peres met his counterpart, PW Botha, in 1975, when they discussed the sale of Jericho missiles to South Africa. The South Africans understood that Israel was offering to fit the missiles with nuclear warheads, US researcher Sasha Polakow-Suransky claims in his book The Unspoken Alliance.
The allegations, which were denied by Israel yesterday, are embarrassing for Mr Peres, a Nobel Peace prize winner, and have thrust unwelcome attention on Israel's nuclear weapons programme, the existence of which it has long refused to confirm.
A spokeswoman for the Israeli president said he had never discussed the sale of nuclear weapons to South Africa. "Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa," Ayelet Frisch said. "There exists no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place." She did not deny, though, that the two men had discussed the sale of conventional missiles to South Africa. At that time, a UN Security Council voluntary arms embargo barring the sale of weapons to the South African regime was in place. It became mandatory in 1977.
Speaking by telephone from New York, Mr Polakow-Suransky said that the documents taken together make it clear that the subject of nuclear warheads was discussed in Mr Peres's meeting with Mr Botha.
"The topic of the Jericho missiles came up and three different types of warheads were said to be available by the Israelis," Mr Polakow-Suransky said. "The South Africans perceived the offer as an explicit offer for nuclear warheads." If true, the offer would appear to provide the first documentary evidence of a nuclear relationship with South Africa.
Many have long suspected that Israel enjoyed covert nuclear ties with South Africa in the 1970s and 1980s. In September 1979, a US satellite spotted a flash of light in the South Atlantic, several hundred kilometers off the South African coast.
Intelligence at the time pointed to a nuclear test carried out by South Africa. Given that South Africa did not have the capability to test a nuclear weapon unaided, US intelligence agencies concluded Israel was involved. Other assessments concluded that the test was carried out solely by Israel, with South Africa present as an observer.
Israel reportedly stepped up its nuclear relations with South Africa in the late 1970s, after other Western powers cut off cooperation with the apartheid regime. While South Africa has always officially denied that it turned to Israel on nuclear issues, senior army officials have confirmed that there was cooperation.
Israel is universally believed to have nuclear weapons, but has refused to confirm the …