FW dismisses claim of Israeli nuclear offer

By Peter Fabricius

Foreign Editor

Former president FW de Klerk has dismissed a British author's claim that Israel offered South Africa nuclear weapons in 1975 as "simply ludicrous".

Though De Klerk only joined the cabinet in 1978 and became president in 1989, he said in a statement yesterday he had "never been informed of any such developments".

"I have no reason to question the information that was consistently conveyed to me by the relevant authorities that South Africa developed nuclear weapons on its own."

Sasha Polakow-Suransky claims in his book, The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa, to document secret negotiations between Israel and South Africa to provide South Africa with nuclear-capable Jericho missiles plus warheads.

It quotes declassified South African documents on meetings between Israeli President Shimon Peres, who was then defence minister, and his South African counterpart, PW Botha, later to become prime minister and then president.

Britain's Guardian newspaper reported on the book's allegations this week.

Peres, who has been prime minister and is now Israel's president, denied the claims on Monday, saying they were based on "selective interpretation of South African documents".

The book says the warheads deal was aborted because Botha thought it was premature and too expensive.

Former South African foreign minister Pik Botha was quoted this week as saying he did not know about the negotiations and thought the Israeli offer was highly unlikely. Like De Klerk, Botha only joined the cabinet later, in 1978, but could have been expected to have been told of such recent developments.

But Polakow-Suransky said the nuclear negotiations had taken place "far above Pik Botha's pay grade", and that throughout the 1970s and 1980s, the South African and Israeli defence ministries both deliberately kept their foreign ministry colleagues in the dark.

"In fact, the internal secrecy within the Israeli embassy in South Africa was so strictly enforced that there was a wall dividing the diplomatic and defence missions through which not even the ambassador himself dared pass.

"The only people in Pretoria privy to this information were top-ranking SA Defence Force and military intelligence officials and Armscor representatives. Pik Botha would not have known about it, and he is in no position to deny that it occurred," Sapa reported him as saying.

sign up