Pretoria - Israel obtained stolen anti-tank missile plans from South Africa, and Pretoria asked for their return, the TV network Al Jazeera has reported, quoting a secret document from the Israeli intelligence agency, Mossad.
This is one of several hundred classified documents leaked to it from several national spy agencies, including South Africa’s State Security Agency (SSA), the network says.
On Monday it began publishing stories based on these documents, some of which it also posted on its website, after deleting names of spies and other sensitive information which could cause harm to individuals.
Al Jazeera said the “spy cables”, as it is calling its trove of documents, included a top-secret reply from Mossad to a South African request for Israel’s intelligence service to return the purloined blueprints for its Mokopa air-to-ground missile system.
This is manufactured by the state arms manufacturer, Denel, and named after the Tswana word for the feared black mamba snake.
Mossad agreed, but on condition that an Israeli citizen involved in the affair would “not be prosecuted or involved in legal issues”.
The Mossad secret service document leaked to Al Jazeera revealed that Israel obtained stolen Mokopa technology in 2010.
“South African intelligence covered it up. Years later, when two men charged with stealing the plans were put on trial in South Africa, prosecutors failed to release the full information of Israel’s involvement,” Al Jazeera said.
“Journalists who covered the case were fed a false account of events, and reported that Israelis had been offered the materials but ‘were not interested’, and had dismissed the black market salesmen as ‘a joke’.”
Instead a Mossad cable showed that Israeli businessmen had indeed been interested, had taken the salesmen seriously, probably purchased the blueprints and apparently passed them on to Mossad.
Mossad evidently replied to South Africa’s request for the blueprints to be returned, by saying “in the light of the strong co-operation” between the two countries’ intelligence services “we can, at least, return the missile plans to you”.
But they did so on condition that an Israeli citizen called Yitzchak Talyah, who was involved in the affair, would “not be prosecuted or involved in legal issues”.
“It appears South Africa agreed to those terms because no Israeli has been directly involved in legal issues since,” Al Jazeera said.
“The spy cables do not explain how ‘Yitzchak Talyah’ is involved,” Al Jazeera said.
“But court documents mention a ‘Yitzchak Talyah aka Edward Henry Taljaard’ and suggest he was shown the missile plans, but that his involvement went no further.”
Two South Africans were tried in 2012 for their role in the Mokopa Missile Affair.
They were arrested the year before, in an elaborate sting operation, Al Jazeera said.
Danie Steenkamp, a former senior technician at Denel, pleaded guilty to two charges under South Africa’s Protection of Information Act. He was sentenced to five years in prison.
Anthony Viljoen, the managing director of a company that worked with Denel, pleaded guilty to one charge under the Protection of Information Act and one under the National Conventional Arms Control Act.
He struck a plea bargain and became the state’s witness, eventually walking free with a five-year suspended sentence and a fine of R500 000.
The court papers say the two men met when Viljoen was repairing a missile trolley for Denel, and concocted a plan to sell the missile technology.
The legal record shows that between January 2008 and January 2009, Steenkamp showed documents, models, objects and information about the Mokopa Missile to several people, including a “Yitzchak Talyah aka Edward Henry Taljaard” and “other persons unknown to the state (including the State of Israel)”.
Steenkamp was accused of being “intent on showing and selling” the materials to “whomever wanted to buy”, including “a foreign state or a hostile organisation”.
One court document says that a mitigating factor in Viljoen’s case was that “the attempts to sell this technology did not materialise and the state was aware of this transaction from an early stage”.
However, the document leaked to Al Jazeera suggests that the court was not told what the South African intelligence services knew: that the Mokopa blueprints had, in fact, been in the hands of a foreign state.
According to court documents, a third accomplice, Johan Grundling, had travelled to Israel in the early stages of Steenkamp and Viljoen’s attempts to sell the missile plans.
In March 2010, the record shows that Grundling shot himself dead while under police supervision in his own home pending his arrest, after police and fraud investigators had raided his house as part of a separate investigation into a multimillion-dollar tax fraud.
Grundling’s connection with the Mokopa Missile Affair, and the transfer of the missile plans to Israel remains unclear.
On Monday night, DA defence spokesman, David Maynier, said Minister of State Security, David Mahlobo, must brief Parliament’s Joint Standing Committee on Intelligence as a matter of urgency on the leak of classified documents from the SSA.
“The State Security Agency is set to experience the ‘largest and possibly most damaging leak’ ever according to Al Jazeera, who is in possession of classified documents that reportedly include briefings and internal analyses generated by the agency between 2006 and 2014,” Maynier said.
“I will, therefore, be writing to the chairperson of the joint standing committee on Intelligence, Connie September, requesting that she schedule an urgent briefing on what appears to be a massive leak of classified documents from the State Security Agency.”
Independent Foreign Service