Israel and South Africa
excerpted from the book
Israeli Foreign Policy
by Jane Hunter
South End Press, 1987
lsrael's ties with South Africa seem to
be especially disturbing to many who follow Israel's international
activities. Perhaps it is natural that Israel has been castigated
more harshly for its arms sales to South Africa than for its sales
to other countries: first, because there has been for a decade
an arms embargo against South Africa; and second, because of the
unsurpassed criminality of the white regime and the uses to which
it puts the Israeli-supplied weapons.
It has also been said that those arms
sales are understandable, given the striking similarities between
the two countries in their day-to-day abuse and repression of
their subject populations, South African blacks and Palestinians
under Israeli rule; in their operating philosophies of apartheid
and Zionism; and in their similar objective situations: "the
only two Western nations to have established themselves in a predominantly
nonwhite part of the world," as a South African Broadcasting
Corporation editorial put it. That understanding, however, is
somewhat superficial, and the focus on similarities of political
behavior has somewhat obscured the view of the breadth and depth
of the totality of Israeli-South African relations and their implications.
Israel's relations with South Africa are
different than its interactions with any of its other arms clients.
That Israel gave South Africa its nuclear weapons capability underscores
the special nature of Tel Aviv's relations with the white minority
government and begins to describe it - a full-fledged, if covert,
partnership based on the determination of both countries to continue
as unrepentant pariahs and to help each other avoid the consequences
of their behavior.
There are few areas where the respective
needs and advantages of Israel and South Africa dovetailed so
perfectly as in the field of nuclear cooperation.
"The most powerful reason for Israeli
willingness to bear the undesirable consequences of expanded and
more open trade with South Africa may be her desire to acquire
material necessary to manufacture nuclear weapons," wrote
a military analyst in 1980.' To that must be added Israel's great
desire to test the nuclear weapons it already had, and the attractions
of South Africa's vast territory and proximity to even vaster
uninhabited spaces-the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.
Then at the point in its nuclear development
where it was fashioning sophisticated bombs (devices which use
less nuclear material but have infinitely greater explosive force
than the "primitive" bomb dropped by the U.S. on Hiroshima),
Israel would find it particularly helpful to observe the performance,
explosive force and fallout of a detonated weapon.
Since 1984, Israel had been operating
a plutonium extraction plant in a secret underground bunker at
Dimona in the Negev Desert. Built by the French in the late 1950s,
the Dimona plant also included facilities for manufacturing atomic
bomb components. At the time of the 1976 accords, Israel was preparing
to build an adjoining plant for the extraction of lithium 6, tritium
and deuterium, materials required for sophisticated thermonuclear
Israel's reasons for devoting what had
to have been a significant portion of its scant resources to such
an ambitious nuclear weapons program - nuclear experts have recently
ranked it as the world's sixth nuclear power, after the U.S.,
the USSR, Britain, France and China - have been variously offered
as the desire to develop a credible deterrent to attack by its
neighbors and the desire to substitute that deterrent for at least
part of the costly conventional arsenal that Israel, with one
of the world's most powerful military forces, maintains, and also
(with much less frequency) as an "umbrella" over a partial
withdrawal from the occupied territories.
The South Africans began teaching the
lessons of Israel's 1967 war at their maneuver school, and Israeli
advisers began teaching the Boers the arts of suppressing a captive
population and keeping hostile neighbors off balance...
The white government's practice of domestic
counterinsurgency l combines outright military brutality with
the extensive use of informers and collaborators. It is impossible
to know how many refinements of these age-old techniques have
been borrowed from the Israelis' occupation of the West Bank,
Gaza, and the Golan Heights. The Israeli system of village leagues
is obviously comparable to the hated town councils imposed on
segregated townships by the apartheid government. The collective
punishment employed by the Israelis, such as the destruction of
a whole family's home when one of its members is arrested as a
suspect in an act of resistance, has lately been matched by the
recent South African practices of sealing off townships, and assaulting
entire funeral processions. What is perhaps more salient is the
South African victims' perceptions of Israel's involvement in
their oppression and how readily that perception is communicated...
The Frontline States
The South Africans noted that their May,
1983 aerial attack (dubbed Operation Shrapnel) on Mozambique's
capital, Maputo, was analogous to Israel's attack on Beirut the
previous summer. one analyst, Joseph Hanlon, believes that one
of South Africa's objectives in the attack was to see how its
version of events would play in the media. It was received very
well indeed, according to Hanlon, with the Western press accepting
South Africa's claim that its attack was in "retaliation"
for an ANC attack and that ANC "bases" were hit.
Instead, the South African Air Force hit
a child-care center and private houses with "special fragmentation
rockets," leaving 6 dead and 40 wounded. This follows the
Israeli practice in Lebanon of speaking about PLO installations
while civilians are the actual targets, and attacking with particularly
heinous anti-personnel weapons-cluster bombs and phosphorous bombs.
The victims of South Africa's angst are
not blind to the similarity of attacks-or motives.
President Samora Machel likened the Israeli
Government to the Pretoria regime. He said that because of its
inability to contain the fury of the Palestinian people led by
the PLO, the Zionist regime is trying to transfer the war to other
So reported Mozambican radio shortly after
Israeli aircraft bombed PI headquarters in Tunisia in October
The model provided by Israel, which punishes
every internal act of resistance and violent act outside its jurisdiction
with a bombing raid on Palestinian targets in Lebanon-almost always
refugee camps cynically identified by the Israelis as "terrorist
bases" or "headquarters"-has served South Africa
well. In January 1986, the white government's radio delivered
a commentary on "the malignant presence" of "terrorism"
in neighboring states and said "there's only one answer now,
and that's the Israeli answer." Israel had managed to survive
"by striking at terrorists wherever they exist."
In May 1986, South Africa demonstrated
that it had assumed the right to attack its neighbors at a time
and on a pretext of its own choosing. The chosen time was during
a visit by the Eminent Persons Group of the Commonwealth of Nations,
which was attempting to establish negotiations between the apartheid
regime and its opposition. The victims-Zambia, Botswana and Zimbabwe,
all Commonwealth members-were chosen for their alleged harboring
of "terrorists"; the real victims were South African
exiles and an employee of the government of Botswana. The South
Africans said they had attacked "international terrorism"
and compared their raids to the Israeli attack on Tunisia and
the U.S. attack on Libya in April 1986.
The attack was similar in style to Israel's
1985 attack on Tunisia. Initially, the Israelis had been threatening
Jordan and perhaps because King Hussein of Jordan was at the time
on an official visit to the U.S., the Israelis chose to take revenge
for the killing of three Israelis (believed to be top Mossad agents)
in Larnaca, Cyprus on the PLO in Tunisia.
Two weeks after its three-pronged attack
on its Commonwealth neighbors, South Africa attacked the Angolan
harbor of Namibia, firing their version of the Israeli Gabriel
Israel has also been connected with the
mercenary forces deployed by South Africa against Angola and Mozambique.
In the 1970s Israel aided the FNLA (Angolan National Liberation
Front) proxy forces organized and trained by the CIA to forestall
the formation of a government led by the MPLA (Popular Movement
for the Liberation of Angola-now the ruling party of Angola).
John Stockwell, who ran the CIA operation against Angola, recollected
three arms shipments Israel made in cooperation with the CIA:
a plane full of 120 mm shells sent via Zaire to the FNLA and Unita;
a shipment of 50 SA-7 missiles (all of which were duds); a boat-load
sent to neighboring Zaire in a deal that the Israelis had worked
out with President Mobutu, even though the Zairian strong man
had broken ties with Israel two years earlier.
When Israel reestablished relations with
Zaire (in 1982) and began to train Zairian forces in the Shaba
border province, Angola had cause for concern. The leader of the
FNLA had been Holden Roberto, brother-in-law of Zairian president
Mobutu, Israel's new client. In 1986, it would be established
that Zaire acted as a funnel for "covert" U.S. military
aid for the Unita forces of Jonas Savimbi.
In 1983, the Angolan News Agency reported
that Israeli military experts were training Unita forces in Namibia.
Since Zaire began receiving military aid and training from Tel
Aviv, Angola has been ill at ease. Its worries increased after
Israeli Defense Minister Ariel Sharon
was personally involved in the organization, training and equipping
of "commando" units of the army of Zaire, especially
organized for missions along the borders of the RPA [Angola].
In 1984, the Financial Times (London)
wrote of "joint Israeli-South African support for Unita forces."
Other sources also report the transfer of Israeli arms and financial
support to Unita.
In 1983, Angola's President Jose Eduardo
dos Santos told Berkeley, California Mayor Eugene (Gus) Newport
that an Israeli pilot had been shot down during a South African
attack. The Angolan President showed Newport pictures of captured
Israeli weapons. The following year, Luanda reported the capture
of three mercenaries who said they had been trained by Israeli
instructors in Zaire.
Israel has also been involved with the
Mozambican "contras," the South African-backed MNR (Mozambique
National Resistance or "Renamo"), which has brought
great economic and social distress to Mozambique. Renamo has a
particular reputation for ideological incoherence, being regarded
by most other right-wing insurgencies as a gang of cutthroats.
For several years there have been stories coming from Southern
Africa of captured mercenaries of Renamo who say they were trained
in neighboring Malawi-one of the four nations to maintain relations
with Israel after the Organization of African Unity (OAU) declared
a diplomatic embargo in 1973-by Israelis. And more than one report
has told of "substantial Israeli aid" to the MNR, thought
to have been funded by the CIA and Saudi Arabia as well as South
Africa and former Portuguese nationalists.