In the news yesterday was the release of former Top Secret documents in South Africa, showing that apartheid South Africa negotiated with Israel to buy ballistic missiles with “special” warheads. Even though the deal was to remain secret, the sensitivity was such that the exact nature of what was referred to as the “correct payload” was never spelled out. The only reasonable assumption is that the payloads were to be nuclear weapons. Naturally enough, official Israeli sources are denying the nuclear idea. “Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they?”
In the end, South Africa developed their own warhead design, probably with Israeli and possibly French assistance. In 1977, preparations for an underground test were identified by Soviet intelligence and the information was supplied to the United States government. The US and its allies put pressure on South Africa to abandon its nuclear programme and no nuclear test was made. Two years later, an American satellite detected a characteristic double flash in the Southern Indian Ocean, suspected of being a South African nuclear detonation, in collaboration with Israel.
In 1989, toward the end of the apartheid times, South Africa destroyed their nuclear arsenal of six warheads and one part-finished one, and signed the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
It’s hardly surprising that a “rogue” state like apartheid South Africa sought to acquire nuclear weapons — there was a specific UN Security Council resolution aimed at stopping it, so it was obviously a real issue at the time. What gives me pause for thought is the thought of Israel being willing to assist.
I called the old South Africa a rogue state, but Israel today is rogue in many ways. Murders, violation of international law, economic blockades, excessive military retaliation (against civilians more than terrorists). And yet, Israel is a democracy, with a government that is at least as legitimate as any in Europe, and probably better than some. It’s no North Korea. But, time after time, the Israeli public elect a government that pursues the rogue strategies. The same old ones that have failed to produce peace, prosperity and stability for half a century.
In a way, it’s a pathology of democracy. “Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result.” (Albert Einstein: declined the post of President of Israel.) The state of Israel is collectively, corporately insane. Driven by anger and fear, people behave in ways that are manifestly not in their own best interest. Voters support the politicians who say things that make them feel better. Politicians are constrained to behave in ways that get them re-elected, whether or not it’s useful or effective.
I’m sure it’s not unique to the people of Israel though. It must be a fundamental flaw in democracy itself, that just sometimes runs out of control. Only dictators can take robust and resolute action based on logic, but I’m not keen on that solution to the problem.