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Our ally, the nuclear proliferator?

May 24, 2010

The recent flap over the author of the UN report on Gaza, Richard Goldstone, and his role in the apartheid South African government has unleashed some fierce debate about his credibility, and that of pro-Israeli critics, since Israel was a staunch supporter of the apartheid regime. While dealing with the fallout over Cast Lead and the collapse of the Middle East peace process, Israel has also had to deal with the supposed Iranian nuclear program.

So it can’t be good if this item, from the Guardian, has any credibility whatsoever. Apparently, Shimon Peres offered to sell the RSA nuclear armed ballistic missiles. They provide the documentation, in case anyone is inclined to just dismiss this as just some dodgy left-wing reporting.

The role of Israel in South Africa’s security policies and nuclear program is no secret. It is no surprise that certain South African officials were interested in acquiring a nuclear warhead. Nor is it surprising that Israel might want to help them. A joint RSA-Israeli test was a common explanation among the intelligence community for the mysterious Vela Incident in 1979. However, a defense minister offering to sell functional nuclear arms along with an intermediate range delivery system is a major issue if true. This is especially problematic if said seller is a US ally which claims to have no nuclear arms, agitating for non-proliferation in its own region. Robert Farley goes through those contemporary comparisons in detail, and it certainly weakens Israel’s ground on nonproliferation today. Of course, from a realist standpoint, it is not entirely surprising that Israel (or at least Peres) would have made this offer, nor, since South Africa developed its own nuclear program anyway, would it have entirely changed the course of history. But it’s a stark reminder that interests, not simply values, govern foreign policies, and that in our evaluation of our allies, we ought not to let similarities in the latter obfuscate differences in the former.

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