Avner Cohen: Yitzhak Rabin would have opposed sale of nuclear weapons

Share
Related Topics

The discussions between Israel and South Africa referred to in the documents seem to me authentic and refer, I believe, to nuclear weapons, even if euphemisms like "correct payload" were used. That even in a conversation between two defence ministers, PW Botha and Shimon Peres, such euphemisms were considered necessary is a reflection of the depths of the taboo in Israel surrounding its nuclear weapons programme.

But nothing in the documents suggests there was a formal offer by Israel to sell nuclear weapons to Pretoria. The conversations amounted to a probe that seems to have gone nowhere.

Mr Peres, the defence minister at the time, is 85 years old and has built his reputation as a man of peace, an international statesman. But the context 35 years ago was very different. The Israelis were seeking funding for the Jericho 2 missile programme and I believe while the initial approach in this case probably came from the South Africans, Mr Peres was apparently probing a deal that involved selling a small amount of Jericho One. The norms surrounding non-proliferation were very loose in 1975. The Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) was only a few years old and Israel was not a signatory. The world was a lot less regulated than it is now, so it is perhaps unfair to judge Israel with hindsight.

It is important, too, to remember that Mr Peres would not have had the authority to sell nuclear devices to another country. Ultimately, the minister who would have been in charge of this was the prime minister, and I believe that both the then head of the Israeli nuclear programme, Shalhevet Freier, and Yitzhak Rabin would have opposed the sale of nuclear weapons, not just to South Africa, but to anyone.

Many questions remain unanswered but what the documents tell us is that this was a period when Israel showed some nuclear adventurism. It was not as responsible a nuclear weapon state as it is today. That changed over time. We know, for example, that the Shah of Iran was seeking nuclear weapons technology in 1977 but got nothing from Israel. And with South Africa too, Israel in the end, did the right thing. That's why I don't think these claims should affect the current debate on Iran. In the long run, Israel should find a way to come clean about its own nuclear programme. It has already proved itself a responsible nuclear custodian.

The writer is author of Israel and the Bomb. His new book, The worst kept secret: Israel's bargain with the bomb, is to be published by Columbia University Press in October

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - Covent Garden, central London - £45k - £55k

£45000 - £55000 per annum + 30 days holiday: Ashdown Group: Finance Manager - ...

Ashdown Group: Systems Administrator - Lancashire - £30,000

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: 3rd Line Support Engineer / Network ...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Web Developer

£26000 - £33000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Web Developer is required to ...

Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Developer - London - £45k

£45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: PeopleSoft Application Support & Development ...

Day In a Page

Read Next
 

Isis in Iraq: Even if Iraqi troops take back Saddam’s city of Tikrit they will face bombs and booby traps

Patrick Cockburn
The Royal Mint Engraver Jody Clark with his new coinage portrait, alongside the four previous incarnations  

Queen's new coin portrait: Second-rate sculpture makes her look characterless

Michael Glover
The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

Money, corruption and drugs

The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

150 years after it was outlawed...

... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

You won't believe your eyes

Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn
Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

Yvette Cooper: We can't lose the election. There's too much on the line

The shadow Home Secretary on fighting radical Islam, protecting children, and why anyone in Labour who's thinking beyond May must 'sort themselves out'
A bad week for the Greens: Leader Natalie Bennett's 'car crash' radio interview is followed by Brighton council's failure to set a budget due to infighting

It's not easy being Green

After a bad week in which its leader had a public meltdown and its only city council couldn't agree on a budget vote, what next for the alternative party? It's over to Caroline Lucas to find out
Gorillas nearly missed: BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter

Gorillas nearly missed

BBC producers didn't want to broadcast Sir David Attenborough's famed Rwandan encounter
Downton Abbey effect sees impoverished Italian nobles inspired to open their doors to paying guests for up to €650 a night

The Downton Abbey effect

Impoverished Italian nobles are opening their doors to paying guests, inspired by the TV drama
China's wild panda numbers have increased by 17% since 2003, new census reveals

China's wild panda numbers on the up

New census reveals 17% since 2003