Netanyahu’s Wink at History

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has long called for harsher sanctions on Iran. Recently, in a talk condemning the decision of the one hundred and twenty nations of the Non-Aligned Movement to attend the summit in Tehran, Netanyahu recited some of his charges against Iran. Amongst them, to the charge that Iran is developing nuclear weapons, Netanyahu added the accusations that Iran “brutalizes its own people” and “colludes in the murder of thousands of innocent Syrians”.

Netanyahu’s calls for sanctions go back a long way. Five and a half years ago at the Interdisciplinary Security Conference now tellingly entitled “Still Time to Stop Iran,” which was held in the Israeli city of Herzliya in January of 2007, Netanyahu defended his demand by drawing on the historical precedent of the sanctions imposed on South Africa. “ . . .[W]e are taking action to advance voluntary sanctions on Iran,” Netanyahu told the delegates. “There is no need to wait for the United Nations to impose significant sanctions in the Security Council. A historic example of this is the action take [sic] against the Apartheid regime in South Africa”.

Fortunately, Netanyahu had his fingers crossed when he said this. Or he should have. Because Israel officially and systematically violated those very sanctions that Netanyahu says the world should emulate.

On April 1, 1987, the U.S. congress stated that “Israel appears to have sold military systems . . . and provided technical assistance on a regular basis” despite a mandatory United Nations arms embargo imposed on South African ten years earlier in November 1977. And two years later, on July 5, 1989, the White House confirmed that the CIA had discovered that Israel was still supplying missile components to South Africa after promising to honour the sanctions and cease all military ties with South Africa two years earlier.

According to Sasha Polakow-Suransky, author of The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Alliance with Apartheid South Africa, by 1979, two years after the United Nations mandated an arms embargo on South Africa, the apartheid state had become Israel’s largest arms buyer. South Africa accounted for a full 35% of all Israeli military exports. He says that the total military trade between Israel and South Africa in the twenty years between the mid seventies and the mid nineties amounted to over ten billion dollars. Between 1974 and 1993, Polakow-Suransky says that South Africa was Israel’s third or fourth largest trade partner with average annual exports to South Africa reaching about 600 million dollars a year.

And while Israel was choosing not to sanction South Africa, Israel knew South Africa was doing all three things Netanyahu says Iran must be sanctioned for.

When, in 1990, South Africa became the first country in history to terminate its nuclear weapons program, the world found out that South Africa had developed the bomb. What the world did not know was that Israel was deeply engaged in helping her. So Israel not only knew South Africa was building the bomb while she violated the sanctions that Netanyahu has held up as a historical precedent, Israel was helping South Africa develop her weapons of mass destruction.

Though Israel never helped South Africa to enrich uranium for bombs, Polakow-Suransky has shown that she actively helped South Africa with technology for systems to deliver the warheads, provided her with tritium and cooperated in testing. South Africa brought Israeli atomic scientists into the country and the two countries exchanged secret scientific intelligence. Importantly, Israel helped South Africa to build the longer range missiles she desired to deliver nuclear warheads. Israel also provided South Africa with thirty grams of tritium, a radioactive substance that increases the explosive power of thermonuclear weapons. The thirty grams–enough to boost several atomic bombs–was delivered to South Africa in batches between 1977 and 1979: a period that falls within the United Nations weapons embargo on South Africa.

In addition to the charge of developing nuclear weapons, Netanyahu accuses Iran of brutalizing her own people. Fair enough, but so was South Africa. And Israel was fully aware of that when she refused to honour sanctions on that country. The story of South African apartheid is well known and does not need to be retold here. But so brutal was the South African willingness to brutalize her own people that a South African report called "Waging Biological and Chemical War" admitted that she would use "chemical weapons in any category" on her own people "if a situation arises that is considered life-endangering" for the white regime. Polakow-Suransky says that the record shows that Israel knew of South Africa's willingness to turn her chemicals against her own people.

Perhaps worse, is that Israel not only knew of South Africa's brutality against her own people but, as in the case of the nuclear weapons, was willing to help. In May 1984, it was revealed that, the previous year, Israel and South Africa had held discussions on a potential deal for Israel to provide the apartheid regime with riot prevention equipment to be used against black protestors in the townships. Whether equipment to be used for that intention was actually provided or not is not known, but it is known that Israel was willing to provide it.

Nearly a decade earlier, in 1976, Israel dispatched Colonel Amos Baram to the apartheid regime to act as an advisor to the South African military. His function was to advise on "security problems," and not just on South Africa's borders, but "internal problems too": a clear reference to Israel's helping South Africa to maintain apartheid. Polakow-Suransky quotes Colonel Baram's admission years later that "I was advising them on how to defend it".

As for Netanyahu’s charge against Iran that she is inserting herself into a foreign war in Syria, South Africa inserted herself into a foreign war in Angola in the 1970’s. According to Noam Chomsky, South Africa bore primary responsibility for one and a half million deaths in Angola and Mozambique, including, according to UNICEF, 850,000 infants and young children. Israel was not only fully aware of this South African role in Angola, but, as with South Africa’s quest for nuclear weapons and her brutality against her own people, she was willing to help.

South Africa’s involvement in Angola began with the supplying of armed forces, intelligence, money and arms. In October of 1975, the aid turned into a full invasion. South Africa sent high ranking officials to learn from the Israeli Defense Forces and the Israelis trained South Africans in airspace control techniques. Admiral Binyamin Telem, commander of the Israeli navy, was sent to South Africa by then defense minister Shimon Peres. Telem says that he and Colonel Baram would frequently fly with the chief of South Africa’s army, General Constand Viljoen, to the Angolan front to advise him. Polakow-Suransky quotes Telem as saying, “He used to take us along and ask our opinion on everything”.

According to Polakow-Suransky, Israeli, as the sole remaining supplier for the South African air force, helped South Africa to achieve air supremacy in Angola by modernizing her fading fleet of airplanes into South Africa’s Cheetah jets. Israel also supplied the South African air force with drones and 707’s for refueling that Polakow-Suransky says allowed South Africa to extend her range for attacking.

So, with a wink at history, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu says that, because she is developing nuclear weapons, brutalizing her own people and colluding in the murder of thousands of innocents in Syria, Iran needs to be harshly sanctioned in the South African model, and Iran needs to be stopped. But South Africa was developing nuclear weapons, South Africa was brutalizing her own people and South Africa was colluding in the murder of thousands of innocents in Angola, and Israel neither sanctioned her nor stopped her. She violated the sanctions, and she helped her.

So much for defending his demands by drawing on that historical analogy.  

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