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Israel–South Africa relations


Israel–South Africa relations

Israel-South Africa relations
Map indicating locations of Israel and South Africa


South Africa
Israeli Deputy Foreign Minister Ayalon meets with South African DFA D-G Matjila, 2009

Israel–South Africa relations refer to the current and historic relationship between the Republic of South Africa and the State of Israel.


  • Early Israeli relations with apartheid South Africa 1
  • Blossoming of relations 2
  • Strategic relations 3
    • Ballistic missile collaboration 3.1
    • End of the apartheid and severing of ties 3.2
    • Alleged nuclear collaboration 3.3
  • Relations between Israel and post-apartheid South Africa 4
  • See also 5
  • References 6
  • External links 7

Early Israeli relations with apartheid South Africa

South Africa was among the 33 states that voted in favour of the 1947 UN partition resolution,[1] recommending the establishment of a Jewish State in Palestine, and was one of only four Commonwealth nations to do so. On 24 May 1948,[2] nine days after Israel's declaration of independence, the South African government of Jan Smuts, a long-time supporter of Zionism, granted de facto recognition to the State of Israel, just two days before his United Party was voted out of office and replaced by the pro-apartheid National Party. South Africa was the seventh nation to recognise the new Jewish state. On 14 May 1949, South Africa granted de jure recognition to the State of Israel.[3]:109–111[4]

Blossoming of relations

Diplomatic relations between Israel and South Africa began in 1949, when Israel established a consulate-general in Pretoria,[3]:110 which was raised to the status of a legation in November 1950.[6] However, South Africa had no direct diplomatic representation in Israel (it being represented by the United Kingdom) until South Africa withdrew from the Commonwealth in 1961, whereupon it sent a consul-general to Tel Aviv.[7] South African Prime Minister D.F. Malan first visited Israel in 1953.[8]

In the 1950s and 1960s, Israel had prioritized building relations with the newly independent states of sub-Saharan Africa; this, in turn, led it to take a critical stance on the question of apartheid. Israel joined in condemning apartheid at the United Nations and voted to enforce sanctions against South Africa.[9] On October 11, 1961, Israel voted for the General Assembly censure of Eric Louw's speech defending apartheid.[10][11] Israel became one of a few nations to have strong relations with apartheid South Africa. However, in 1963, Israel informed the United Nations Special Committee on Apartheid that it had taken steps to comply with the military boycott of apartheid South Africa and had recalled its ambassador to South Africa.[11][12] Israeli leaders publicly condemned apartheid throughout the 1950s and early 1960s, although it maintained contact with South Africa through a low-level diplomatic mission in Pretoria and through France, a mutual ally.[13] The South African Jewish Board of Deputies feared an anti-Semitic backlash if Israel did not maintain good terms with the present government.[13] However, Israel continued to criticize apartheid and seek closer relations with black African nations, but an anti-Semitic backlash never occurred.[13] Israel continued a policy of active friendship with black Africa throughout the 1960s and offered technical and economic aid.[9]

After 1967, Israel's attempted alliances with post-colonial African states had, in most assessments, failed. As a final expression of this strategy, in 1971, Israel offered $2,850 in aid to the

  • Documents about nuclear collaboration, released by The Guardian
  • Israel-South Africa relations 1961-1967, documents published by Israel State Archives

External links

  1. ^ "UN General Assembly Resolution 181 (Partition Plan)". Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 29 November 1949. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Recognition of Israel" (PDF). American Jewish Year Book. 1950. p. 394. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Beit-Hallahmi, Benjamin (1987). The Israeli Connection: Whom Israel Arms and Why. I.B.Tauris.  
  4. ^ Shimoni, Gideon (2003). Community and conscience: the Jews in apartheid South Africa. Brandeis University Press. p. 23.  
  5. ^ a b c d  
  6. ^ "South Africa" (PDF). American Jewish Year Book. 1952. p. 390. 
  7. ^ Hattis Rolef, S. (1987 & 1993). Political Dictionary of the State of Israel. Macmillan Publishing Co.  
  8. ^ Tigay, Alan M. (1994). The Jewish Traveler: Hadassah Magazine's Guide to the World's Jewish Communities and Sights. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 112.  
  9. ^ a b c d e South Africa: Time Running Out: The Report of the Study Commission on U.S. Policy Toward Southern Africa. University of California Press. 1981. p. 307. 
  10. ^ Shimoni, Gideon (1 June 2003). "Coping with Israel's intrusion". Community and conscience: the Jews in apartheid South Africa (Googlebooks account required).  
  11. ^ a b "1960s". Chronology. South African History Online. Archived from the original on 12 November 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2007. 
  12. ^ "Israel calls envoy from South Africa".  
  13. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l Polakow-Suransky, Sasha (2010). The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa. Random House. pp. 30, 37, 45.  
  14. ^ Hoffman, Paul (5 July 1971). "Israel's Offer to Aid Blacks Irks South Africa".  
  15. ^ Helen E. Purkitt & Stephen F. Burgess (2005). South Africa's Weapons of Mass Destruction. Indiana University Press. pp. 33–50. South Africa's importance as a source of uranium reinforced its status as a major military ally of Great Britain and a loyal member of the Western political camp. Primarily due to South Africa's security relationship and growing military cooperation with the United States, the country was viewed in most Western capitals as a loose appendage of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO). ... Throughout the first several decades after World War II, South Africa's apartheid system was not a liability in dealing with Western leaders. 
  16. ^
  17. ^ a b c d  
  18. ^ Nadelmann, Ethan A. (June 1981). "Israel and Black Africa: A Rapprochement?". Journal of Modern African Studies 19 (2): 183–219.  
  19. ^ a b c Byrnes, Rita M., ed. (1996). South Africa: A Country Study. Washington: GPO for the Library of Congress. 
  20. ^ a b "1970s". Chronology. South African History Online. Archived from the original on 1 November 2007. Retrieved 3 December 2007. 
  21. ^ "Missile Chronology (South Africa)".  
  22. ^ Hersh, Seymour (1991). The Samson option: Israel's Nuclear Arsenal and American Foreign Policy. Random House.  
  23. ^ Rhodes, Richard (2011). Twilight of the Bombs: Recent Challenges, New Dangers, and the Prospects for a World Without Nuclear Weapons. Random House.  
  24. ^ Zaloga, Steven (19 July 2011). Unmanned Aerial Vehicles: Robotic Air Warfare 1917–2007. Osprey Publishing. p. 22. 
  25. ^ Middleton, Drew (14 December 1981). "South Africa needs more arms, Israeli says".  
  26. ^ "1980s". Chronology. South African History Online. Archived from the original on 10 November 2007. Retrieved 13 December 2007. 
  27. ^
  28. ^
  29. ^
  30. ^
  31. ^
  32. ^ "P.W. Botha felt Israel had betrayed him".  
  33. ^ Israel Places Sanctions On S. Africa
  34. ^ a b "'"Behind the Headlines: De Klerk Visit Means Relations with South Africa Again 'kosher. Jewish Telegraphic Agency. November 12, 1991. 
  35. ^
  36. ^ a b McGreal, Chris (24 May 2010). "Revealed: how Israel offered to sell South Africa nuclear weapons". The Guardian. 
  37. ^ Joseph, Benjamin (1988). The Unspoken Alliance: Besieged Bedfellows: Israel and the Land of Apartheid. Greenwood Press. p. 2.  
  38. ^ "The 22 September 1979 Event" ( 
  39. ^ Unknown author. "RSA Nuclear Weapons Program".  
  40. ^ Albright, David (July 1995). "South Africa and the affordable bomb". Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists 50 (4): 37–47. Retrieved 4 August 2009. 
  41. ^ "Tracking Nuclear Proliferation".  
  42. ^ Hersh 1991, p. 271.
  43. ^ Rhodes 2011, p. 164-169.
  44. ^ McGreal, Chris (23 May 2010). "The memos and minutes that confirm Israel's nuclear stockpile". The Guardian. 
  45. ^ Kershner, Isabel (24 May 2010). "Israel Denies It Offered South Africa Warheads". The New York Times. 
  46. ^ Cohen, Avner (25 May 2010). "Avner Cohen: Yitzhak Rabin would have opposed sale of nuclear weapons". The Independent (London). 
  47. ^ Sydow, Christoph. """Nelson Mandelas Gegner: "Dieser schwarze Terrorist. Der Spiegel (in German). Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  48. ^ Belling, Susan (2 October 1999). "Mandela bears message of peace in first visit to Israel".  
  49. ^ Orme Jr, William A. (20 October 1999). "Mandela Visits Israel With Praise but Rifts Linger". New York Times. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  50. ^ a b "South African President Mbeki meets with Deputy PM Olmert".  
  51. ^  
  52. ^ Tutu, D; Urbina, I. (15 July 2002). "Against Israeli apartheid.".  
  53. ^ "Tutu condemns Israeli apartheid". BBC News. 29 April 2002. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  54. ^ "South African union joins boycott of Israel".  
  55. ^ Pollak, Joel (22 September 2007). "An interview with Major General Gqiba".  
  56. ^ "Pew Global Attitudes Project: Spring 2007 Survey – Survey of 47 Publics FINAL 2007 COMPARATIVE TOPLINE" (PDF). 2007. p. 14. Retrieved 2 April 2008. 
  57. ^
  58. ^ Rawoot, Ilham. "More universities to query Israeli links as UJ severs ties". Mail & Guardian Online. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  59. ^ "No UJ academic boycott of Israel". UJ Newsroom. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  60. ^ "UJ severs links with Israel university". SowetanLIVE. Retrieved 6 April 2011. 
  61. ^ Lipmann, Jennifer (24 March 2011). "Johannesburg university condemned for 'brutal' Israel boycott". Jewish Chronicle. Retrieved 10 December 2013. 
  62. ^ South African Jews slam Israel for banning minister The Times of Israel, 28 April 2015


See also

The movement for an Academic boycott of Israel, within the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, grew in South Africa after the end of apartheid. Following an academic petition supported by more than 250 academics, including Breyten Breytenbach, John Dugard, Antjie Krog, Mahmood Mamdani and Achille Mbembe.[57] the Senate of the University of Johannesburg decided to end its ties with Ben-Gurion University of the Negev in March 2011.[58] The University denied that the decision amounted to an academic boycott of Israel.[59] Others have claimed it as "a landmark moment in the growing Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions of Israel campaign".[60] Jewish and Israeli groups have criticised the decision.[61] In April 2015, Israel refused permission for Pretoria Higher Education Minister Blade Nzimande and three aides to visit their Palestinian counterparts in Ramallah via Jordan. The South African Jewish Board of Deputies and the South African Zionist Federation said “This is most regrettable.” Their statement noted: “We believe both countries should encourage greater interaction at all levels and lift restrictions in this regard, in the interests of relations between Israel and South Africa and the broader interests of peace and stability”, while also making the point that the process of shutting out individuals from the other country had been done by South Africa to Israelis in the past.[62]

Following the Gaza flotilla raid, South Africa recalled its ambassador from Israel and summoned the Israeli ambassador for a reprimand.

According to the Pew Global Attitudes Project in 2007, 86% of South Africans both in a rural and urban spread had an opinion on the Israel–Palestine conflict. One of the few relevant questions with data from South Africa asked "Now thinking about the dispute between Israel and the Palestinians, which side do you sympathize with more, Israel or the Palestinians?" Of those asked; 28% said they sympathized more with Israel, 19% more with Palestine, 19% sympathized with both parties equally and 20% sympathized with neither. 14% didn't know or didn't answer.[56]

Annual trade between Israel and South Africa totaled $500 million as of 2003.[50]

South Africa is an advocate of the two-state solution. In 2004 South African Deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad criticized Israel's building of the Israeli West Bank barrier.

before I came here. I regarded Jews as whites. Purely whites. But when I came here I discovered that, no, these guys are not purely whites. ...You've got Indian Jews, you've got African Jews, and you've got even Chinese Jews, right? I began to say to our comrades, No, Israel is not a white country... Perhaps we would say there are those who came from Poland, who happened to be white—i.e. Ashkenazi their culture still dominates. It's difficult to say Israel is racist, in a classic sense.[55]

However, South African ambassador to Israel Major General Fumanekile Gqiba generally did not agree with the analogy, saying about his time in Israel:

The Congress of South African Trade Unions, which represents 1.2 million South African workers, has also accused Israel of practicing apartheid and supported the boycott of the Canadian Union of Public Employees, as well as all Israeli products.[54]

Some prominent South African figures, such as Desmond Tutu and Ronnie Kasrils,[51][52] have criticized Israel's treatment of the Palestinians, drawing parallels between apartheid South Africa and modern-day Israel.[53]

Then Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Ehud Olmert visited South Africa in 2004,[50] meeting with South African President Thabo Mbeki, the first visit by an Israeli leader since the end of apartheid.

Nelson Mandela first visited Israel as well as the Palestinian territories in 1999, after he had handed over the presidency of South Africa to Thabo Mbeki. He had not previously received an invitation from Israel.[47] He met with both Israeli and Palestinian leaders, like Ehud Barak and Yassir Arafat. He said: "To the many people who have questioned why I came, I say: Israel worked very closely with the apartheid regime. I say: I've made peace with many men who slaughtered our people like animals. Israel cooperated with the apartheid regime, but it did not participate in any atrocities." Mandela reiterated his unwavering opposition to Israeli control of Gaza, the West Bank, the Golan Heights and southern Lebanon. And he noted that, upon his release from prison in 1990, he received invitations to visit "almost every country in the world, except Israel."[48][49]

Relations between Israel and post-apartheid South Africa

In 2010, The Guardian reported that newly declassified South African documents uncovered by academic Sasha Polakow-Suransky showed details of a meeting on 31 March 1975 between the two countries' defence ministers, at the time South African P. W. Botha and Israeli Shimon Peres, in which Peres purportedly offered South Africa "three sizes." The report suggested that the "three sizes" referred to nuclear warheads.[36][44] Backed by former minister Yossi Beilin, Peres said the allegations were untrue and based on a selective interpretation of the minutes. Former apartheid foreign minister Pik Botha, as well as various Israeli insiders and experts, also said the allegations were highly improbable.[45] Avner Cohen, author of Israel and the Bomb and the forthcoming The Worst-Kept Secret: Israel's Bargain with the Bomb, said "Nothing in the documents suggests there was an actual offer by Israel to sell nuclear weapons to the regime in Pretoria."[46]

According to journalist Seymour Hersh, the 1979 Vela incident, was the third joint Israeli-South African nuclear weapons test in the Indian Ocean, and the Israelis had sent two IDF ships and "a contingent of Israeli military men and nuclear experts" for the test.[42] Author Richard Rhodes also concludes the incident was an Israeli nuclear test, conducted in cooperation with South Africa, and that the United States administration deliberately obscured this fact in order to avoid complicating relations.[43]

Chris McGreal has written that "Israel provided expertise and technology that was central to South Africa's development of its nuclear bombs".[17] In 2000, Dieter Gerhardt, Soviet spy and former commander in the South African Navy, stated that Israel agreed in 1974 to arm eight Jericho II missiles with "special warheads" for South Africa.[41]

South Africa provided much of the yellowcake uranium that Israel required to develop its nuclear weapons. South Africa built [40]

Alleged nuclear collaboration

On July 14, 1991, four days after the United States acted to end its economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa, Israel lifted its sanctions as well. The four years in which they were in effect saw Israel's trade deficit with South Africa swell to some $750 million. The sanctions did not apply to agreements signed before they were imposed in 1987. According to the Jewish Telegraph Agency, Israel had always condemned apartheid.[34] The resuming of open relations no longer included military cooperation.[35] When then-President F. W. de Klerk visited Israel in November 1991, he was involved in negotiations to end apartheid. The Israelis responded warmly to his declaration that "there will be a new constitution" in South Africa, "which we believe should be one which will prevent domination, in any form, by a minority, but also domination by a majority in the sense that no majority should be in a position to abuse its power." During de Klerk's state visit, he and Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Shamir agreed to normalise relations.[34]


By 1987, Israel found itself the only developed nation in the world that still maintained strong, even strategic relations with South Africa, as the apartheid regime was entering its final throes. (Among African nations, only Malawi maintained diplomatic relations with South Africa throughout the Apartheid era.)[32] Based on intelligence assessments that the present South African government was no longer sustainable, Foreign Minister Shimon Peres, in a speech before parliament the same year, announced that Israel would sign no more new military contracts with the South African government and would "gradually" allow those already in effect to expire. Peres accompanied his announcement with the statement: "There is no room for discrimination, whether it's called apartheid or any other name", Peres said. "We repeat that we express our denunciation of the system of apartheid. The Jewish outlook is that every man was born in the image of God and created equal."[33] Israel also reduced cultural and tourism ties, appointed a committee to study sanctions proposals, and established educational programs in Israel for black South Africans. Several secret military treaties remained in force, continuing joint research in missile development and nuclear technology.[19]

In the 1980s, a minority of Israeli officials and many intellectuals, led by Yossi Beilin, then political director general of the Foreign Ministry, wanted not only to reduce cultural, commercial, and military ties, but also for Israel to take the lead in the fight against apartheid. A majority of government officials, led by Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin, wanted to maintain the status quo with South Africa (or make a few token reductions) and make their relationship even more secretive. Foreign Minister Shimon Peres took a middle-ground view, saying "Israel is not going to lead a policy" against South Africa, but would follow the approach taken by the United States and Western Europe.[5] The Israeli interest in South Africa sprang in part from the presence of about 110,000 Jews in South Africa, a figure which included more than 15,000 Israeli citizens.[19]

End of the apartheid and severing of ties

The RSA-2 was a local copy of the Jericho II ballistic missile and the RSA-1 was a local copy of the Jericho II second stage for use as a mobile missile.[28][29][30][31]

The commanders of the South African Defense Force were present at the test-firings of Israel's Jericho ballistic missile system, where they stood alongside the IDF generals.[13] Israel's ballistic missile system, the Jericho II missile, was subsequently licensed for production in South Africa as the RSA series of space launch vehicles and ballistic missiles. The RSA-3 was produced by the Houwteq (a discontinued division of Denel) company at Grabouw, 30 km east of Cape Town. Test launches were made from Overberg Test Range near Bredasdorp, 200 km east of Cape Town. Rooi Els was where the engine test facilities were located. Development continued even after South African renunciation[27] of its nuclear weapons for use as a commercial satellite launcher.

Ballistic missile collaboration

In 1984, Pik Botha again visited Israel but this time only for an unofficial meeting with Israeli Foreign Minister Yitzhak Shamir.[26]

In 1981, Israeli Defence Minister Ariel Sharon visited South African forces in Namibia for 10 days,[25] later saying that South Africa needed more weapons to fight Soviet infiltration in the region.

During Operation Protea in 1981, the South African Defence Force made military history, as arguably the first user of modern drone technology, when it operated the Israeli IAI Scout drones in combat in Angola. They would only be used in combat by the Israel Defense Forces a year later during the 1982 Lebanon War and Operation Mole Cricket 19.[24]

By 1980, a sizeable contingent of South African military and government officials were living permanently in Israel, to oversee the numerous joint projects between the countries, while their children attended local Israeli schools.[13] Scientific collaboration also continued to increase, with many scientists working in each other's countries. Perhaps most sensitive was the large group of Israeli scientists working at South Africa's Pelindaba nuclear facility.[13]

From the mid-1970s, the two countries were allegedly involved in joint nuclear-weapons development and testing. According to Seymour Hersh, for example, the 1979 Vela Incident was the third joint Israeli–South African nuclear test in the Indian Ocean.[22] Richard Rhodes concludes the incident was an Israeli nuclear test, conducted in cooperation with South Africa, and that the United States administration deliberately obscured this fact in order to avoid complicating relations with Israel.[23]

The South African government's yearbook of 1976 wrote: "Israel and South Africa have one thing above all else in common: they are both situated in a predominantly hostile world inhabited by dark peoples."[17]

Israeli and South African intelligence czars held regular conferences with each other to share information on enemy weapons and training.[13] The co-ordination between the Israel Defense Forces and the South African Defense Force was unprecedented, with Israeli and South African generals giving each other unfettered access to each other's battlefields and military tactics, and Israel sharing with South Africa highly classified information about its missions, such as Operation Opera, which had previously only been reserved for the United States.[13]

In 1975, the Israel–South Africa Agreement was signed, and increasing economic co-operation between Israel and South Africa was reported, including the construction of a major new railway in Israel, and the building of a desalination plant in South Africa.[20] In April 1976 South African Prime Minister John Vorster was invited to make a state visit, meeting Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin.[17][21] Later in 1976, the 5th Conference of Non-Aligned Nations in Colombo, Sri Lanka, adopted a resolution calling for an oil embargo against France and Israel because of their arms sales to South Africa.[20] In 1977, South African Foreign Minister Pik Botha visited Israel to discuss South African issues with Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin and Foreign Minister Moshe Dayan.

By 1973, an economic and military alliance between Israel and South Africa was in the ascendancy. The military leadership of both countries was convinced that both nations faced a fundamentally similar predicament, fighting for their survival against the common terrorist enemy of the PLO and the ANC.[13]

Strategic relations

[9] There was Anti-apartheid sentiment among the Jewish communities of both South Africa and Israel. However, on the Israeli side, many saw it necessary to cooperate with any country willing to be friendly with Israel and support its existence. For the South African government, there was a desire to expand its network of friendships.[19] Israel remained officially opposed to the apartheid system, but it also opposed international embargoes. Israeli officials sought to coordinate ties with South Africa within a tripartite framework between Israel, the United States, and South Africa.[18] Most African states had fully broken ties after the 1973

Israel continued to denounce apartheid, but it privately began to cultivate relations with South Africa in secret. This approach was similar to many Western nations at the time.[5][15] Israel's condemnation of apartheid was based on opposition to the racist nature of the practice, and its maintenance of mutually beneficial commercial and military ties was rooted in a concern for South African Jews and a realpolitik attitude that Israel was too isolated to be selective about partners in trade and arms deals.[5][13] Within less than a decade, South Africa would be one of Israel's closest military and economic allies, whilst Israel would occupy the position of South Africa's closest military ally, and Israel had become the most important foreign arms supplier to the South African Defence Force.[3]:117–19 In the wake of the Yom Kippur War, to put additional diplomatic and military pressure on Israel, Arab oil-producing countries threatened to impose an oil embargo on countries with international relations with Israel. As a result, many African countries broke ties with Israel.[16]

Israel's victory in the 1967 oil embargo against Western nations as way of punishing them for supporting Israel; in doing so, OPEC sought support from other international groups to strengthen its impact. Arab states and black African nations formed a working alliance at the United Nations that sought both to criticize the two countries with UN resolutions and establish that the two develop close relations. Due to this alliance with the Arab world, many African countries broke off relations with Israel.[9]

[14] which was rejected, but not before reportedly irking the South African government.[9]

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