292. Telegram From the Department of State to the Embassy in Israel1

195546. Eyes Only for Ambassador from Secretary. Subject: Israeli-South African Nuclear Cooperation.

1. On August 6, Soviets made oral demarche to U.S.2 stating that South Africa is completing work on creation of nuclear weapon and that underground testing facility has been built in Kalahari Desert for a weapons test. Similar demarches were made to British, French and Germans. [10 lines not declassified]

2. In passing information on South African nuclear development, Soviets expressed strong concern about possibility of South African nuclear test. We have told Soviets that we have been giving serious attention to South African nuclear activities, that we fully share their concern of preventing a possible nuclear test, and that we have made our deep concerns known to the South African Government. We informed Soviets that we will shortly confer with them.

3. Subsequent to Soviet demarche, TASS released statement linking Israel and NATO with South Africa in manufacture of nuclear arms. Timing of release is undoubtedly related to forthcoming Lagos conference,3 and press elsewhere has picked up and repeated theme of Israeli-South African nuclear cooperation.

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4. [5 lines not declassified] (Further information in this connection will be forthcoming through other channels.)4 [3 lines not declassified] We expect charges raised by TASS to be subject of considerable hostile attention at Lagos.

5. If Israeli-South African cooperation involves nuclear weapons technology or materiel, it would hold gravest potential consequences for both GOI and USG. Israel would be particularly vulnerable to charge that it had actively aided South African nuclear weapons development in order to obtain additional unsafeguarded natural uranium and in order to test its own weapons capability, thereby raising nuclear spectre both in Middle East and Southern Africa. GOI’s past assertion that it will not be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East would, within context of active Israeli-South African nuclear test program, lack meaningful credibility, and incentives for Arabs to develop their own nuclear weapons would become significantly greater.

6. Even without cooperative nuclear arrangement on weapons technology between Israel and South Africa, the mere fact of Israeli-South African contacts in the nuclear field will make it hard for Israel to defend itself against allegations of complicity in a possible South African nuclear weapons program. Israel is particularly vulnerable to such charges, especially in African context, because of its well-known conventional military supply relationship with South Africa. Most immediate problem is how to handle issue at Lagos Conference. Moreover, Lagos may only be the preview for a subsequent UN Security Council debate.

7. You should seek meeting with Evron at earliest opportunity to make following points. You will note that for tactical reasons we have geared this presentation to Lagos Conference. But in course of discussion with Evron; you should make clear that, above and beyond issue of Lagos Conference, should there be any substance to allegations of Israeli-South African collaboration in nuclear weapons field this would be matter of extremely serious concern.

—As Israel is aware, Soviets have raised allegations about South African nuclear weapons program. Other countries, NATO and Israel in particular, have been linked in Soviet press with South African nuclear weapons development, and these allegations have been carried in international media. Soviets have also made a more specific charge to us, in private, that the South African Government has developed a facility in the Kalahari Desert for nuclear weapons testing.

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—[3 lines not declassified] We have expressed the gravest concern about this matter to the South African Government and are actively seeking satisfaction that SAG will not test a nuclear device or pursue a nuclear explosives program.5

—Allegations of Israeli-South African nuclear weapons cooperation may be raised at forthcoming Lagos anti-apartheid conference, along with general issue of Israeli-South African cooperation in conventional weapons field. The publicly-announced agreement on scientific cooperation between GOI and SAG reached last year could also fuel suspicions in the current atmosphere created by Soviet public charges.

—We wish to be able to cooperate as closely as possible with the Government of Israel in handling whatever situation may develop in Lagos and subsequently in the UN context. In order to do so, we must be confident that we have received full and complete information from the Government of Israel on the nature of any Israeli/South African cooperation in the nuclear field. We therefore request that the GOI provide us these complete details as urgently as possible. We will of course hold such information closely within USG.

—As GOI can appreciate, subject of possible South African nuclear explosion is of utmost concern to USG and is receiving priority attention at the highest levels.

8. In course of your presentation you should tell Evron that we regard our information [less than 1 line not declassified] very sensitive and request that it be so treated by Israelis.

9. Ambassador Herzog has just informed Jim Leonard that Israel has decided not repeat not to attend the Lagos Conference. We believe this to be a serious tactical error on Israel’s part. Further instructions will follow.

  1. Source: National Archives, RG 59, Central Foreign Policy File, P850106–1456. Secret; Immediate; Nodis. Drafted by Arthur A. Houghton (NEA/IAI); cleared by Alfred L. Atherton (NEA), Philip J. Farley (S/AS), Paul H. Kreisberg (S/P), William B. Edmondson (AF), Gerard G. Oplinger (PM), Charles Van Doren (ACDA), Robert Barry (IO/UNP), and Jeffrey R. Siegel (INR/STA); approved by Christopher. Sent for information Immediate to Pretoria.
  2. See Document 288.
  3. See Document 287. The World Conference for Action Against Apartheid was held in Lagos August 22–26.
  4. Not further identified.
  5. See Document 290.