Secret South African documents reveal that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to apartheid South Africa in the 1970s, providing the first official documentary evidence of the state's possession of nuclear weapons, the Guardian reported.
The details were discovered by U.S. academic Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching a book on the two countries' close relationship, the British paper reported.
Minutes of meetings between senior officials from the two countries in 1975 reveal that P.W. Botha, South Africa’s defense minister, asked for missiles, provided the “correct payload” was available; Shimon Peres, Israeli defense minister at the time, said that payload could be supplied “in three sizes,” a reference to conventional, chemical and nuclear warheads, the newspaper said.
Botha didn’t go ahead with the transaction, in part because of the cost and in part because the approval of Israel’s prime minister, Yitzhak Rabin at the time, was thought uncertain, the Guardian said.
A secret memo written by South African military chief of staff General RF Armstrong read: 'In considering the merits of a weapon system such as the one being offered, certain assumptions have been made: a) that the missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads...'
When the countries met again on June 4, 1975, they had code-named the project Chalet. Minutes of the meeting reveal that South Africa was ready to order the weapons if the 'correct payload' was available.
The transaction eventually fell through.
"Deal to remain recret"
The two men also signed a broad-ranging agreement governing military ties between the two countries that included a clause declaring that "the very existence of this agreement" was to remain secret.
The Israeli authorities tried to stop South Africa's post-apartheid government declassifying the documents at Polakow-Suransky’s request, the newspaper reported.
Those documents are evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, though its policy has always been neither to confirm nor to deny their existence, the newspaper said.
A spokeswoman for Israeli President Shimon Peres says he "categorically" denies a report he offered nuclear warheads to South Africa in 1975, when he was Israel's defense minister.
Peres' spokeswoman, Ayelet Frisch, said on Monday that there were "never any negotiations" on this between the two countries, as reported by Guardian newspaper.
Mordechai Vanunu was a low-level technician at the country's Dimona nuclear reactor who leaked details and pictures of the clandestine operation to the Sunday Times of London in 1986. Foreign experts who reviewed the material concluded that Israel had a formidable nuclear arsenal.
Most experts now estimate that Israel has at least between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads, largely based on that information.