News Analysis: Sanctions Did Little Damage to Israeli-south African Ties
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News Analysis: Sanctions Did Little Damage to Israeli-south African Ties

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The economic and cultural sanctions against South Africa that the Israeli Cabinet voted to lift Sunday appear to have done little practical damage to dealings between the two countries during the four years that they were in effect.

Commercial, cultural and even military contacts continued, as long as they were conducted on the basis of contracts signed prior to March 1987, when Israel imposed the sanctions.

Political analysts say that while Israelis genuinely oppose apartheid, the government-imposed sanctions may have had more to do with satisfying U.S. demands than protesting the policies of the minority government in Pretoria.

They suggest that Israel imposed the sanctions largely because the United States threatened in 1987 to cut off aid to any country that continued dealings with South Africa.

President Bush decided F.W. de Klerk’s regime had met the five conditions set by the U.S. Congress to end sanctions. Taking its cues from Washington, Israel has now followed Bush’s lead in lifting sanctions.

But the decision appears to mean only that what was being done covertly after the sanctions were applied can now be done openly.

Since the sanctions applied only to new contracts, Israel never really ended its trade relations with South Africa. Earlier contracts were not affected, and most were long-term, in effect at least through 1991.

The Histadrut-owned Yiskur Co., for example, has continued to import iron and steel from South Africa during the last four years, as if economic sanctions did not exist.


Nor were cultural sanctions retroactive. The twin cities relationship between Haifa and Cape Town, signed before March 1987, continued to prosper. Cultural delegations also were exchanged as per earlier agreements.

As for sports, only the captains of the Israeli boxing team were reprimanded for appearing in South African rings.

Foreign publications reported that Israel continued its military ties with Pretoria, regardless of the freeze. Israel Aircraft Industries, hard hit when U.S. pressure forced the government to abandon the Lavi jet fighter project, is said to have recouped by helping South Africa develop its own fighter jets.

Foreign publications also alleged that nuclear cooperation between the two countries continued, including joint experiments, though the Israeli government denied this.

Perhaps because of the close ties between the two countries, some Cabinet ministers, including Commerce and Industry Minister should not wait for the United States and lift sanctions on its own. But the Foreign Ministry’s view, that Israel should wait for a green light from Washington, ultimately prevailed.

Foreign Minister David Levy plans to visit South Africa and may become the first Westernallied diplomat to show up in Pretoria, In turn, de Klerk is expected to visit Israel by year’s end.

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