JERUSALEM (JTA) — Secret apartheid-era documents show that Israel offered to sell nuclear warheads to South Africa in the mid-1970s, a British newspaper reported, but Israel denied the claims.
The papers provide the first documentary evidence that Israel has nuclear weapons, the U.K. Guardian reported Monday.
The documents were discovered by American scholar Sasha Polakow-Suransky while researching the book "The Unspoken Alliance: Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa," which was published by Pantheon in the United States this week.
The documents include minutes of meetings between senior officials of Israel and South Africa, and allegedly show that then-South African Defense Minister P.W. Botha asked then-Israeli Defense Minister Shimon Peres for warheads. Peres, now president of Israel, reportedly told Botha that "the correct payload was available in three sizes." The "three sizes" are believed to refer to conventional, chemical and nuclear weapons, the Guardian said.
Botha reportedly did not purchase the weapons, in part because they were too expensive. South Africa eventually built its own nuclear bombs — possibly with Israeli assistance, according to the newspaper.
Israel pressured the current South African government not to declassify the documents, the Guardian reported.
On Monday, Peres denied the claims.
"There is no basis in reality for the claims published this morning by the Guardian that in 1975 Israel negotiated with South Africa the exchange of nuclear weapons," Peres’ office said in a statement. "Unfortunately, the Guardian elected to write its piece based on the selective interpretation of South African documents and not on concrete facts. Israel has never negotiated the exchange of nuclear weapons with South Africa. There is no Israeli document or Israeli signature on a document that such negotiations took place."
The statement said it regrets the Guardian’s decision to publish the article without requesting comment from any Israeli officials.