When Israel Invited a South African Nazi on a State Visit

Opinion — One of the most under-reported aspects of security policy in the Middle East is Israel’s nuclear weapons program.

The apartheid state is estimated by the U.S. government to have somewhere in the region of 200 nuclear warheads. The secret program to develop these weapons of mass destruction started in the late 1950s and eventually bore fruit – under the tutelage of French companies – when, in 1968, Israel went fully nuclear.

As I previously mentioned in this column, the best book on the subject is Seymour Hersh’s The Samson Option.

The book is titled after the Israeli nuclear doctrine. The idea is based on the biblical tale of the Israelite judge Samson, who was betrayed and blinded by his lover Delilah. She had stabbed out his eyes after cutting off his magical strength-giving hair while he slept. Helpless, Samson was handed over to his worst enemies the Philistines, who paraded him in their temple.

But rather than submit to them, Samson used the last of his strength to destroy the temple, bringing it down on top of both him and his enemies while he prayed to God, “Let me die with the Philistines.”

The idea is that Israeli leaders would rather, as a last resort, set off a nuclear bomb on the small country of historic Palestine rather than submit to their enemies – the Palestinians and other Arabs.

That Israeli military planners titled their nuclear doctrine “The Samson Option,” was clearly intended to invoke this psychopathic image among its enemies – but also among politicians in its superpower patron, the U.S. religious Protestant-Americans, well versed in Old Testament  Bible stories like Samson, would instantly understand the reference.


Read more by Asa Winstanley


And as Hersh recounts, U.S. Presidents from Eisenhower to Kennedy, Johnson and Carter had an ambiguous relationship with Israel’s nuclear weapons. Eisenhower – perhaps ironically as a Republican – was the most hostile. But Kennedy and Johnson, while in theory dedicated to “nuclear non-proliferation” in the rest of the world, ultimately decided on a systematic policy of refusing to know about Israel’s development of the bomb. In effect, they deliberately shut their eyes to what was going on at the nuclear reactor in the Dimona Desert.

As Hersh shows, time and again, high U.S. officials learned more and more about what Israel was doing through various intelligence reports. But, time and again, their attempts to bring the facts to their superiors were rebuffed. They quickly learned to let it go.

Modern day proponents of Israeli propaganda in the West – and particularly in the U.K. – attempt to portray their doctrine of Zionism as something progressive and enlightened, rather than the gross form of racist discrimination against the native population that it really is.

Part of this particular tactic – championed by Israeli front organizations in the Labour Party such as the Labour Friends of Israel and the Jewish Labour Movement – is to emphasize the Israeli Labour Party and how it is different to the “right-wing government of Benjamin Netanyahu.”

But the reality is that the Israeli Labour Party is just as racist and violent towards the Palestinians and their Arab neighbors as the Zionist right – if not more so considering its actual historical record.

While Israel’s “Sampson option” nuclear threat was enthusiastically endorsed by Menachem Begin after his right-wing government came to power in 1977, it was, in fact, the “Zionist left” governments which spearheaded, led, developed and championed Israel’s nuclear weapons, bringing the arsenal into existence.

Israel's Sorek nuclear reactor center near the central Israeli town of Yavne.

Israel’s Sorek nuclear reactor center near the central Israeli town of Yavne.

Furthermore, it was Israel’s supposed “man of peace,” the war criminal Shimon Peres who ushered Israel’s “Samson option” into reality.

A mostly forgotten aspect of history is how Israel’s “left-wing” Zionist regime in the 1970s collaborated with the vicious South African apartheid regime to discuss nuclear weapons testing in the South African desert.

Seymour Hersh recounts how the Labour “defense” minister Moshe Dayan made a secret trip to Pretoria in 1974 to discuss a possible Israeli nuclear test in the country. Nuclear testing in historic Palestine – a small country – was a lot harder to hide.

Later, in 1976, Yitzak Rabin was Labour prime minister. He was a notorious Zionist officer personally involved in the 1948 massacre and expulsion of Palestinian civilians from Lydda – which resulted in the notorious Lydda death march. During the first intifada, he ordered his troops to “break the bones” of young Palestinian protesters and stone-throwers.

Rabin and his “defense” minister Shimon Peres – both still sometimes bizarrely hailed by politicians in the West as “men of peace” – enthusiastically embraced collaboration with the racist white minority South African regime. The meetings led to the full restoration of diplomatic relations between the two apartheid regimes.

Peres made at least one secret visit to Pretoria to secure military and nuclear understandings between the two regimes. This culminated in a 1976 state visit to Israel of the South African regime’s leader B J Vorster – at a time when South Africa was otherwise being internationally shunned.

Israel South AfricaIsrael had no qualms about breaking this global cold shoulder because, as a former Israeli official explained to Hersh:

there is a certain sympathy for the situation of [white] South Africa among Israelis. They are also European settlers standing against a hostile world.”

The Vorster trip was internationally condemned. But what is often forgotten now is that Vorster had literally been a South African Nazi.

During World War II, the South African regime was allied with the British government in its war against Nazi Germany (albeit tepidly). But several groups, both Parliamentary and paramilitary, were to varying degrees far more sympathetic to the racist Nazi regime. Many Afrikaaners shared their ideas of white supremacy.

B. J. Vorster – eventually to become the South African Prime Minister that Peres and Rabin gushed over – belonged to one of the most extreme of the pro-Nazi groups – the Ossewabrandwag.

As a general in the group’s armed wing, Vorster was interned without trial during the war because his group engaged in sabotage intended to help welcome a Nazi regime into South Africa.

According to Brian Lapping’s Apartheid: A History, the group’s armed wing was called the Stormjaers – or Storm-troopers: “They adopted the Swastika badge, gave the Hitler salute, threatened death to the Jews and provoked fights with army volunteers.”

As it always in history though, Israel and its leaders – even its supposedly “left-wing” leaders – had no qualms about encouraging racism and anti-Semitism, so long as it is perceived to aid their project of colonization in historic Palestine.

Top Photo | South Africa’s prime minister John Vorster (second from right) meets with Israel’s prime minister Yitzhak Rabin (right) and Menachem Begin (left) and Moshe Dayan during his 1976 visit to Jerusalem. (Photo: Sa’ar Ya’acov)

Asa Winstanley is an investigative journalist living in London who writes about Palestine and the Middle East. He has been visiting Palestine since 2004 and is originally from South Wales. He writes for the award-winning Palestinian news site The Electronic Intifada where he is an associate editor and also a weekly column for the Middle East Monitor.


Middle East Monitor is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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