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The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa
A revealing account of how Israel’s booming arms industry and apartheid South Africa’s international isolation led to a secretive military partnership between two seemingly unlikely allies.
Prior to the Six-Day War, Israel was a darling of the international left: socialist idealists like David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir vocally opposed apartheid and built alliances with black leaders in newly independent African nations. South Africa, for its part, was controlled by a regime of Afrikaner nationalists who had enthusiastically supported Hitler during World War II.
But after Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories in 1967, the country found itself estranged from former allies and threatened anew by old enemies. As both states became international pariahs, their covert military relationship blossomed: they exchanged billions of dollars’ worth of extremely sensitive material, including nuclear technology, boosting Israel’s sagging economy and strengthening the beleaguered apartheid regime.
By the time the right-wing Likud Party came to power in 1977, Israel had all but abandoned the moralism of its founders in favor of close and lucrative ties with South Africa. For nearly twenty years, Israel denied these ties, claiming that it opposed apartheid on moral and religious grounds even as it secretly supplied the arsenal of a white supremacist government.
Sasha Polakow-Suransky reveals the previously classified details of countless arms deals conducted behind the backs of Israel’s own diplomatic corps and in violation of a United Nations arms embargo. Based on extensive archival research and exclusive interviews with former generals and high-level government officials in both countries, The Unspoken Alliance tells a troubling story of Cold War paranoia, moral compromises, and Israel’s estrangement from the left. It is essential reading for anyone interested in Israel’s history and its future.
Excellent book. I cannot help thinking that Israel had to forge the alliance with South Africa AND that it was not in Israel's long-term self-interest. I hope that Israel can put behind that part of itself that is truly and enthusiastically congruent with apartheid.read more
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During the mid-1950s, the young state of Israel built diplomatic ties to postcolonial African nations on their common histories of oppression. But by 1987, Israel's alliances on the continent had completely changed-despite international sanctions, Israel maintained a close and covert relationship with South Africa; their military trade kept the Israeli economy vital and buttressed the faltering apartheid government. With recently declassified documents, Polakow-Suransky, an editor at Foreign Affairs, offers an important, provocative, and occasionally disturbing analysis of this clandestine alliance. He identifies two wars as decisive turning points in Israeli-South African relations. The 1967 Six-Day War and Israel's occupation of Palestinian territories alienated former friends and won it new enemies; and the 1973 Yom Kippur War left the economy "in shambles," and created a powerful incentive for Israel to export arms to and cultivate its relations with the South African government. The author concludes his smart and readable study with a charged epilogue in which he writes that, as evinced by its policies towards Palestinians, Israel itself "risks remaking itself in the image of the old apartheid state." (June) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved