Rhodes scholar and Foreign Affairs senior editor Polakow-Suransky tracks the rise and fall of an ignoble “collaboration” between two countries with deeply troubling histories of racism.
How could the young state of Israel embrace apartheid South Africa and become its greatest arms supplier? According to the author in this pointed exposé, the 1967 Six-Day War propelled Israel from a socialist to imperialist state, and the moral rectitude of early founders David Ben-Gurion and Golda Meir gave way to the realpolitik of Yitzhak Rabin and Shimon Peres. While Meir had cemented relations with several African countries in the late ’50s by virtue of their shared dream of redeeming their respective lands from oppressors, the reaction to Israel’s increasing aggression was opprobrium. Nonetheless, Israel’s economy needed a market for its sophisticated arms exports. Similarly, South Africa was growing increasingly isolated among democratic nations because of its repugnant apartheid policies. However, the country had a rich source of uranium needed for nuclear weapons. By the early ’60s, the pieces for “savvy sourcing and subterfuge” were in place, as Polakow-Suransky systematically demonstrates. Thanks to secretly purchased South African yellowcake, Israel developed its own nuclear capabilities, while defense officials Peres and Moshe Dayan ensured the arms industry maintained a good relationship with South Africa, their “ideal customer: a developing country with a defense-conscious, right-wing government that did not have close ties to the Arab-Muslim bloc.” The author traces the fallout as world opinion excoriated both regimes, though most chilling is his prescient analogy between the now defunct structure of apartheid and Israel’s current “circumscribed existence” for the Palestinians.
A dense but intensely observed, eye-opening book.