Even after the testimony of Mordechai Vanunu, the official line on nuclear weapons from Israel was non-committal. Spokesmen would neither confirm nor deny claims that their country had joined the nuclear club. But the declassification of papers by the ANC Government in South Africa has put the Israelis on the spot.
Because the documents confirm that the South Africans, back in the mid 1970s, were seeking to acquire nuclear warheads, and that the Israelis were angling to supply them. And the signatures of the South African justice minister, P W Botha, along with that of the Israeli defence minister Shimon Peres, are clearly visible on the front page.
It would be strange indeed for a country that did not have nuclear weapons to try to sell nuclear weapons to another country. More likely is that the Israelis – assisted, among others, by the British – did indeed have those weapons, and that a sale to South Africa would have created an income stream away from the gaze of the USA.
Not surprisingly, the Israelis did not want the papers to be declassified. Equally unsurprising is that the new order in South Africa paid little attention to them. And that isn’t the only irritation for the Government in Tel Aviv: the Australians are only the latest to demonstrate their disapproval of the use by the Mossad of fake passports.
The Government in Canberra has concluded that the Israelis were behind the use of false Australian passports in the assassination in Dubai recently of a leading member of Hamas. As the Mossad is believed to have carried out the killing, the link is rather obvious. An Israeli diplomat has been expelled from Australia as a result.
After all, the UK had already taken similar action. Israel is increasingly being treated not as an exceptional case, but in the same way as any other country. Welcome to the level playing field.