James Adams, Israel and South Africa: The Unnatural Alliance (London: Quartet Books/Namara, 1985).

James Adams, a senior executive at the Sunday Times of London, scores an overwhelming victory in undermining the thesis of his own title. After even a few pages, his book convinces us, albeit unintentionally, that the Israel-South Africa courtship (and its many consummations) is quite a natural alliance after all, though not without the usual bumps. Mercifully, his remarks on the presumed improbability of the relationship betweeen “a people in flight from racism” and a state “founded on the ideas of racial superiority” absorb little of the author’s energy or the reader’s time.

Instead, a wealth of valuable detail is assembled on the major landmarks of the two countries’s military and paramilitary links: the joint howitzer project developed through Space Research Corporation in Vermont; intelligence and special operations cooperation; joint research and development projects on such items as fighters, patrol boats, helicopters; and finally, The Bomb. Given the limitations of his “how-odd” premise, Adams is usually unable to draw conclusions from his reportage. For example, there is a fascinating chapter outlining the CIA-Israeli-Pentagon-State Department conspiracy to equip South Africa with the most modern mobile battlefield artillery system in the world, one which can also fire a nuclear weapon. Through CIA contacts and their legal Israeli clients, SRC provided South Africa with 50,000 shell forgings (manufactured in a Scranton, Pennsylvania plant with US Army approval), a sophisticated ballistics instrumentation test system, and an advanced 155-mm test howitzer (on loan from the US Army’s Aberdeen Proving Grounds). All this enabled the apartheid regime to develop its nuclear-capable G5 howitzer. The entire chapter is a depressing tale of official conspiracy and suspiciously convenient bureaucratic indifference. Joshua Nkomo exposed the shells’ shipping route through Antigua, but US law enforcement agencies did nothing while shipments continued for two more months. But despite his mountainous evidence, Adams finds all this merely “astonishing.”

The US role in Israel’s achievement of nuclear capability, and later South Africa’s, gets a similar gee-whiz treatment. The “disappearance” of some 500 pounds of weapons-grade uranium from the Nuclear Materials and Equipment Corporation (NUMEC) in Apollo, Pennsylvania, a major Pentagon arms contractor, was, according to Adams, the result of the “weak regulatory system in the United States,” not—perish the thought—the result of US-Israeli connivance. (NUMEC continued to receive government contracts after the “disappearance.”) Richard Helms is reported to have been “alarmed” at reports that Israel had bomb capacity in 1964, and US inspectors “almost unbelievably” missed signs of bomb work when they checked out Israel’s Dimona facility. Almost, indeed.

Another chapter sums up what was certainly a joint-Israel-South Africa bomb test in the Indian Ocean in 1979 and the Carter administration&rsuqo;s pathetic (though, thanks to a cooperative press, successful) efforts to cover it up. Once again, Adams builds a fine case and this time almost sends it up to the jury. Admitting that a test bomb had been exploded would have forced retaliatory measures the US government was simply unwilling to take. Adams also marshals data on Israel-South Africa cooperation on torpedoes, the Lavi fighter project, tanks, helicopters, and Kfir fighter and Deshef patrol boat sales. He mentions other culprits, too. French, Spanish, Italian, Belgian, Taiwanese, and even Bulgarian and Chinese companies or officials appear implicated in the tenebrous schemes to dodge the UN sanctions to which most of them have piously subscribed.

Adams concludes that the increased military might and independence of the two states heightens the dangers of more frequent and devastating wars. His refusal to face his own overwhelming evidence that a series of US administrations have tolerated if not encouraged the growth of the “pariah axis” and its war-making potential renders him unable to reach anything more than this quite fair but obvious conclusion. Analysis—and guides to action—will have to come from other authors who will find this book a valuable resource.

How to cite this article:

Tim Frasca "Adams, Israel and South Africa," Middle East Report 133 (June 1985).
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