By Norm Dixon
South African President F.W. de Klerk has urged Israel to rapidly acquire the state arms manufacturer, Armscor. The Southscan news service reported recently that this was the main reason for de Klerk's visit to Israel last November. The African National Congress also suspects this was the purpose of the trip.
The apartheid regime has been trying to sell state-owned companies so as to prevent a new democratic government controlling the economy.
The regime would be especially keen to deny an ANC government control of the arms manufacturing giant and access to information about its shadowy dealings around the world. There is substantial evidence that Armscor and Israel have jointly developed nuclear explosives and missiles capable of delivering atomic warheads over distances of several thousand kilometres.
An Israeli takeover of Armscor would allow work on several joint missile projects, which began in 1987, to continue. A change in ownership might also free Armscor from the provisions of the 1977 United Nations mandatory arms embargo, which has prevented it selling arms extensively.
De Klerk may also hope that a change in ownership would get around a two-year embargo imposed by the US government on dealings with Armscor. Ironically, the Bush administration imposed this ban after US intelligence agencies tracked an Israeli shipment of sophisticated missile components to South Africa.
Many of Armscor's operations were created with the aid of Israeli advisers in the '70s and '80s. The weapons produced were often based on Israeli designs, with South Africa providing the finance. Cooperation with Armscor was vital for Israel in its missile development programs because Israel was unable to test long-range missiles at home.
In the 1980s, Iscor, then a South African state-owned corporation, and Koor, a holding company owned by the Israeli labor federation, established a number of European and US dummy companies to hide their joint ownership of Iskoor, a military steel maker.
Meanwhile, Armscor and other South African arms manufacturers are about to begin selling their wares on the world market with the aid of a British agent, DTS Technologies of Slough, Berkshire. The British military magazine, Jane's Defence Weekly, recently carried an eight-page supplement advertising South African-made military hardware.
Among the products advertised were battle tanks, "multi-purpose air bombs", missile and bomb fuses, mortar and artillery fuses, the ESR200 mobile early warning radar system, the Valkiri multiple and a computer-based ballistic firing control system for use in armoured fighting vehicles. DTS offered to supply "experienced consultants and skilled manpower to assist in establishing manufacturing facilities anywhere in the world".
A British Foreign Office spokesperson said he believed that DTS was not in breach of the UN arms embargo because, in the opinion of the British government, it applied only against selling military goods to South Africa.