In This Review

The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa
The Unspoken Alliance: Israel's Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa
By Sasha Polakow-Suransky
336 pp, Pantheon, 2010

The title The Unspoken Alliance brings to mind Sylvia Crosbie's 1974 book, A Tacit Alliance: France and Israel From Suez to the Six-Day War (which treated Israel's collusion with the United Kingdom and France to attack Egypt in 1956), or Trita Parsi's more recent book, Treacherous Alliance: The Secret Dealings of Israel, Iran, and the United States. All states engage in secret diplomacy, but Israel offers some of the most shocking examples. In this book (written by an editor at this magazine), the reader finds the Israel that emerged in the wake of the Holocaust linked decades later in off-the-books diplomacy to an apartheid South Africa led by Nazi sympathizers. That Israel had good relations with and sold weapons to South Africa during the two or so decades before the end of apartheid in the early 1990s was no secret, but the full dimensions of what amounted to an "unspoken" military alliance of nuclear proportions have only now come to light. Polakow-Suransky's dogged research efforts earned him access to South Africa's hitherto secret archives, and his equally dogged seeking out of all who would receive him has produced a compelling history. Although he deplores Israel's ties to the apartheid regime, Polakow-Suransky has treated the handful of officials in the two countries implementing that alliance fairly, even empathetically. He drops his guard only when he refers to "the ever sanctimonious Shimon Peres." How important were these secret ties? By 1979, South Africa had become Israel's largest arms customer, and the total military trade between the two countries reached an estimated $10 billion during the last two decades of the apartheid regime.