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The Iron Wall

Lenni Brenner

The Iron Wall

Appendix 3

Drew Middleton

South Africa Needs More Arms, Israeli Says

(New York Times, 14 December 1981)

From New York Times, December 14, 1981.
Transcribed by Lenni Brenner.
Copied with thanks from the Website REDS – Die Roten.
Marked up by Einde O’Callaghan for ETOL.

The military relationship between South Africa and Israel, never fully acknowledged by either country, has assumed a new significance with the recent 10 day visit by Israel’s Defense minister, Ariel Sharon, to South African forces in Namibia along the border with Angola.

In an interview during his recent visit to the United States, Mr. Sharon made several points concerning the South African position.

First, he said that South Africa is one of the few countries in Africa and south-western Asia that is trying to resist Soviet military infiltration in the area.

He added that there had been a steady flow of increasingly sophisticated Soviet weapons to Angola and other African nations, and that as a result of this, and Moscow’s political and economic leverage, the Soviet Union was “gaining ground daily” throughout the region.


Mr. Sharon, in company with many American and NATO military analysts, reported that South Africa needed more modern weapons if it is to fight successfully against Soviet-supplied troops. The United Nations arms embargo, imposed in November 1977, cut off established weapons sources such as Britain, France and Israel, and forced South Africa into under-the-table deals.

Under these arrangements, weapons and spare parts are sold by major European arms producers to non-governmental middlemen. The latter sell the arms to South Africa, usually shipping them in secret, either through a country that is non-aligned or one where customs inspectors are prepared to look the other way for a bribe.

Israel, which has a small but flourishing arms export industry, benefited from South African military trade before the 1977 embargo.

According to The Military Balance, the annual publication of the International Institute for Strategic Studies in London, the South African Navy includes seven Israeli-built fast attack craft armed with Israeli missiles. The publication noted that seven more such vessels are under order. Presumably the order was placed before the 1977 embargo was imposed.


Because of the embargo, South Africa faces an acute shortage of spare parts. Some spare parts for its British-made Centurion tanks have arrived in South Africa via the Channel Islands, according to British sources. There are other reports that South Africa has purchased 41 Centurions and the Tiger Cat missile system from Jordan.

With some surreptitious help from foreign friends, South Africa has also managed to deploy the Entac antitank missile, manufactured in France, and a modern radar system covering its northern frontiers.

South Africa’s arms industry has so far made the country self-sufficient in a number of areas including small arms, bombs, mortars and armored cars, according to the British source. South Africa is also producing on licence the French designed Mirage fighter.

South Africa, in the view of NATO analysts, is superior militarily and will remain so for some years in the air and at sea. The air force with its 239 combat aircraft, including 48 Mirage fighters, is quantitatively and qualitatively superior to any other air force or combination of air forces south of the Sahara.

Mr. Sharon said Moscow and its allies had made sizable gains in Central Africa and had established “corridors of power”, such as one connecting Libya and Chad. He said that Mozambique was under Soviet control and that Soviet influence was growing in Zimbabwe.

The Israeli official, a successful commander of armored forces in two wars with the Arabs, saw the placement of Soviet weapons, particularly tanks, throughout the area as another danger.

South Africa’s military policy of maintaining adequate reserves, Mr. Sharon said, will enable it to keep forces in the field in the foreseeable future but he warned that in time the country may be faced by more powerful weapons and better armed and trained soldiers.

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