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velasatelliteThe Vela Incident

In the wake of the 1963 Partial Nuclear Test Ban Treaty, the United States launched a series of satellites under the name Vela (after a constellation in the southern hemisphere sometimes called “the sails” because of its configuration). The Vela satellites were designed to monitor compliance with the treaty by detecting clandestine nuclear tests either in space or in the atmosphere. The first such satellite was launched in 1963, the last in 1969. They operated by measuring X-rays, neutrons and gamma rays, and, in the case of the more advanced units, emissions of light using two photodiode sensors called bhangmeters (derived from the Indian word for cannabis). These satellites had a nominal life of seven years, after which the burden of detection was to be shifted to a new series of satellites under the Defense Support Program (DSP), equipped with infra-red detectors designed to pick up missile launches as well as nuclear tests. The Vela satellites, however, kept operating long past the end of their nominal design life and one of them, designated Vela 6911, detected an event on September 22, 1979, that has become a subject of intense interest ever since.

Israel’s 1979 Nuclear Test and the U.S. Cover-Up

Did Israel and South Africa secretly cooperate in developing nuclear weapons, and even conducted a nuclear weapons test in the Indian Ocean 35 years ago?

The “experiment,”  is known as “the double flash of the Vela satellite.” The first credible source pointing to the existence of nuclear cooperation between Israel and South Africa, under the radar of the intelligence agencies of the western world, was an article in the British newspaper The Guardian. In May 2010 it revealed classified documents dating from 1975, bearing the signatures of then Israeli Defense MinisterShimon Peres and then South African Defense Minister Pik Botha.

The nuclear weapons sale agreement

The nuclear weapons sale agreement

The secret documents, detailing the relations between the states concerning nuclear technology and heavily guarded by the Apartheid regime’s top security personnel, were published in the book ‘The Unspoken Alliance:

Israel’s Secret Relationship with Apartheid South Africa by the American academic  Sasha PolakowSuransky . According to top western intelligence officials the documents prove that Israel had assisted in such nuclear weapons.

The contacts between Israel and South Africa began in 1975, while South Africa was still under Apartheid rule. The Israeli Defense Minister, Shimon Peres, met with the South African Defense Secretary, Pik Botha, Shimon Peres offered to sell South Africa a number of Jericho 2 missiles carrying nuclear warheads, in “three versions and levels of force.” The agreement wasn’t just a weapons sale, it described a cooperation between the states concerning nuclear technology. As part of the deal the agreement itself would be kept a secret.

Lt. General Raymond Armstrong, then South African Chief of Staff, also took part in the took part in the agreement discussions. He prepared a secret memo detailing the discussion themselves, explaining how the agreement will “benefit South Africa” – but only if the missiles were “armed with nuclear warheads.” According to the memo, the Israeli offer to sell nuclear warheads was based on two assumptions: The missiles will be armed with nuclear warheads, and the warheads themselves will either be manufactured in South Africa or purchased elsewhere.

Back then South Africa did not have nuclear weapons production capabilities.

Pieter Willem Botha

Pieter Willem Botha

Two months after signing the agreement Peres and Botha met for a second time in Zurich. In order to preserve secrecy the nuclear Jericho missiles project – codename “Chalet.” The document describing the background of the agreement mentioned that”Minister Botha was interested in a limited number of Chalet units, depending on their cargo capacity.” Peres was mentioned as well: “Minister Peres said that the specified cargo capacity was available in three configuration” That means, most probably, conventional warheads, nuclear or chemical.

Botha explained to his colleagues that he did not elaborate further for two reasons: The price set by Israel was high, and Israeli Prime Minister Itzhak Rabin had to authorize the final agreement, which seemed unlikely.

It’s important to know that Shimon Peres did not have the authority to finalize weapons sales to South Africa or to any other country, even though he did sign the agreement with the South African Secretary of Defense.

Israels's nuclear arsenalLike in many other cases, blind luck contributed, ironically, to the exposure of the failed deal. Before publishing his book Polakov Suransky asked President Shimon Peres’ office for an official response. The South Africans declassified the documents, left only a few sentences crossed out, and transferred the mostly uncensored documents to the American researcher. Their explanation: ‘The South African government has no intention of washing the Apartheid regime’s dirty laundry.’

The Israeli Connection: Who Israel Arms and why

What exactly pushed the South African to develop nuclear capabilities? The second half of the 20th century was difficult for the Apartheid regime, which was threatened by hostile elements from all sides. In Angola, for example, the MPLA communist underground movement had the backing of Cuba, and 30,000 Cuban troops were sent to Angola. A movement called Ferlimo operated in Mozambique; the white regime in Rhodesia fell, and the country was replaced by Zimbabwe; and the national movement SWAPO in Namibia, then under South African rule, demanded total freedom. To survive as a nation, South Africa decided to develop nuclear capabilities “for peaceful purposes,” which changed to “military purposes” as the international pressure on the Apartheid regime intensified. Up to the mid 1980s South Africa produced six uranium-based nuclear bombs aided by Israel.

South Africa Nuclear Bombs

South Africa Nuclear Bombs

On September 22nd, 1979, the Vela Hotel 6911, an American intelligence satellite passing over the southern Indian Ocean, detected a clear and powerful flash, possibly due to an underwater nuclear bomb detonation. The flash itself could not lead back to

South Africa – the Apartheid regime’s nuclear research program was based in the Kalahari desert, and that’s where the nuclear testing site was built.

The Vela satellite

The Vela satellite

The Vela satellite was originally equipped with sensors designed for nuclear explosion detection. In addition, the satellite could detect gamma rays, x rays and neutrons, all byproducts of nuclear explosions. The experts that analyzed the data estimated that the double flash, associated with nuclear explosions, was in fact the result of a nuclear weapons test. The Department of Defense intelligence agencies and experts from the national nuclear laboratories at Los Alamos reached a specific conclusion. According to them the double flash registered by the satellite on September 22nd 1979 indicated a 2-3 kiloton atmospheric nuclear explosion that took place in the Indian Ocean; between the sparsely populated Crozet Islands, under French control, and the South African controlled Prince Edward Islands. According to all this the explosion was apparently a nuclear weapons test “conducted by the Apartheid regime.”

Despite being detected decades ago, there are still doubts as to the credibility of the Vela satellite data. The 6911 Vela Hotel satellite was one of two satellites launched on May 23rd , 1969.

The majority of experts who suggested that the double flash did indicate a nuclear explosion, however, were adamant about it being the result of a nuclear weapons test conducted by South Africa and Israel.

Israeli aircraft shelled two locations in the southern Gaza StripA few years after the detection of the double flash, researchers at the national American laboratories at Los Alamos and American Navy experts could agree on the fact that it represented a nuclear explosion. American WC-1358 espionage aircraft were sent to the area to verify the fact that the double flash was indeed caused by a nuclear explosion. The WC-1358 was capable of collecting air samples, which may contain airborne particles created during nuclear blasts.

Then-US President James Carter assembled a panel of experts that would go over all the data related to the incident. The Panel was headed by Frank Press, Carter’s scientific adviser.

Early Vela Satellite

Early Vela Satellite

The findings and conclusions were then sent to all those related to the case, one of them being Victor Gilinski, formerly the science division head at the famous Rand Corporation, and the chairman of the American nuclear regulatory board. Gilinski said there are serious doubts as to the credibility of the report, because the panel members were “influenced by political interest.” Leonard Weiss, head of the Senate energy and nuclear proliferation subcommittee, claimed that an Israel-South African nuclear weapons test did actually take place.

The Botha-Peres Agreement

The Botha-Peres Agreement

Over the years the double flash remained a mystery despite repeated attempts to discover its origin, but the scientific community continued to search for the truth. In 2008, for example, a book was published on the subject by Danny B. Stillman and Thomas C. Reed, titled “The Nuclear Express: A Political History of the Bomb and its Proliferation.” They claimed that the double flash was the result of an Israeli-South African nuclear weapons test.

CIA world literatureIn October 1984, an American intelligence agency report on the state of nuclear weapons worldwide stated that the event, within the intelligence community, of the double flash indicated a nuclear weapons test, was related to “South Africa’s nuclear efforts.”

And another example: The Russian-African spy Dieter Gerhardt, who was the commander of the South African navy base in Simon’s Town before being discovered, told the Johannesburg newspaper Des Blow on his release from prison in 1994 that even though he wasn’t “directly involved,” he had officially learned that the double flash was the result of an Israeli-South African weapons test.

And yet another: On April 20th, 1997, the Israeli Haaretz newspaper quoted South African deputy Foreign Minister Aziz Pahad, who confirmed that the double flash was actually the result of an Israeli-South African nuclear weapons test. The same Haaretz article mentioned that Israel received 550 tons of uranium from South Africa, and in exchanged supplied information on nuclear warhead design and scientific methods to increase their power. After the publication Pahad claimed that “he was misquoted,” and all he said was that “in that period there were rumors saying that the flash did indicate a nuclear weapons test, and that the matter should be investigated further.”

The publications on the origins of the double flash didn’t end there: In October 1999 the subject was discussed by the Senate Republican Policy Committee in the context of preventing nuclear proliferation. The hearings from the discussion mentioned that the origin of the double flash was “still unclear” – whether it was the result of a nuclear weapons test, and if it was, who was responsible.

In 2006 Tyler Drumheller a high ranking member of the CIA, wrote a book, ‘On the Brink,’ describing his term of service in South Africa. Drumheller mentioned the Vela incident, saying that the CIA was very successful in all matters having to do with the nuclear capabilities of South Africa. All his most credible sources presented again and again the fact that the Apartheid regime did conduct a nuclear weapons test in 1979, and that Israel helped the regime develop nuclear weapons launch and delivery systems (missiles).

It’s important to mention that according to information on locally manufactured nuclear weapons, published by South Africa after the fall of the Apartheid regime, South Africa could only begin to manufacture these weapons two months after the event detected by the Vela satellite, and so it could not be considered a South African nuclear weapon test. So, is it possible that the nuclear weapons test detected by the Vela satellite was actually carried out by Israel, in cooperation with top South African defense officials?

Black America to IsraelEither way, in order to actively prevent white South Africa from developing nuclear weapons, the United Nations Security Council Resolution 418 on November 4th 1977. It imposed a total arms embargo, barring all UN member states from cooperating with South Africa on any nuclear weapons research or manufacture.

The embargo may or may not have been effective, and some countries may not have participated in it, but one fact remains clear: After the fall of the Apartheid regime in the late 1980s, all the South African non-conventional weapons projects – nuclear, biological and chemical – were supposedly canceled.

In 1991 South Africa signed the nuclear nonproliferation treaty. It became the first nation to both develop nuclear weapons, almost independently, and then dismantle them of its own accord, “without pressure from the superpowers,” and thereby “giving up its nuclear capabilities.”

In his 2006 book ‘On the Brink, retired CIA spy Tyler Drumheller wrote, “My sources collectively provided incontrovertible evidence that the apartheid government had in fact tested a nuclear bomb in the south Atlantic in 1979, and that they had developed a delivery system with assistance from the Israelis.” Unfortunately he does little to elaborate on the event or on his evidence, except to state that the South African bombs employed a “highly accurate delivery system using gliders.” One factor which casts doubt on the South African covert test theory is the conspicuous lack of South African scientists disclosing their participation, even after the fall of the apartheid.


Perhaps one day, when the redaction’s have receded and declassified documents are disseminated, further light will be shed on the Vela incident of 1979. If the distinct double-flash pattern was not a nuclear detonation, the Vela event would represent the only instance in history where a Vela satellite incorrectly identified an atomic blast– in which case the true cause may forever remain unknown and/or irrelevant. In any case, the flurry of falsifications and artificial investigations churned up in the wake of the incident clearly demonstrated governments’ unwavering willingness to renegotiate reality for political purposes, even in the shadow of a mushroom cloud.



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