A chapter on present-day relations between South Africa and Israel may not be an obvious component of a discussion of South Africa's position in the international arena. On the face of it, the current state of affairs between the two countries does not offer enough substance to justify paying it particular attention. If we look at South Africa's foreign policy with a view to examining its domestic and global economic and political implications, other countries may prove more rewarding. There is little doubt that the Brazil, Russia, India and China (BRIC) partners, as well as many big and medium-sized European, Asian and Latin American countries, have more extensive relations with South Africa than Israel has today.
But mere trading figures do not exhaust the story. We need to consider here the history of the relationship between the two countries, and questions of global diplomacy. These have been subject to intense political debates, both internal to South African society and external to it, becoming an issue of international concern. The extended notion of apartheid, taking it beyond its origins within South African borders, and its potential applicability to Israel/Palestine (in particular to the Arab territories occupied since 1967), has become a contested matter of interest to many in and outside these countries.
After a historical survey of the relations between the two countries, this chapter will examine the changing scene by focusing on political interventions and initiatives by South African forces, the implications of these for internal inter-communal relations between Jews and Muslims, and the analogy between apartheid South Africa and Israel.
First, the history. For two decades, from the early 1970s to the early 1990s, Israel was apartheid South Africa's biggest partner for military and security-related exchanges: providing Israel with the raw materials necessary for the production of nuclear devices; joint programmes to develop advanced weapon systems, including artillery, aircraft and ballistic missiles (possibly with nuclear warheads) and training; and the more mundane trade in assault rifles, ammunition, military vehicles and other related security equipment. It is estimated that the military trade between the two countries amounted to US$10 billion over a period of twenty years (the most extensive discussion of this relationship is found in Polakow-Suransky 2010).