1989 Opeds

Blind Faith in Hi-Tech, January 25, 1989

A Role for American Jews, March 20, 1989

Battle for U.S. Public Opinion, April 18, 1989

No Illusions this 41st Year, May 9, 1989

Baker's Diplomatic Apprenticeship, May 28, 1989

NBC Report Links Israel, South Africa and Nuclear Weapons. An Explosive Combination, November 8, 1989

Blind Faith in Hi-Tech
January 25, 1989


THE "PROMISE OF TECHNOLOGY" seems to be everywhere lately. After describing the dire condition of the Israeli economy and the need to reduce government spending, Finance Minister Shimon Peres spoke of increasing investment in scientific research and technological development. This policy would be used to stimulate growth, increase employment, and develop exports.

Yitzhak Navon, the minister of education, opposes cuts in his budget and the imposition of fees for high school and university in the name of training students for work in science and technology. According to Defence Minister Rabin, reductions in the defence budget would further injure Israel's hi-tech defence industries and impede the IDF's acquisition of new advanced weapons.

The elevation of scientific research and development to an almost religious level is not the result of the latest economic crisis. Ben-Gurion often spoke and wrote passionately about harnessing ha-Moah ha-Yehudi for both economic and military purposes and, along with Shimon Peres, created the foundation for the Israeli nuclear infrastructure and modern military force.

For Ben-Gurion, science and technology had an almost mystical force. In the age of nuclear weapons, missiles, computers and satellites, almost anything seemed possible. Thirty years later, the founders of the Israeli space programme promised that following the success of Ofek I, Israel would be able to sell space services to other countries, and develop orbiting reconnaissance and communications systems.

THE BENEFITS of science and technology appear clear, at least in theory. Advanced weapons, such as the F-15 aircraft, the Sidewinder air-to-air missile, and many other systems, have provided the U.S. with a qualitative advantage over the Soviets. Similarly, Israel has used her technology to offset the Arab demographic advantage. Economically, hi-tech industries are characterized by a high value-added component, meaning that the cost of resources is low, and wages as well as profits are high.

The Japanese economic miracle is based, in large part, on the mass production of electronic household items, such as televisions, video equipment, personal computers and their components. The most successful American companies, such as IBM, Apple, General Dynamics and Rockwell International are in the hi-tech business.

Research-and-development, however, does not automatically guarantee success. For every successful firm like IBM, there are dozens, even hundreds, that fail in the first five years. Many countries have sought to imitate Japan, but few have succeeded. As a percentage of her GNP, Israel's spending on R & D is among the highest in the world. Yet despite the massive amounts of government support, Elscint has yet to return to profitability. Tadiran, the country's largest electronic concern, is experiencing great financial difficulties. While reliable data are hard to obtain on the military industries like Israel Aircraft Industries this sector is having difficulty turning a profit.

Indeed, many politicians (not only in Israel) tend to view science and technology as an undifferentiated source of salvation, and throw away millions of dollars (and shekels) on hopeless schemes. Science, technology and space are politically popular - everyone wants to be photographed with the astronauts or in the cockpit of the Lavi. While former Economics Minister Ya'acov Meridor's perpetual motion machine may have been forgotten, Ronald Reagan's "Star Wars" programme is not much different, and few scientists ever took the goal of creating a space-based anti-nuclear shield seriously (they did, however, take the research grants).

IN ISRAEL, the Chief Scientist of the Ministry of Industry and Trade has been handing out up to $100 million annually in support for industrial R & D, generally without differentiation or methods for determining success or failure. Indeed, there are no "failures" - everything that is developed, even by firms that fold in two years, is justified in terms of the nebulous concept of "the technological infrastructure."

There is a similar problem in the constant concern over the Israeli "brain drain." Politicians of all parties agree that no expense be spared to prevent the emigration of scientists and engineers. There seems to be no recognition or discussion of the possibility that there are just too many engineers and scientists in Israel for the government to support economically.

A large, highly-trained skilled workforce is only important if it can be profitably put to use in the near term. Twenty years of make-work projects for this very expensive group seems to make little sense. The IAI began to produce aircraft (the Arava) in the late 1960s in order to prevent the exodus of its scientists and engineers; and in 1987, when the Lavi was being debated, the same issues (involving the same workers) were again involved, although this time for a far more expensive project.

This is not an argument against technology or against government support for basic and even applied research and development, or even against the Israeli space programme. The point, however, is that science and technology do not perform miracles and are not ends in themselves. Where support can reasonably be expected to lead to economic growth, military security, and political independence, it should be provided.

The government can allow and encourage the private sector to invest in risky technological ventures without transferring scarce public funds to private firms in order to develop new technology. Clear criteria for measuring success and failure must be developed, and the concept of the national technological infrastructure should be clarified or abandoned.

Decisions regarding government investments in science and technology should not be treated mystically and outside the realm of rational evaluation of costs and benefits. Research and development and large-scale national projects are not automatically useful, and cannot substitute for basic social, economic and political changes. Given our economic and political environment, Israel cannot afford to place faith blindly in the "promise of science and technology."


A Role for American Jews
March 20, 1989


THE PERIOD of the intifada and the U.S. decision to open discussions with the PLO has been particularly difficult for the American Jewish community. After decades in which the Arabs have refused to negotiate and compromise, it now seems that it is the Israeli government that is being unreasonable and an obstacle to peace.

In the U.S. State Department's report on human rights, and on the nightly television news, the Israeli soldiers appear as "the oppressors," and it is the Arabs who seem to be the victims of injustice and violence. In Arafat's speech in Geneva last November, and in subsequent statements, the PLO seems to have changed, to have accepted Israel's right to exist, and to have renounced terror.

It is difficult for many American Jews (and indeed many Israelis) to understand the virulence with which Prime Minister Shamir, Foreign Minister Arens, and other figures reject a dialogue with this "new PLO."

American Jews are particularly uncomfortable whenever there is conflict between Washington and Jerusalem. The U.S. government has opened talks with the PLO, despite the opposition of the Israeli government, and has continued this dialogue despite the continuing infiltration efforts in the north and often lethal violence in the West Bank and Gaza. While perhaps unhappy with the U.S. -PLO dialogue, the American Jewish community will not endorse Shamir's stonewalling. This has left the Jewish leadership and community largely immobilized, unable to influence policy either in Jerusalem or in Washington.

HOWEVER, PRECISELY because of these events and the radically opposed perceptions in Jerusalem and New York (or Washington or Los Angeles), there is a crucial role for American Jews. This group is in the unique position of being able to understand the resistance in Israel to talks with the PLO on the one hand, and the American faith in dialogue and negotiation on the other. It is here that American Jews can find their voices and play an important, indeed critical, historical role.

Israeli opposition to talks with the PLO is based on the fear that such talks will inevitably lead to the creation of a Palestinian state, which will then result in a return to the situation preceding the 1967 war. Many Israelis are still traumatized and obsessed with the events of that period, in which the Arab armies were mobilized for what many were sure would be a final assault on the Jewish state. The 1967 boundaries are still referred to as the "borders of suffocation," and a contemplation of a return to these conditions evokes all the images of the period before the Six Day War.

Rather than acknowledging these legitimate Israeli fears, however, the Arabs have reversed history. Instead of a "war of survival," PLO propagandists have turned 1967 into Israel's " war of occupation." While condemning Israel's behaviour in the "occupied territories," the Palestinians have never acknowledged their own responsibility for this occupation. Without such an acknowledgment, any claims to a change in goals and objectives on the part of the Palestinians seem false and hollow.

AMERICAN JEWS should be the first to understand this problem. That community was deeply affected by the events preceding and following the Six Day War. In many senses, the images on U.S. television in May 1967 of Arab mobs chanting threats to "push the Jews into the sea" galvanized U.S. Jews as a community.

Israel's survival and victory is widely seen as a major turning-point for American Jews, giving them self-confidence as a community, a sense of identification and a role in history. Having lived with Israel throughout the period of terror, and having experienced with Israel the trauma which preceded the 1967 war and followed the 1973 Yom Kippur War, American Jews are in a unique position to explain to the Americans, and to the Arabs who are genuinely interested in peace, the real nature of Israeli fears.

By explaining these legitimate and understandable Israeli fears to policy-makers and journalists in the U.S., and to the Palestinian and Arab leaders they meet, American Jewish leaders can play an important role.

Few people outside Israel seem to remember that the "occupation" was the unintended result of the Arab effort to destroy the Jewish state. Whenever Palestinians are sent through Southern Lebanon, armed with grenades and rifles, to infiltrate an Israeli settlement, the Israeli collective psyche recalls the images of the dead children in Ma'alot.

It is not really important whether these raids are authorized by a PLO splinter group or by Arafat himself - the point is that the Palestinians must clearly condemn them and be seen to be acting to prevent further such raids. As long as these terrorist efforts continue, and American or PLO spokesmen find ways to excuse them, Shamir will continue to have support in Israel for his position against any talks.

AT THE SAME time, American Jews can explain the belief in the power of dialogue and negotation in overcoming differences, no matter how deep. In many ways, this belief is central to the political ideology of the U.S. Whatever the PLO's crimes may have have been in the past, the American tendency is to see redemption as always possible.

Many individual Israelis on the left, and even members of the Knesset, have entered into talks with PLO officials since the PLO condemned terror and accepted Israel's right to exist. This clearly was insufficient for the majority of Israeli society and for the Likud in particular; but this does not mean that thhere are no conceivable conditions under which talks could be held. Rather than ruling out negotiation in any circumstances, the Israeli government could be persuaded to develop a set of conditions under which talks are conceivable.

The most important aspect of any such conditions is clearly an indication of Palestinian acknowledgment of Israeli fears, and the legitimacy of these fears. The need to show an understanding of the Israeli view is not a question of Palestinian concession; it is an acknowledgment that things have really changed.

In his historic speech to the Knesset on October 1, 1977, Anwar Sadat confronted the past, admitting the Arab responsibility for past wars and for the effort to destroy the Jewish state. And it was this admission, perhaps more than anything else, that made Israeli concessions possible.

To make a similar change, Arafat and the PLO will have to end the propaganda which refers to Israel as a colonial power and blames Israel for "the occupation" of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

If American Jews can gain Washington's help in this crucial step, and then use it as a basis for real negotiations aimed at seeking a settlement of the conflict, they will have fulfilled a very important mission.


Battle for U.S. Public Opinion
April 18, 1989


PRIME MINISTER Shamir viewed his trip to Washington as essentially a public relations exercise, designed to prevent further erosion of Israel's image in the U.S. and to keep the new Bush Administration from going further in its dialogue with the PLO. It is clear that his four-point programme, linking elections in the West Bank and Gaza with an end to the intifada, was designed to assuage U.S. public opinion, without compromising Shamir's basic opposition to the creation of a Palestinian State or negotiating with the PLO.

Since there was almost no chance that the PLO would accept this programme, it involved very little risk. While critics immediately noted that this programme did little to advance the cause of peace, Shamir repeated his view that talk of peace with the PLO was a dangerous and entirely unrealistic illusion.

Indeed, the recent pronouncements of the PLO leadership and local Palestinians are also aimed at effecting public opinion in the U.S. and the Israeli left, rather than establishing a useful dialogue with Israel. Arafat's declarations, beginning at the Algiers Conference in November and shortly thereafter in Geneva before a special meeting of the UN, were designed to open a dialogue with Washington, and thereby obtain international legitimacy.

On this basis, the PLO had hoped to continue to increase pressure on Israel and create a crisis between Washington and Jerusalem. Arafat was also careful to give as little as possible away - to create an impression of change and desire for peace, while not giving the Israel government anything that might be acceptable as a basis for negotiations.

In other words, both sides are playing a game of public relations, with the objective of attempting to "gain points" and weaken the other, rather than engaging in a constructive dialogue for peace.

AT THE same time, a form of indirect negotiations has begun, despite intentions to the contrary. Pronouncements, made initially to an external audience, become part of the public record, and sometimes influence policy. Arafat's formal renunciation of terror, his acceptance of UN Security Council Resolution 242, and the de facto cease-fire between the IDF and Fatah are in fact, if not in intention, steps in the direction of compromise and conflict resolution.

These steps, in turn, forced Shamir to come up with a "plan" and address the issue of the future of the West Bank and Gaza. As limited as it is, his proposals regarding elections would have been unthinkable less than a year ago, and are bitterly opposed by many of Shamir's colleagues in the Likud. Now, the PLO cannot simply reject this proposal without losing credit in Washington and endangering the hard-won opening to the U.S.

Arafat must develop a counter-plan that preserves the appearance of seeking a peaceful solution to the conflict. While this process is proceeeding slowly and without a formal setting, ceremony, or even a conference table, substantively, it is in fact the beginning of negotiations.

Such informal and indirect negotiations, designed initially to influence public opinion and create an impression of a desire for peace, are not uncommon in international relations. Indeed, the U.S. and Soviet Union engaged in such a process regarding arms control and the limitations on nuclear weapons for many years.

In the early 1980s, the Soviet Union sought to embarrass the Reagan administration by proposing major reductions in nuclear forces in Europe. Reagan rejected any possibility of negotiating with this "evil empire," and in any case, the Soviets enjoyed a major advantage in conventional forces, so this proposal risked nothing. Reagan, however, was forced to produce a proposal of his own, and thus returned the ball to the Soviets, and eventually, this process led to gradually converging proposals. Later, formal negotiations were begun, and the Intermediate Nuclear Forces Treaty was signed.

THE SITUATION involving the West Bank and Gaza is of course very different. While the U.S. and Soviets were at least willing to acknowledge each other and talk directly, Israel and the PLO have no such foundation on which to build. Furthermore, the rise of Gorbachev and glasnost led to a fundamental change in Soviet foreign policy, and gave the Reagan Administration a basis on which to change its position and to pursue arms control agreements.

As long as such fundamental changes are not forthcoming within the political structure of the PLO, and, on the Israeli side, Shamir remains prime minister with a majority of the population continuing to oppose talks with the PLO, such a transition to direct talks - based on the explicit acknowledgement of common interests - is highly unlikely.

Since neither Shamir nor the PLO is really interested in this process, primary responsibility for controlling its pace and direction rests with U.S. Secretary of State Baker and the Bush administration. Having initiated the process and directed these opening moves, Washington must decide where it is headed, and how to continue.

In order to make progress, the U.S. must recognize the boundaries and obstacles that exist. From the Israeli side, the PLO demand for withdrawal before elections is a non-starter. Such demands only serve to reinforce the view that the PLO is in fact uninterested in a real peace process, but is only willing to "compromise" and make tactical concessions as part of its unchanged strategy aimed at the destruction of the State of Israel.

On such fundamental issues, which are perceived as basic to Israeli security, most Israelis would be willing to risk relations with the U.S., no matter how painful, rather than being pressured by public opinion into risking the survival of the state.

Within these bounds, the informal process, spurred by the battle for American public opinion, continues. While neither side expects this process to lead to peace, as the Talmud notes, actions which are taken for entirely the wrong motives may, under the right circumstances, produce benefits for all.


No Illusions this 41st Year
May 9, 1989


COMPARED TO 40, 41 is dull; almost irrelevant. Fortieth birthdays are celebrated with parties, toasts, and the philosophizing that accompanies the pangs of middle age. In contrast, the 41st birthday is scarcely noticed.

Last year, when we celebrated our 40th year of independence, the skies were filled with fireworks, and great international celebrations and tourist extravaganzas were scheduled. Heroism and glory were the theme, as if by recalling past accomplishments and miracles, we could recreate them, and revive the spirit of the country in the "golden years."

Pundits filled the newspaper columns and radio and television talk-shows with analogies and essays. Most invoked the theme of Israel's 40 years in the desert, during which the people lost their slave mentality and assumed the duties and responsibility of the national period of "middle age"; no longer young, cute and popular, but not old enough to be automatically considered graceful and dignified, and to be excused our errors.

This year, our 41st, nobody cares, and we have been spared all that fuss. While there will no doubt be some fireworks, there is little of the organized, awkwardly forced orgy of self-congratulation that was planned for last year.

IN ANY CASE, last year was not the large international party that had been planned. By most measures, Israel's 40th year of independence was a big disappointment.

What had been advertised as a year-long celebration of the revival of the Jewish state and the Jewish people turned into the year of violence, intifada, the collapse of Koor and the kibbutzim, and unemployment. Even the elections were boring, and the results even more so.

Instead of images of Israeli children dancing the hora and singing, the television newsclips and newspaper headlines from Israel were filled with the pictures of stones, tear-gas and plastic bullets from Gaza and Ramallah.

Hundreds of thousands of tourists who had been expected to visit and join in the celebrations cancelled or curtailed their trips, and the hotels and other institutions which cater to the tourist trade were largely empty. Jewish solidarity lasted for a few days, and participation was by invitation only.

THIS YEAR, we have no such illusions to be shattered.

The Independence Day celebrations for this, the 41st year, are, in contrast, modest in scope. This attitude matches our national mood, and given our political and economic conditions, is as it should be. Boisterous self-congratulation at this time would be entirely out of place. We are being allowed to grow older and to mature (hopefully) with dignity.

Yet in many ways, it is at this more ordinary level that the concept of Israeli independence is more significant and meaningful. At this period of our history, having established and successfully defended the state, the rewards of living in Israel are based not on miraculous feats and accomplishments, but rather on the mundane and everyday events and processes.

In the Diaspora, Jews usually sat (and still sit) on the sidelines, passively observing the conflicts and pop-culture of the "goyim"; their shticks were not our problems.

Here, while we may not rejoice when we witness or participate in the disputes between Peace Now and Gush Emunim, or between the ultra-Orthodox and the ultra-unorthodox, these are our "mishugasim," and we join in with an enthusiasm which has accumulated over a period of 2,000 years.

Instead of meekly doing Hanukka shopping in pale imitation of the Christians to match their holidays, here in Israel we can have our own national orgy of shopping before Pessah and other hagim. These daily, mundane, and even kitschy occurrences give us the satisfactions of living in a Jewish state. This is the best excuse for staying here, and these accomplishments are cause enough for an occasional celebration.

FROM THIS PERSPECTIVE, perhaps it is not the number 40 that is important in Jewish tradition, but 41.

When the Jews finished their 40 years of wandering in the desert and finally entered the Promised Land, the daily supply of manna stopped falling from the skies. The daily miracles which were necessary to sustain the Jewish people during all these years suddenly ended at the beginning of the 41st year, on the day they crossed the Jordan River.

The Land of Israel might have been "flowing with milk and honey," but it would take far more work than it took to scoop up the manna in order to enjoy these tastes and to survive. Responsibility for daily existence passed to the people themselves.

Similarly, following 2,000 years of exile and the Holocaust, the Jewish people were dependent on a period of miraculous events and feats in order to establish the State of Israel. The revival of the richness of the Hebrew language, the rediscovery of the pleasures of our own culture, as well as the physical survival of the War of Independence, the influx and absorption of millions of refugees from all parts of the world, the victory in 1967, and the "greening of the desert" were all part of this extraordinary age of accomplishment.

In the long term, however, survival now cannot be based on miracles or extraordinary feats which are difficult, if not impossible to sustain. Most miracles, like victories in war, are too stressful and even painful to be repeated often. Instead, regular and even daily evidence of accomplishment is easier to take, and provides a basis for optimism to keep going.


Baker's Diplomatic Apprenticeship
May 28, 1989


IN DIPLOMACY, as in the theatre, timing and nuance are everything. In his speech of May 22, U.S. Secretary of State James Baker demonstrated that on both counts, he has much to learn.

Substantively, the contents of the speech were not really new or explosive. For years, the U.S. has stated and restated its opposition to Israeli settlements in the West Bank areas of Judea and Samaria and in the Gaza Strip, and has opposed annexation. There was also nothing new in the secretary's declaration that "Israeli interests in the West Bank and Gaza - security and otherwise - can be accommodated based on Resolution 242."

This was a restatement of the well-known U.S. support for the formula of "land in exchange for peace."

What is important and made headlines around the world was Baker's call for Israel to abandon the "vision of Greater Israel."

The phrase "Greater Israel" is loaded; it is used frequently in Arab propaganda, which seeks to portray Israel as an "expansionist, aggressive, neo-colonialist state" and blames Israeli policy for the conflict and for the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Indeed, the use of this phrase is an ironic and cynical effort to divert attention from the vision of "Greater Syria," which is responsible for that country's continuing involvement in the Lebanese debacle and is the basis for Syria's claim on Israel.

On these grounds alone, Baker and his speechwriters - who, we are told, reviewed the speech many times - should have avoided this phrase.

In the Israeli domestic context, Baker's opposition to annexation and the "vision of Greater Israel" is, in effect, flogging a dead horse.

The cost of annexation is apparent not only to supporters of the right. In the election campaign, the issue of the demographic threat posed by annexation was raised repeatedly, and made a significant impact on the Israeli public. Calls on the right for annexation are increasingly ignored, and no conceivable political coalition would consider annexation today.

Similarly, Gush Emunim and the settlement movement has been losing momentum for some time, particularly since the beginning of the intifada.

Historically, settlement activity in these areas began after the 1967 war, partly in order to prevent the use of the areas for attacks on Israel, and partly based on historical, ideological and religious ties with areas such as Hebron (where the Jewish community was massacred in 1929) and Shechem (Nablus). Now, however, the movement is having considerable practical problems maintaining the settlements which already exist, particularly in the areas near densely populated Arab sectors, and expansion is realistically unlikely.

Recent moves to create new settlements are essentially symbolic, and the lack of response and desperation for new activity is a clear demonstration of a crisis within the movement.

The Treasury has refused to allocate large sums for settlement activities, and this policy has largely been accepted, even by the Likud.

A FEW MONTHS ago, Defence Minister Yitzhak Rabin publicly questioned the value of these settlements to Israeli defence requirements.

While such statements would have been met with outrage, demonstrations and demands for Rabin's resignation only two or three years ago, this time, there was little reaction. The myths developed by Gush Emunim, which envisioned large-scale Jewish immigration to offset the Arab population, some form of politically feasible and even voluntary transfer of the Arab population, or the continued passive Arab acceptance of the growing Jewish presence have gradually been seen as unrealistic.

As a political force, Gush Emunim, like Peace Now, is becoming marginal.

Baker's statements, however, appeared to be interference in internal Israeli politics, and created an immediate backlash of sympathy for Gush Emunim. Instead of allowing this politically sensitive issue slowly to fade away, Baker has again brought it to the top of the Israeli agenda.

The Likud, which is rhetorically and formally committed to the expansion of settlements and opposition to Israeli withdrawal from Judea and Samaria, has been forced by Baker to reassert its commitment to these policies.

Now, the continued weakening of settlement activity would appear to be a result of American pressure, which from the Israeli perspective is, in turn, a product of continued Arab pressure and propaganda. The horse may be dead, but it was not Baker's to flog.

The timing of these statements was also a mistake. In response to American pressure and the realization that annexation was not a realistic or desirable policy, Prime Minister Shamir has finally developed a programme which could lead, in the long term, to negotiations.

Shamir's proposals to hold elections on the West Bank and Gaza, however, are under attack from within his own Likud Party, and at this time, it is not clear that he will have a majority for this proposal.

Baker's apparent interference in Israeli affairs will have the effect of undermining Shamir, as well as Moshe Arens, in the Likud, and enhancing the position of hardliners such as Ariel Sharon.

In this respect, Baker should at least have been more careful while Foreign Minister Arens was still in the United States, Defence Minister was en route, and Shamir was in London - all seeking support for the election proposal as a first step in negotiations.

In addition, during this period between Israeli Independence Day and the anniversary of the June 1967 war and the liberation of Jerusalem, the results of decades of Arab hostility and war are etched on the Israeli psyche.

While Palestinian spokesmen repeat the charges of Israeli expansion, etc., this is the period in which the price which we have paid for survival is recalled. Israel is now filled with images of war, stretching from the Arab invasion following the Israeli declaration of independence on May 15, 1948, through the mobilization of the Arab forces to "slice Israeli in two" in 1967, and the continuous terror.

The majority of the Israeli population is not convinced that the Palestinians have abandoned their goal of destroying the Jewish state, and in this atmosphere, efforts to encourage Israel to take risks for the acceleration of the peace process are not likely to be enhanced by Baker's choice of words.


NBC Report Links Israel, South Africa and Nuclear Weapons: An Explosive Combination.
November 8, 1989


IN THE MID-1970s, the propaganda and disinformation departments of the Arab world discovered the explosive combination of Israel, South Africa, and nuclear weapons. During the period in which the United Nations was used to condemning Zionism as racism, the same Arab-based majority was also used to denouncing Israeli-South African nuclear ties.

Politically, these charges were employed to justify the estrangement between Israel and the Black African states. Perhaps more importantly, the combination had the potential of eroding American support for Israel. It is hard to imagine any set of issues which could more effectively erode the foundation for U.S. political, economic and military support. If Israel is helping the apartheid regime in Pretoria go nuclear, the U.S. Congress, the black community and the American Jewish community could be expected to respond angrily.

Starting slowly, such disinformation was "leaked" to leftist publications with an anti-Israeli predilection, and then quoted by journalists looking for sensational scoops, such as James Adams, of the London Sunday Times. These reports were quoted in academic studies, and then repeated by official government and UN publications. Without the addition of any information, the "official" reports became the sources for "verified reports," which were published again as "external proof" of the validity of the initial reports.

For many years, the sole evidence of the alleged cooperation was based on the story of a 1979 "bright flash" in the South Atlantic which was detected by a U.S. Vela satellite. Although the technical analysis of this signal did not "indicate a nuclear event," and no fallout was detected, that did not prevent Arab propagandists and news organizations from reporting the flash as a joint Israeli-South African nuclear test.

Now, NBC News has broadcast a new series of rumours and allegations based on the same thesis. The NBC reports consisted of a photographic montage of an Israeli satellite launch, carefully selected excerpts from U.S. government documents, reports of CIA leaks, and impressive but meaningless photos of hi-tech hardware allegedly in South Africa.

FOR MANY VIEWERS, the NBC producers may have created a plausible scenario, but examination of the details shows that these reports were a continuation of the previous half-truths and unsubstantiated disinformation.

For example, in the course of its "exclusive" reports, NBC News showed an excerpt of a presumably top-secret report from the nuclear-weapons facility at Lawrence Livermore Laboratory. The excerpted text stated that if Israelis want to place a warhead of less than 1,100 kilograms on its space launcher (the Shavit), "the necessary adjustments to the missile are easily within their capabilities."

In fact, this brief comment came from an entirely unclassified, simple three-page analysis of Israel's launcher. There is nothing secret or sensational in the claim that a space launcher, including the U.S. Atlas or Titan, can be used for missiles, and as delivery vehicles for a variety of payloads, including nuclear weapons. The calculations in the Livermore report could be performed in a high-school physics class. This document, like many other "reports" on Israel nuclear-weapons production, were based on speculation and assumptions, not on knowledge of actual activities.

SIMILARLY, to establish a rationale for these allegations, and to make them seem plausible, NBC claimed that Israel receives uranium and test facilities from South Africa. Yet many sources, including a 1979 panel of experts established under Arab pressure by the secretary-general of the UN, concluded that Israel extracts more than 50 tons of uranium per year as a by-product of phosphate mining in the desert.

This is more than twice the annual load necessary to operate Israel's major reactor facility. If Israel launches its own satellites, with rocket technology necessarily similar to ballistic-missile systems, and conducts other long-range tests over the Mediterranean-range pictures in NBC's footage, what could it possibly gain from South Africa?

NBC also claimed that Israel was illegally transferring American technology (including the technology associated with the Lavi programme) to Pretoria. Because the South African Cheetah looks like the Israeli Kfir, it is easy to assume a link between the two. However, these similarities are superficial and the result of the fact that both are based on the French Mirage 3 airframe.

Similarly, a highly detailed and carefully researched report of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute on South Africa's military industry concludes that "the likelihood of cooperation on the Israeli Lavi fighter seems dubious."

FEW PEOPLE, and even few policy-makers, understand the complex and detailed technical issues on which these charges are based. While some of the details might have been changed, the NBC series provided little that was new. As in the past, the reports consisted of a combination of fiction and manipulated plausibility arguments.

Regardless of the details and origins, however, the damage has been done. The NBC report set the agenda for many journalists and politicians, without attempting to understand the details or sources of this disinformation, or the reasons behind this campaign and manipulation of the "news."

The National Association of Arab Americans (the Arab version of Aipac) wasted no time in attempting to exploit the allegations. They realize that the implications of these half-truths and reports, like countless other unsubstantiated claims of Israeli-South African nuclear collaboration, are politically explosive. Israel has been placed on the defensive, and no matter what is said now, and regardless of the errors that have been exposed in the NBC reports, significant damage has been done.

Israel has been under increasing pressure, with a sense of injustice and isolation, for many years. Jerusalem is faced with real and growing threats resulting from the acquisition of missiles and chemical weapons in Arab countries, as well as the unabated deployment of massive conventional forces.

Under these conditions, the publication of unsubstantiated reports, based on disinformation, and mixed with unsubstantiated "leaks" and plausibility arguments, is irresponsible.