On the 40th anniversary of the nuclear test, the magazine used a team of scientists, academics, former government officials and nonproliferation experts to analyze the declassified documents and data.
What they found was that on September 22, 1979, Vela 6911, a surveillance satellite that monitored banned nuclear tests in the atmosphere, underwater and in outer space, detected a “double flash” signal, which is characteristic of a nuclear test.
According to the report, Carter wrote in his diary on September 22, 1979: “There was an indication of a nuclear explosion in the region of South Africa – either South Africa, Israel using a ship at sea, or nothing.”
If indeed Israel was behind the test, Carter would have been in a tough spot.
Under the 1977 Glenn Amendment to the Arms Export Control Act, the US should end arms assistance and apply automatic sanctions if the president determined any state – other than the nuclear states authorized by the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty – detonated a nuclear explosive.
To make the problem go away, the Carter administration decided to cover the satellite findings and to argue that there was no characteristic bomb signal. According to Foreign Policy, that became the administration’s line.
In the following month, the president’s science adviser, set up a panel of eight scientific experts, including a Nobel Prize winner, to examine the event.
In May 1980, the panel concluded, “It is our collective judgment that the September 22 signal was probably not from a nuclear explosion.”
According to the report, its members dismissed all evidence that suggested otherwise.
Carter, however, knew this was not the true story.
“We have a growing belief among our scientists that the Israelis did indeed conduct a nuclear test explosion in the ocean near the southern end of Africa,” the former president wrote in his diary on February 27, 1980.
“The Carter administration was so afraid to enforce the Partial Test Ban Treaty against Israel’s 1979 violation that it did what it could to erase or keep hidden evidence of its detection of a test,” Foreign Policy revealed. “Subsequent administrations, Republican and Democratic alike, went along with this, and the US government still pretends it knows nothing about any Israeli nuclear weapons.”
A discussion paper for the National Security Council meeting, dated January 1980, offered to “emphasize that one cannot tell whether September 22 event was nuclear or non-nuclear.”
The Foreign Policy report brings in-depth analysis of the scientific panel report and explains why it was impossible to determine that the flash was in fact not a nuclear test.
The Foreign Policy team stresses that there is no public smoking gun that conclusively ties Israel to the event, and no credible Israeli source has ever openly confirmed an Israeli test.
“We believe, based on a great deal of documented and anecdotal evidence, that the Vela event was indeed the detection of a low-yield Israeli nuclear test,” the report concluded.
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