LONDON: Israel’s intelligence agency, the Mossad, was likely behind bombings and phone threats on German and Swiss companies linked to Pakistan’s covert nuclear programme, a Swiss historian told a Swiss daily.
The claims were carried in a report in ‘Neue Zurcher Zeitung’, a Swiss German-language daily, which said that in the 1980s, Pakistan worked with Iran to produce nuclear weapons materials. NZZ is often referred to as the Swiss “newspaper of record”.
According to Anadolu Agency, at the time, Washington was extremely paranoid about the cooperation as it considered Tehran an enemy after the Islamic Revolution in 1979 and the ensuing hostage crisis as well as the Iran-Iraq War.
The 1979 Soviet invasion of Afghanistan made the US value its partnership with Pakistan more deeply as it was planning on supporting Afghanistan’s mujahideen against Kremlin, using Islamabad as a middle man. Hence, then US President Jimmy Carter decided not to intervene directly to avoid tarnishing relations with Islamabad.
The report says that instead of attacking nuclear facilities in Pakistan, Carter decided to deal with its European suppliers who were mainly based in Germany and Switzerland.
In 1981, his administration sent a diplomatic warning to companies based in the two nations asserting they are alleged to have provided technical support to Pakistan’s nuclear programme. Within a few months of the US warning, three facilities linked to the European companies were bombed.
There was an explosion in the house of an employee of the German company Cora Engineering in the Swiss town of Chur on February 20, 1981.
There was another blast at a Walischmiller company factory in Markdorf, Germany on May 18, 1981, and another at the Heinz Mebus engineering office on November 6th, 1981, the report said.
“Instead of attacking nuclear facilities in Pakistan, Jimmy Carter decided to deal with its European suppliers who were mainly based in Germany and Switzerland. Dr Qadeer was in contact with German company Heinz Mebus in Zurich”
Mebus was in talks with engineer (Dr) Abdul Kadeer Khan from Pakistan, known as the owner of the nuclear project, in Zurich, Switzerland. Threatening phone messages were sent to other commercial organisations, added the report.
The Mossad’s participation in the bombings was probable, but there is no “smoking gun” to prove involvement, Adrian Hanni, a historian and intelligence service expert, told the daily.
The confidential State Department documents that were released to the public in 2021 showed that the companies delivered components to Pakistan and were accused of assisting the nuclear programme.
State Department telegram 227353 to U.S. Embassy Switzerland, “Paper on Activities by Swiss Firms,” 26 August 1980, Secret. The six-page document is now declassified and property of US State Department. Here the first page of the document is being published for reference. The documents can be seen at the following link:
“The suspicion that the Mossad might be behind the attacks and threats soon arose,” the daily noted. “For Israel, the prospect that Pakistan, for the first time, could become an Islamic state with an atomic bomb posed an existential threat.”
A previously unknown entity that claimed responsibility for the explosions, the Organisation for the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons in South Asia, was “never heard from” again following the incident, the NZZ noted.
On Aug 26, 1980, it was reported that Swiss nuclear-related exports to Pakistan were also of concern to the Carter administration, as was Bern’s general “hands-off” approach. This message consisted entirely of a “non-paper” to be provided to Swiss officials. As Switzerland was not a NATO ally, the information on Pakistan’s nuclear program was more of a general nature than that provided to the West Germans, but the litany of suspicious Swiss commercial activities was detailed and lengthy. The “non-paper” was not the first expression of State Department concern, as its text made clear, because Washington had been monitoring Swiss firms for at least a few years.
Like the message to Bonn, this non-paper demonstrated how far the Pakistanis had gone in acquiring technology from the Swiss that was vital to their fissile material production efforts. With respect to the plutonium program, such firms as Sulzer Brothers and Luna AG had been playing significant roles to enable work at “New Labs.” On the enrichment program, two firms were of particular concern: CORA Engineering and VAT (Vakuum Apparat Technik) because they supported the gas centrifuge program. For example, CORA Engineering had “delivered a complete installation for feeding uranium hexafluoride into the uranium enrichment plant.” As for VAT, it had been supplying valves for gas centrifuges.
According to the non-paper, as recently as May both VAT and CORA Engineering, or individuals working with them, had “enter[ed] into contracts worth several millions of dollars.” Considering the previous and ongoing transactions, the U.S. government asked the Swiss government to “take actions to ensure control of exports and other types of assistance to Pakistan’s nuclear programs.” Like West Germany, Switzerland was not an enthusiastic partner in this endeavor. Although a signatory of the NPT, Switzerland’s reluctance to take economic action against another state brought considerable frustration to the Carter administration and its successors.
Document published in following posting(s): Pakistan’s Nuclear Program Posed “Acute Dilemma” for U.S. Policy on Aug 30, 2021