Documents released under FoI reveal UK assisted Israel with its nuclear weapons programme

Documents have been released under the Freedom of Information Act which detail how Britain helped Israel obtain its nuclear bomb 40 years ago, by selling it 20 tonnes of heavy water.

The Guardian reports that the Whitehall files "not only confirm that Britain was a knowing party to the deal, but also contain subsequent intelligence assessments confirming that the sale of heavy water, which is used to produce plutonium, was crucial to Israel's nuclear weapons programme."

It was first revealed earlier this year by BBC's Newsnight that sales of heavy water to Israel had taken place secretly in 1958. But Kim Howells, a Foreign Office minister, claimed that "the UK was not in fact a party to the sale of heavy water to Israel". He blamed Norway, saying that Britain had merely negotiated "the sale back to Norway of surplus heavy water".

But Mr Howells' claims were found to be false when Newsnight produced documents from the National Archives. A Joint Intelligence Bureau report to spy chiefs on March 27 1961 stated: "The main Israeli achievement in the importing line relates to 20 tonnes of heavy water ... which the UK Atomic Energy Authority had contracted to buy from Norway and later found to be surplus to their requirements ... negotiations were undertaken whereby the water ultimately passed into Israeli hands."

Contrary to Mr Howells' claim that Britain could not impose safeguards, the papers also show that Britain deliberately agreed not to demand safeguards over the Israeli sale, and officials said it would be "over-zealous" to do so.

Papers reveal UK's nuclear aid to Israel (The Guardian, 10 December 2005)