The Vela Incident

Adam Hennessy
6 min readJul 8, 2021
Photo by Science in HD on Unsplash

The Vela incident which also goes by the descriptor, the South Atlantic Flash, which sounds like an alternate comic book character, was a double flash of light detected by the United States of America (US) Vela 6911 satellite on 22nd September 1979. The signal appeared to come from a 3,000-mile area that included the South Atlantic, Indian Ocean, tip of Africa, and part of Antarctica.[1] Said to have been on or near the Prince Edward Islands in the Indian Ocean.

As a little background the Vela surveillance satellites were American operated and purposed to detect nuclear detonation. Vela fittingly means “watchman” in Spanish. They were launched between 1963–1965 to ensure compliance with the 1963 nuclear test ban treaty.[2]

Now we know what they were designed and launched for, and we know they detected a double flash of light. It would stand to reason that in this case a nuclear detonation had occurred and had been detected.

This is where it gets murky.

There had been 41 prior double flashes all detected by the satellites all confirmed nuclear detonations. Yes, this figure had me scratching my head to as to the large number and the fact it was all post ‘treaty’. Nonetheless, these are the figures we must work with. This occurrence, however, is a little less clear.

There is still no official declaration, that is universally agreed upon, as to the nature of the double flash and much of the reports remain classified by the US government.

At the time of the detection the US called on its other detection systems including, the Defense Support Program (DSP) satellite, Satellite Data System (SDS), and Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) satellites — all of which carried sensors that could detect some of the signals of a nuclear explosion. The US also called upon data from two underwater acoustic arrays — the Sound Surveillance System (SOSUS) and Missile Impact Location System (MILS).[3]

All of this was analysed by a small group of scientists and the CIA and in 1980 the presidential panel concluded in that the signal was more likely an artifact of a meteoroid hitting the satellite and sunlight reflecting off particles ejected as a result of the collision.

OK! What happened?

Nobody 100% knows but we can piece together some evidence and have a good guess.

To do this we first need to go back around 10 years to the 26th September 1969. US President Richard Nixon met with Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir. This was a private meeting with no staff and no media, thus no official record. This meeting occurred un-coincidentally during a period where the US were pushing countries to sign up to its Treaty on the Non-Proliferation of Nuclear Weapons (NPT). While this was a private meeting Nixon did brief Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. On 7th October 1970 Kissinger wrote a memo for Nixon it said:

“You emphasized that our primary concern was that Israel make no visible introduction of nuclear weapons or undertake a nuclear test program.”[4]

And in another memo there was a recommendation that,

“we not press the Israelis any further on this subject at this time.”[5]

Add to this that fact that on 23rd February 1970 Israeli Ambassador Yitzhak Rabin informed the US that Israel would not be signing the NPT[6] and that there was no resistance openly or diplomatically to this and we have the beginnings of a conspiracy of apathy. This is the beginnings of what still remains today the US and subsequently the worlds seeming ignorance or blind refusal to acknowledge of to talk about Israel’s nuclear capabilities.

On 17th September 1978 President Jimmy Carter arranged a secondment of Egyptian President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin at Camp David to discuss an end to violence in the region. This would become known as the Camp David Accords. Which essentially were a pair of political agreements that came out of the almost two weeks of negotiations.

I am not seeking to undermine the brevity of what occurred at this time in history, although the Palestinians was ignored in the process and the United Nations condemned the accords, peace is peace, and it seemingly has had a lasting impact. What I delve into this portion of history for is to set the stage for the secrecy and cover-up that was and is the Vela incident.

After this President Anwar Sadat and Israeli Prime Minister Menachem Begin were awarded the Noble Peace prize in 1978 — President Carter missing out as he was nominated too late (he got his in 2002). I will draw on some comments from the presentation Speech delivered by Aase Lionaes, Chairman of the Norwegian Nobel Committee.

He stated:

Two men who played a vital role in paving the way for this peace deserve to be mentioned: former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the President of the United States, Jimmy Carter.[7]

And that:

The master-builder responsible for the bridge that had to be built between Egypt and Israel in order that these two one-time enemy nations should have any opportunity of coming together to frame an agreement, was the president of the USA, Jimmy Carter.[8]

The accords were finalised around 29th September 1978, implemented and functional by early 1979 and still tenuous and new by the time the Vela incident rolls around in September 1979.

We have a US policy of ignoring Israel’s nuclear program, a new peace accord in the area, widespread praise for Carters and US involvement (the Noble prize speech was December 1978) and an active NPT.


We have a nuclear detonation detection satellite detect something in the region of South Africa and Israel, where foreign affairs identifies that Israel and South Africa have a history of working together and an unspoken agreement on weapons testing at the time.

How do we know this?

Well in February 1994, Commodore Dieter Gerhardt spilled the beans. He was commander at South Africa’s Simon’s Town naval base in 1979 and a convicted Soviet spy. The statement he made was after his release from prison, so he had no reason to lie, no need to plea bargain or no motive to position himself politically.

He said:

I learned unofficially that the flash was produced by an Israeli-South African test, code-named Operation Phoenix.[9]

It President Carter had admitted to the nuclear test coming from Israel this would have been a political nightmare. He would have had to acknowledge the fact that Israel had a nuclear program, which as previously stated the US and world willfully ignore. He would have had to condemn and potentially sanction Israel for breaching the NPT and the Limited test ban treaty[10] and there was the newly formed peace to consider. This is a great many balls in the air, plates spinning, levers turning.

Thus, deception and lies, cover-ups and the creation of a conspiracy!

Now it is firmly believed that it was an Israel nuclear test ither alone or in partnership with South Africa[11]. I say, ‘firmly believed’, that is by myself, scientists, researchers and those generally in the know. This is not the official line and documents for the most part remain classified.


Nuclear test?

Israel/South Africa?

What do you think?

Happy hunting!










[9] Albright, David (July–August 1994). “South Africa and the Affordable Bomb (inset: The Flash in the Atlantic)”. Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists. 50: 37–47.