The curious tale of Israel's nuclear whistleblower

Posted by louise — 25 April 2008 at 6:20pm - Comments

Four years ago Israeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu was released from jail having served 18 years inside. Yet this month the Israeli government renewed, for the fifth time, an order confining him to Jerusalem, where he is under constant surveillance, banned from talking to foreigners and shunned by Israeli society. He lives with no work, income, home or support. A virtual prisoner.

What crime did Vanunu commit to so incense Israeli government and society? He was the whistleblower that alerted the world to Israel's secret possession of over 200 nuclear weapons. A ‘crime' that others have seen as worthy of the Nobel peace prize - for which he has been nominated over five times.

Vanunu's life story reads like a thriller. Between 1976 and 1985 he worked as a junior technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center - Israel's nuclear weapons factory. He quit in 1985 and in 1986 left Israel to travel the world. During his travels, he met a freelance journalist who worked for the Sunday Times newspaper and revealed to him the facts of Israel's nuclear weapons programme.

In September 1986, days before his information was published, Vanunu was lured into a 'honeytrap' by an undercover agent with Mossad, Israel's feared secret service. Operating under the name of Cindy and masquerading as an American tourist, she persuaded him to fly to Rome with her on a holiday. In Rome, Mossad agents drugged him and smuggled him to Israel on a freighter. Once there he was tried in total secrecy, charged with treason and espionage and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment.

Vanunu served his time, including more than 11 years in solitary confinement in conditions that Amnesty characterized as "cruel, inhuman and degrading". Since his release has tried repeatedly to leave Israel and start a new life. But asylum applications have been rejected by Norway, Sweden, Ireland and Canada. The reason why was indicated by recently released Norwegian government documents showing that they rejected his application despite initial enthusiasm (he was offered a university job, the support of the previous Prime Minister and awarded a Norwegian peace prize) after Israel exerted diplomatic pressure on them.

Why won't Israel let Vanunu go? The official argument is that Vanunu possesses confidential information about the Israeli weapons programme that he could publicise if allowed to leave the country. This despite the time elapsed and his junior role at Negev. Ray Kidder of the US's nuclear weapons programme refutes this idea: "I am ready to challenge any official assertion that Mr Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already made public." Also following this logic means Vanunu will remain a security risk forever, and his restrictions will never be lifted.

The more likely explanation is that Israel doesn't want any more attention paid to its nuclear weapons. Despite Vanunu's revelations, Israel still officially continues its doublethink policy of nuclear ambiguity, ie neither acknowledging nor denying that it possesses any such weapons. So today most Israeli news reports of referring to nuclear weapons will cite "foreigner's reports" or "allegations" that Israel has nuclear weapons. This policy even survived a recent very public slip by prime minister Ehud Olmert who, in an interview with German TV, said "Iran, openly, explicitly and publicly, threatens to wipe Israel off the map. Can you say that this is the same level, when they are aspiring to have nuclear weapons, as America, France, Israel and Russia?"

The rationale for the policy is initially difficult to understand - surely nuclear weapons cannot magically deter others if their existence isn't acknowledged? However a rather large clue to why the policy exists is the fact that a US legal prohibition exists on granting aid to countries with unauthorised weapons of mass destruction. If Israel formally acknowledges their WMD they would risk losing more than US$2 billion a year in military and other aid from Washington.

Whatever the rationale the effect of Israel's 'allowed hypocrisy' both regionally and in the international arena is to fuel existing tensions and to stifle progress on creating a nuclear weapons-free zone in the Middle East, an acknowledged crucial first step towards creating a nuclear weapons-free world.

Surely all these years on, it's now time for Israel to stop wasting effort punishing Vanunu and instead focus on the task of creating a more secure Middle East.

For more on Mordechai Vanunu, visit his website.

It is bordering on the ridiculous for Israel or anyone to deny Israel's possession of nuclear weapons.
My own MEP Gerard Batten, a vehement defender of Israel's Apartheid policy and its military superiority to its Arab neighbours sent me this email (in response to the EU's rejection of Egypt's call last year for a nuclear free Middle East):

Dear Mr Aldoujaily,

I cannot speak for all the member states of the European Union but I think it might have something to do with the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East currently known to have nuclear weapons. Were Israel to relinquish them (which of course is never going to happen) then she would lay herself open to attack by conventional forces from those hostile countries that surround her; one of which, Iran, has already stated its wish to ‘wipe her from the face of the earth’. Even the European Union is not stupid enough to endorse a policy that would bring about such an outcome.

Yours sincerely,

Gerard Batten MEP
**************
I have sent this to other MEPs and there have been no corrections or retractions forthcoming from them.
So, Everybody Knows (as the song goes)...

What Ged does not understand is that fascist governments such as those of the UK/US/Israel using force, illegal invasions and belligerant attacks on other nations is the height of stupidity and a crime against humanity and environment. (And, of course, as Ged knows, the wiping off comment is complete media spin and lies.)

It is strange that your article does not call for the UN to investigate Israel's nuclear facility...

yes 'everybody knows' as the song goes ... tho the denials tend from what ive read to occur only in israel rather than emerging in debates outside the country - ie im not suprised that your MEP acknowledges Israel's weapons.

re your query about why the article didnt call for UN inspections. the only reason was i was running out of space (i went 200 words over what was requested as is!) -

youre right of course that the inspection role of the International Atomic Energy Agency is absolutely key to controlling and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons.

Israel along with India, Pakistan and North Korea should both sign up to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and open their nuclear facilities to UN inspections - in line with other countries.

All countries in the region agreeing to this level of access is going to have to be a key part of any treaty to create a nuclear weapons free middle east - as are broader agreements on other types of weapons and levels of military, so no side in the conflict has overall military superiority - causing its neighbours to feel threatened.

If he had done the same thing in Russia, Iran, Iraq or hundreds of other little countries he would be dead by now, probably after torture and being shoved in labour camps in certain countries. He was a traitor to his own country, he committed a major crime against his country are you really that surprised that they don't trust him?
And I just love the way you make him out to be some sort of harmless whistle blower.

In many ways the Israeli state is like an abused child who has grown up to become an abuser itself - and it's treatment of Vanunu (though it pales in comparison to Israel's treatment of the Palestinians) is just another example of this.

"I admire Israel, they have done a good job overcoming enmity."

The phrase "you're out of your tiny mind" springs to mind - let's face it - Israel are worse neighbours than the redneck trash family on Shameless, and their treatment of Vanunu was like something out of Guantanamo Bay (in fact they probably gave Bush the idea).

You and Gandalf make a good double act - ever thought of teaming up as a stand-up comedy double act? Every dumb thing he says you find a way to top. Priceless!

It is bordering on the ridiculous for Israel or anyone to deny Israel's possession of nuclear weapons. My own MEP Gerard Batten, a vehement defender of Israel's Apartheid policy and its military superiority to its Arab neighbours sent me this email (in response to the EU's rejection of Egypt's call last year for a nuclear free Middle East): Dear Mr Aldoujaily, I cannot speak for all the member states of the European Union but I think it might have something to do with the fact that Israel is the only country in the Middle East currently known to have nuclear weapons. Were Israel to relinquish them (which of course is never going to happen) then she would lay herself open to attack by conventional forces from those hostile countries that surround her; one of which, Iran, has already stated its wish to ‘wipe her from the face of the earth’. Even the European Union is not stupid enough to endorse a policy that would bring about such an outcome. Yours sincerely, Gerard Batten MEP ************** I have sent this to other MEPs and there have been no corrections or retractions forthcoming from them. So, Everybody Knows (as the song goes)... What Ged does not understand is that fascist governments such as those of the UK/US/Israel using force, illegal invasions and belligerant attacks on other nations is the height of stupidity and a crime against humanity and environment. (And, of course, as Ged knows, the wiping off comment is complete media spin and lies.) It is strange that your article does not call for the UN to investigate Israel's nuclear facility...

yes 'everybody knows' as the song goes ... tho the denials tend from what ive read to occur only in israel rather than emerging in debates outside the country - ie im not suprised that your MEP acknowledges Israel's weapons. re your query about why the article didnt call for UN inspections. the only reason was i was running out of space (i went 200 words over what was requested as is!) - youre right of course that the inspection role of the International Atomic Energy Agency is absolutely key to controlling and ultimately eliminating nuclear weapons. Israel along with India, Pakistan and North Korea should both sign up to the Nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty and open their nuclear facilities to UN inspections - in line with other countries. All countries in the region agreeing to this level of access is going to have to be a key part of any treaty to create a nuclear weapons free middle east - as are broader agreements on other types of weapons and levels of military, so no side in the conflict has overall military superiority - causing its neighbours to feel threatened.

If he had done the same thing in Russia, Iran, Iraq or hundreds of other little countries he would be dead by now, probably after torture and being shoved in labour camps in certain countries. He was a traitor to his own country, he committed a major crime against his country are you really that surprised that they don't trust him? And I just love the way you make him out to be some sort of harmless whistle blower.

"I admire Israel, they have done a good job overcoming enmity." The phrase "you're out of your tiny mind" springs to mind - let's face it - Israel are worse neighbours than the redneck trash family on Shameless, and their treatment of Vanunu was like something out of Guantanamo Bay (in fact they probably gave Bush the idea). You and Gandalf make a good double act - ever thought of teaming up as a stand-up comedy double act? Every dumb thing he says you find a way to top. Priceless!

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