Temperatures rising over imminent release of Israel’s ‘nuclear spy’
TEL AVIV: The upcoming release of Mordechai Vanunu, the whistleblower jailed for exposing Israel’s nuclear arsenal, was never going to be an easy pill to swallow but it comes at a difficult time for the Jewish state, under growing pressure to come clean about its atomic weapons programme.
Vanunu, who worked as a technician at the Dimona nuclear facility in southern Israel, was sentenced to 18 years in prison in 1986 after giving details about Israel’s secret weapons programme to Britain’s Sunday Times. Israeli agents subsequently lured Vanunu from London to Italy, where he was kidnapped and brought to Israel. Tried in secret, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison.
But his upcoming release, scheduled for April 21, comes at a difficult time for Israel which is facing increasing diplomatic pressure following a recent declaration by Libya that it would renounce its non-conventional weapons programme.
A month earlier, Iran said it would suspend its uranium enrichment programme and allow nuclear inspections, turning the spotlight firmly onto the monitoring of non-conventional weapons in the Middle East.
Although Israel has firmly adhered to a policy of “nuclear ambiguity”, never confirming or denying it possessed nuclear weapons, foreign experts believe the Jewish state holds at least 200 atomic warheads. With Vanunu’s release likely to draw unwelcome additional attention to Israel’s undeclared arsenal, Israel’s security establishment is planning to use drastic measures to curb his freedom, the Yediot Aharonot daily said Monday.
“The security establishment is almost certain that if Vanunu is allowed to go on his way, he will leave Israel and begin to sing. To prevent this problem ... the justice ministry and defence ministry are examining a number of possibilities, all based on emergency regulations”, the paper reported.
The “package of restrictions” could include putting Vanunu in administrative detention, stopping him from leaving the country and restricting his movement inside Israel.
Under administrative detention regulations, the authorities can detain a suspect for renewable periods of six months without charges or trial. It is a practise frequently used to detain suspected Palestinian militants.
Moreover, Vanunu’s correspondence would be monitored and he would be required to regularly check in with police, the paper said.Under such regulations “if he against lets his tongue loose, he can be tried and thrown into jail”.
Security officials claim the tough measures are necessary, as Vanunu has declared his intention in numerous letters to reveal new secrets about Israel’s nuclear weapons programme upon his release.
Although it was impossible to know whether or not Vanunu still had “dangerous” information, his forthcoming release would put Israel in a difficult position because it will focus attention back on the nuclear agenda, a former senior military official said.
“It will be very inconvenient because Israel’s interest is, of course, to keep this issue as quiet as possible”, he told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity. “One has to assume that he will going on telling whatever he knows”, he said.
Asked whether he believed Vanunu still knew information that could damage Israel’s security, the source said: “It’s quite possible that he does.”
Despite Vanunu’s revelations to the Sunday Times, there was quite a lot of information available about Israel and its nuclear capability, and his actions did not actually damage the state’s policy of ambiguity, he said.
Dan Yakir, chief legal counsel for the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, said Vanunu would have little recourse to fight any surveillance measures or restrictions taken against him.
“Unfortunately, there are ways to restrict a person administratively under the Emergency Defence Regulations of 1945 and other legal instruments,” he said, referring to a draconian set of laws drafted during the British mandate, but still used by Israel in the Palestinian territories.
He said any appeal against the planned restrictions would have to be fought in the Supreme Court.
“The 1945 Emergency Defence Regulations are currently being used in the occupied territories but its use against Israelis is very rare,” Yakir said.
The former security official said although such restrictive measures would have to be legally sanctioned, it was highly possible they could successfully prevent Vanunu from leaking further information.
“In 1986, he had nothing to lose, now he will have his freedom to lose,” he said. “Everything is relative in life. There is a big difference between being in a prison cell and being free in Israel.” —AFP