Friday, January 02, 2004

You're free - now shut up!

The Toronto Star says on December 31 that
Israel is concerned that a whistleblower who spilled Israeli nuclear secrets to a newspaper two decades ago might have more to say after his imminent release from prison, and is looking for ways to silence him, officials said yesterday.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage after giving dozens of pictures and a description of alleged weapons from Israel's top-secret Dimona nuclear reactor to London's Sunday Times in 1986.

He is due to be released in April.
Vanunu's "crime," in a nutshell, was to provide proof of what everyone knew but Israel continued to deny: It has nuclear weapons. He was lured from England to Italy where he was kidnapped by Israeli agents, brought to Israel and thrown in prison. He has spent a good portion of the last 18 years in solitary confinement. But now, facing his inevitable release,
officials, concerned about what else Vanunu has to say, are considering options that include barring him from travelling overseas or speaking in public after he is released.

While the Shin Bet security service and Israel's justice ministry had no comment, Israeli security officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the report was true but would not elaborate.
Of course, another way to effectively silence him is the good old-fashioned smear campaign designed to discredit him before he even has the chance to say anything at all. That option, it appears, is already being set up, just in case.
Yossi Katz, then a member of the Israeli parliament, visited Vanunu in prison in 2000. He said Vanunu indicated he had more to say, but then contradicted himself.

Speaking after the visit, Katz said Vanunu appeared to mix fact with fantasy. Katz said his impression is that Vanunu is "not a (mentally) healthy man."
What I wonder is what the Israelis are afraid of. After all, Israel's possession of nuclear weapons is probably the worst kept secret in all of world affairs. As the Star notes, the CIA estimates Israel has between 200 and 400 nuclear weapons, making it the world's sixth largest nuclear power. (The secret is so poorly kept, in fact, that many analysts think Israel doesn't want it to be a real secret. This way, it functions as an implied threat to surrounding Arab states while still allowing Jerusalem to deny it.) Besides, any additional information Vanunu has is now at least 20 years old. So what could he know that's so vital that the authorities want to find a way to gag him?

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