Vanunu faces return to jail

THE whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for disclosing the existence of Israel’s nuclear weapons programme in The Sunday Times, will appear in a Jerusalem court this week, facing charges that could put him back in jail for up to three years.

He is fighting hardliners in the Israeli defence ministry who would have preferred that he had never been released.

They are incensed that Vanunu has refused to remain silent after taking sanctuary in St George’s Anglican cathedral in Jerusalem when he completed his sentence almost a year ago.

He now faces more than 20 charges of violating restrictions imposed when he was released, including a ban on speaking to foreigners.

The indictment cites 21 occasions in the past year when he allegedly gave interviews to foreign media.

Vanunu, a Christian convert, is also accused of illegally attempting to leave the country when he tried to take a taxi on Christmas Eve to the occupied town of Bethlehem to attend a carol service.

One of his lawyers, Avigdor Feldman, described the allegations as “ridiculous”. “Mordechai has not revealed anything sensitive, because he told everything he knew to The Sunday Times in 1986,” he said.

“It has now become a vendetta against him and we shall seek to show the court he presents no serious security risk to this country.”

Vanunu was kidnapped by Israeli agents in Rome 19 years ago and returned to Israel, where he was charged with treason and aggravated espionage for talking about the Dimona nuclear weapons plant where he had worked.

Long before his release in April last year, he had become the bête noire of one official in particular — Yehiel Horev, a deputy director of the defence ministry and the man charged with protecting Israel’s secrets. He was once known simply as “Y” and the Israeli press was banned from publishing his photograph.

Feldman says that Horev is preventing Vanunu from leaving Israel to start a life elsewhere. “Horev can actually investigate anyone in the establishment,” Feldman added. “Everyone is scared of him.”

Before Vanunu was released last year Menahem Mazuz, the attorney-general, told a parliamentary hearing that the possibility Vanunu might repeat what he had told The Sunday Times was not of concern. The purpose of any restrictions would be to prevent his revealing any sensitive information he had not yet disclosed.

The long charge sheet issued by the justice ministry last month contains no evidence that Vanunu has revealed anything new. The charges say that on several occasions he disclosed that Israel was producing neutron and hydrogen bombs — as reported in depth in 1986.