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Atomic Problem

Yedioth Ahronoth
by Ronen Bergman
Jan 9 2004

Three years ago I went to Shikma Prison in Ashkelon to interview an Arab prisoner. And there, in the middle of the well-tended garden made by the prisoners, I saw him - Mordechai Vanunu.

For a short moment I saw a bucolic scene, as if taken from some other reality. A serene, smiling man, sitting on a bench in a garden and reading Nietzsche in English. I approached him and extended my hand. Vanunu smiled and shook my hand weakly. "Pleased to meet you, my name is Ronen," I said. "I'm Motti," the most confined prisoner in the State of Israel replied. Before we could continue to talk, screaming wardens rushed over and grabbed him away from what could have been an exclusive interview.

Just like the picture in the garden was misleading, so too, those who think that the war over Israel's ambiguity has died down, are misled. This war is being waged full steam on a number of fronts. One of the most important is about to flare up. Mordechai Vanunu, the atomic spy who revealed Israel's nuclear secrets to the entire world, is about to complete the 18 year sentence he was given and to go free.

Concern that Vanunu Will Want Revenge
The Defense Ministry and the Justice Ministry began three years ago to think what to do about Vanunu. As Yehiel Horev, in charge of security at the Defense Ministry and responsible for nuclear ambiguity, says, Vanunu is like a bull who has already tasted blood. He has never expressed remorse, he has only continued to justify his acts, he has accrued great anger toward the State of Israel for imprisoning him under harsh conditions for so many years, and according to some versions, has lost his reason in the course of those long years.

The security establishment is almost certain that if Vanunu is allowed to go on his way, he will leave Israel (as he has said he will do, in order to teach history in the US) and begin to sing.

To prevent this future problem from coming true, the Justice Ministry and Defense Ministry are examining a number of possibilities, all based on the emergency regulations. One possibility, not highly likely, came up in the first meetings, and that is to put Vanunu under administrative detention, as is done to Palestinian wanted men.

This is problematic from a number off aspects. First, such a move would arouse great protest in Israel and in the world, since this would mean continuing his imprisonment, which was completed in full. Not only that, since the security establishment does not believe the danger Vanunu poses will pass one day, this means he would have to be held in detention until his dying day.

Another possibility, more likely, is based on the regulation that allows the interior minister to stop a person from leaving the country. Vanunu could then be released tomorrow, and if he again lets his tongue loose, he can be tried and thrown into jail.

The last time use was made of this Draconian measure was when the previous interior minister, Eli Yishai, prevented the head of the Islamic Movement, Sheikh Raed Salah, from leaving the country because of the investigation against the Islamic Movement.

The State Attorney's Office is considering making use of another regulation as well, making it possible to restrict the movements of somebody to a specific geographical location in Israel. Use of this rule was made in the past against extreme right wing activists and underworld figures.

Why Are They Scared of Him?
Why, actually, are they so afraid of Vanunu? The whole issue of nuclear ambiguity is in fact a game of let's pretend, carried to absurdity. On the face of it, what we have is the most classified secret in the State of Israel. In practice, anyone on the globe who is interested, thinks he knows not only what Israel has, but also where exactly it is storing it.

Yehiel Horev considers himself as standing on the front line, keeper of the seal of Israel's deepest secrets. In closed forums, Horev compares Israel's ambiguity to a glass of water. "My job," Horev said, "is to ensure that the water doesn't spill over the glass. Up until the Vanunu affair, the water was at a very low level. The affair caused the water level to rise significantly and caused Israel great damage, but the water still didn't overflow. If we let certain people act in the matter, the water will spill." Horev watches the "water level" and every year publishes a report with an updated "ambiguity index."

As Horev sees it, the very preoccupation with the Vanunu affair will reawaken the whole nuclear issue for an international debate. All this interest, Horev says, makes the water level rise and therefore affects state security. To minimize the damage, Vanunu must be silenced. The very thought that the nuclear spy will talk on television the day after his release, is Horev's nightmare.

The gist of the problem, Horev believes, is not that he will reveal some detail or another. Vanunu, after all, has already said everything he knows. The Americans, so the security establishment claims, deliberately ignore what Israel does, in exchange for a promise given them back during Golda Meir's time, to maintain ambiguity.

This is getting harder and harder: Horev claims that today there are already a great many items, such as certain kinds of computers, that Israel finds hard to obtain because of its refusal to sign the NPT. Relinquishing ambiguity will make this impossible. Horev says that the principle of ambiguity is even convenient for Egypt: breaking this principle will obligate Egypt to cool its relations with Israel even further.

On the other hand, other experts contend that since in any case this is a game of let's pretend, in which the Americans look away from what is under their noses, then only an official declaration by Israel about its capabilities can dispel the nuclear ambiguity. The fact is, these experts say - among them Dr. Avner Cohen, who wrote the most comprehensive book on Israel's nuclear history - Vanunu went public in 1986 and even this didn't completely dispel the nuclear ambiguity.

The battle over Vanunu's fate becomes more significant in light of recent developments in the Middle East. Iranian consent, at least on the surface, to stop enriching uranium and to sign the convention, along with Libya's abandoning its efforts to obtain such weapons, puts Israel with its back to the wall. Today Israel is even considering deviating from its usual policy and signing the convention against the proliferation of chemical weapons, just so long as it does not have to sign the convention against the proliferation of nuclear weapons.

This is How the Nuclear Spy Can Be Restricted
Yedioth Ahronoth, by Tova Tzimuki

On April 21, in 105 days, the gates of Shikma Prison will open and atomic spy Mordechai Vanunu will go free after 18 years. But the closer his release comes, so the confusion and uncertainty in the legal establishment increases.

At this stage, the security establishment is considering an unofficial appeal to State Attorney Edna Arbel to plan the restrictions that will be imposed on Vanunu. Arbel has not held a discussion on the matter yet, and it is believed it will take place in a month.

"We are facing an unprecedented legal challenge," admit senior legal officials. "The problem is twofold: it is clear to us that any means we take to restrict Vanunu's freedom-after he has paid his debt society-will be examined meticulously by the High Court of Justice and by human rights organizations all over the world."

The legal establishment is considering a "package of restrictions" to prevent Vanunu from continuing to reveal the secrets he has. The following are the possible actions that could be taken:

1. Ban on leaving the country. Mordechai would not be able to get a passport on the grounds that he still poses a risk to state security. This measure will likely be adopted.

2. Restricting his movement in Israel. The state may decide that Vanunu can only stay in a certain geographic area. This will make it easy to monitor him and know with whom he is meeting. This measure will also likely be taken.

3. Censorship restrictions. The Israeli media may not be allowed to publish interviews with Vanunu in which he reveals sensitive information. The likelihood of this measure being taken is high.

4. Administrative detention. The state could leave Vanunu in prison claiming he still endangers security. The likelihood of such an unusual step is low: the security establishment would find it hard to explain to the High Court of Justice why someone who has served his sentence should not be released. In addition, such a step would arouse international protest.

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