30 Years On |

Israel Claims Nuclear Whistle-blower Vanunu Still a Security Threat

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Twenty-eight years after he left his job at the nuclear reactor in Dimona, the state still maintains the information that whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu possesses is still relevant, and that its revelation would endanger Israel’s security.

On Wednesday, the High Court of Justice discussed the seventh petition to be filed by Vanunu against the court order prohibiting his exit from Israel, even to the occupied territories. Vanunu is also forbidden to talk to foreigners, even in Israel, without receiving advance permission.

The state presented classified information to the judges, ostensibly supporting the claim that the information to which he was exposed 30 or so years ago is still relevant. The state alleges that Vanunu is in possession of as-yet-unpublished classified information and that “he fully intends to publish this information in public.”

Vanunu was convicted in March 1988 of treason and espionage, and sentenced to 18 years in jail. He served 11 and a half years in isolation for fear that he would disclose information to unauthorized sources. In April 2004, he was released but forbidden to leave the country.

The state also ordered Vanunu not to talk about his work or to disclose classified information to the media or generally.

The six previous petitions filed by Vanunu against the court orders were all rejected.

The state claims that Vanunu is deliberately violating the orders forbidding him to have contact with foreign citizens and residents without advance permission.

In a response to the High Court written by State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan, it was claimed that, since his release, Vanunu continues to give interviews – even to an Iranian radio station – and to reveal sensitive information, repeatedly commenting that he is proud of his actions.

In 2007, Vanunu was sentenced to six months in prison for violating the conditions of his parole, and served three months in 2010 following a further breach of his court order.

Two years ago, some of the restrictions against him were lessened. The obligations to report in advance before leaving his area of residence or choosing to sleep away from his home were canceled.

“We are talking about information gathered about the nuclear reactor in Dimona,” Vanunu’s attorney, Avigdor Feldman, said during the proceedings Wednesday. “The work ended in 1985 – in other words, [nearly] 29 years ago. This is information which has expired. To come and say today, ‘This man cannot leave the country’ – that doesn’t want him and that he doesn’t want – ‘and live in another country and complete his life’ – although he isn’t old, he has a partner and wants to marry her – ‘because we are afraid that he will disseminate secrets’? What proof is there of that?

“The state is presenting us,” Feldman continued, “with the fact that Mordechai Vanunu writes online that he is willing to speak to any foreigner who will talk to him, referring to the other restriction – namely the fact that Mordechai Vanunu is not permitted to speak on any subject in the world, not necessarily about nuclear weapons, with foreigners. This is Vanunu’s way of fighting against this prohibition. Perhaps this way is not acceptable to us, and in effect constitutes a violation, but it’s his way of fighting back.”

Feldman added that although Vanunu is being provocative, “he doesn’t cross the red line.

“There isn’t a single case in the course of all the years of his release where it was claimed that he revealed some secret, or that he harmed state security,” Feldman told the court. “It’s true that he’s a provocateur and he behaves cynically. But he is still committed to his promise not to harm state security.

“Is he unable to reveal secrets when he is in Israel? Can’t he transmit them in some way or other? There’s no complaint against him on this matter. They [the state] say he sits in cafes and meets with foreigners and they see him – all right, he meets with foreigners … The state has to explain why information from 30 years ago is still relevant. Vanunu, whether he’s in Israel or abroad, is dangerous. You don’t have to travel abroad in order to reveal secrets … If he violated the court orders, why isn’t he put on trial?

“He says he’s willing to be tried, but they aren’t doing that. I don’t know why. Maybe there’s a negative impact if he’s returned to prison again.

“You should be aware that interest in him in Israel is very limited. There’s an organized group that thinks he’s a serious person, that he’s a person who should be heard. They see him as someone who expresses opposition to the proliferation of nuclear weapons, and the State of Israel also supports that position.”

The government was represented in proceedings by attorney Dan Eldad, who presented the judges with an opinion “attesting to the fact that the severity of the danger from the information that the petitioner [Vanunu] has in his brain has not lessened. The relevance of this information today, [and] the fear it will harm state security if published, has not lessened. The opinion reveals that the petitioner’s motivation to harm state security has not lessened, either.”

Part of the proceedings took place only in the presence of the judges and state representatives, with Vanunu and the public asked to leave the courtroom. The petition continues.

The Nuclear Research Institute in DimonaCredit: Reuters
Mordechai Vanunu in court, 2010.Credit: Tomer Appelbaum
State Prosecutor Shai Nitzan.Credit: Michal Fattal

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