Police on Thursday arrested Mordechai Vanunu, who 30 years ago revealed Israel’s nuclear secrets, following an investigation into whether he broke the terms of his release from jail during an interview that he gave to an Israeli television station last week.
Vanunu was questioned by police, according to Channel 2, which aired the interview on Friday.
Later Thursday, a magistrate’s court judge in Jerusalem sent him to a week’s house arrest, and ordered him not to use the internet or talk to journalists.
The investigation was initiated at the request of the Shin Bet security service earlier this week after a wide-ranging interview in which Vanunu spoke about leaking Israel’s nuclear secrets to a British newspaper in 1986, and of being entrapped by the Mossad and brought back to the country to be jailed.
Channel 2 said that while all the material broadcast in the interview had been approved by Israel’s military censor, the police had asked for the full, unedited footage of the interview, apparently because it was suspected that Vanunu discussed matters he was barred from talking about.
A former technician at Israel’s Dimona nuclear reactor, Vanunu was released from jail after 18 years in 2004, but the conditions of his parole included significant limitations on his freedom of movement and banned him from giving interviews on various topics.
The Friday interview marked a departure from Israel’s decades of official nuclear secrecy, in that Israel’s military censors permitted Vanunu to speak on primetime Israeli television about the nuclear program.
A Dimona technician from 1976 to 1985, Vanunu revealed overwhelming evidence of Israel’s nuclear program to Britain’s The Sunday Times in 1986, including dozens of photographs, enabling nuclear experts to conclude that Israel had produced at least 100 nuclear warheads.
Vanunu, now 60 and barred from leaving the country, was interviewed in a friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv. He described a gradual process by which he decided, over his years working at Dimona, that he had an obligation to reveal “to the citizens of Israel and the Middle East and the world” the nature of what he called “the powder keg” at Dimona — “the quantities, the numbers, the types.”
“I saw what they were producing and its significance,” he said, calling Israel’s nuclear program “a failure” that he had “exposed” — in an apparent critique of Israel’s entire nuclear strategy.
To this day, Israel has never acknowledged that it has a nuclear arsenal, instead maintaining a policy of “nuclear ambiguity” while vowing that it would not be the first to use nuclear weapons in the Middle East.