Nuclear spy Vanunu convicted for violating parole

Former technician at Dimona plant found guilty of meeting with two foreigners without permission; acquitted over 2015 TV interview

Israel nuclear program secrets leaker Mordechai Vanunu at a hearing in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 26, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)
Israel nuclear program secrets leaker Mordechai Vanunu at a hearing in the Supreme Court in Jerusalem on October 26, 2015. (Yonatan Sindel/Flash90)

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician who revealed Israel’s nuclear secrets to a British newspaper 31 years ago, was convicted by the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court for meeting with two American citizens in violation of the terms of his release from prison, Hebrew media reported.

Vanunu was indicted for meeting with the two Americans at the Jerusalem Hotel in East Jerusalem last May, as he had not received prior permission from authorities for any meetings with foreigners. He was convicted two weeks ago, but the decision was only made public on Monday.

Sentencing in the case was set for March, the Hebrew-language Ynet news site reported.

Vanunu was acquitted in two other cases against him. One of the charges involved his failure to report that he moved apartments, as he had only moved to a different apartment in the same building.

The other charge related to an interview he gave to Channel 2 in 2015.

Mordechai Vanunu, Channel 2, September 4, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)
Mordechai Vanunu, Channel 2, September 4, 2015 (Channel 2 screenshot)

In the September 2015 interview, Vanunu spoke about leaking Israel’s nuclear secrets to The Sunday Times in 1986, and of being entrapped by the Mossad and brought back to the country to be jailed.

Days later, Vanunu was questioned by police at the request of the Shin Bet security service. A Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court judge then ordered him to a week of house arrest and instructed him not to use the internet or talk to journalists.

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 they 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 in 2004 after 18 years, but the conditions of his parole included significant limitations on his freedom of movement and banned him from giving interviews on various topics.

The September 2015 interview marked a departure from Israel’s decades of official nuclear secrecy, because Israel’s military censors permitted Vanunu to speak on prime-time Israeli television about the nuclear program.

A Dimona employee from 1976 to 1985, Vanunu revealed overwhelming evidence of Israel’s nuclear program to The Sunday Times, including dozens of photographs, enabling nuclear experts to conclude that Israel had produced at least 100 nuclear warheads.

1986 Sunday Times with Vanunu's nuclear revelations
1986 Sunday Times with Vanunu’s nuclear revelations

Vanunu, 62, has been repeatedly denied permission to leave the country since his release. He was interviewed in a friend’s apartment in Tel Aviv. He described a gradual process by which he decided, over his years of 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.

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