Mordechai Vanunu

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Mordechai Vanunu (born October 13, 1954) is a former technician in Israel's nuclear facility, who exposed Israel's possession of nuclear weapons to the public in 1986.

When Israel learned of this, he was abducted by Mossad (although upon release Vanunu claimed it was the Central Intelligence Agency from Italy and tried in secret. Convicted of treason, he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, more than 11 years of which were served in solitary confinement. Vanunu was released from prison on April 21, 2004, and was subject to a broad array of restrictions on his ability to travel and speak publicly.

On November 11, 2004, following multiple alleged violations of those restrictions, he was arrested again after giving an interview to a foreign journalist.

On March 17, 2005 Vanunu was charged with 21 counts of contravening a lawful direction (maximum penalty two years imprisonment per count) and one count of attempting to contravene a lawful direction.



On October 5, 1986, the British newspaper The Sunday Times ran the story on its front page under the headline: "Revealed — the secrets of Israel's nuclear arsenal."

Between 1976 and 1986, Vanunu was employed as a nuclear technician at the Negev Nuclear Research Center, an Israeli facility which, according to the majority of defense experts, is used for manufacturing nuclear weapons; it is located in the Negev desert south of Dimona. Most worldwide intelligence agencies estimate that the state of Israel developed nuclear weapons as early as the 1960s, but the country has purposely maintained a stance of "nuclear ambiguity", neither acknowledging nor denying that it possesses the weapons.

At Dimona, Vanunu became increasingly troubled about the Israeli nuclear program on which he claimed to have worked. In 1985, he was laid off from Dimona and left Israel. He arrived at Nepal, and considered a conversion to Buddhism, later traveling to Burma and Thailand. In 1986, he traveled to Sydney, Australia. While there, Vanunu lived in a hostel in the Kings Cross, Sydney, Australia and worked odd jobs, first as a hotel dishwasher and later a taxi driver.

Vanunu also began to attend the local church, Sydney Anglicans St. John's. There he met the Reverend John McKnight, who worked with the homeless and drug addicts. Vanunu converted to Christianity and was baptized into the Anglican Church of Australia. This isolated him from his family. While still in Sydney, he met with Peter Hounam, a journalist from The Sunday Times.


In early September 1986, Vanunu flew to London with Hounam, and revealed to The Sunday Times his knowledge of the Israeli nuclear program, including photographs he had secretly taken at the Dimona site. Anxious to avoid being duped by another Hitler Diaries-sized hoax, The Sunday Times spent extensive time verifying Vanunu's story with leading experts. Allegedly bored and annoyed by the length of time Hounam was taking with his research, Vanunu approached a rival newspaper, the tabloid The Daily Mirror, whose owner was Robert Maxwell. In 1991, a self-proclaimed former Mossad officer called Ari Ben-Menashe alleged that Maxwell, who was Jewish, had tipped off the Mossad about Vanunu. It is also possible that enquiries by Sunday Mirror journalists to the Israeli Embassy in London alerted the Mossad.

On September 30, 1986, an American Mossad agent, Cheryl Bentov, operating under the name of "Cindy" and masquerading as an American tourist, began an affair with Vanunu, eventually persuading him to fly to Rome with her on a holiday. The Israeli government had promised Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher that they would not conduct operations on British soil; therefore it was important to get Vanunu out of the country under his own volition. Once in Rome, Mossad agents drugged and abducted him, and returned him to Israel on a freighter. That marked the beginning of what was to be more than a decade of solitary confinement in Israeli prisons.

Shortly after his abduction, on October 5, the Times published the information he had revealed, and estimated that Israel had produced more than 100 nuclear warheads. Vanunu was then put on trial in Israel on charges of treason and espionage. The trial was held in secret, at the District Court in Jerusalem, before Chief Justice Eliahu Noam and judges Zvi Tal and Shalom Brener, and he was not permitted contact with the media; however, he wrote the details of his abduction on the palm of his hand, and while being transported he held his hand against the van's window so that waiting journalists could get the information.


On February 27, 1988, the Israeli court sentenced him to 18 years imprisonment from the date of his capture.

The Israeli government kept him in near total isolation for more than 11 years, allegedly out of concern that he might reveal more Israeli nuclear secrets. However, many critics argue that Vanunu does not have any information that would pose a real security threat to Israel, and that the Israeli government's real motivation is a desire to avoid political embarrassment for itself and allies such as the United States. Dr. Ray Kidder, a senior American nuclear scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, has said:

"On the basis of this research and my own professional experience, I am ready to challenge any official assertion that Mr. Vanunu possesses any technical nuclear information not already made public." [1]

His last appeal against his conviction, to the Israeli Supreme Court in 1990, failed. The Israeli government refused to release the transcript of the court case until, after the threat of legal action, it finally agreed to let censored extracts be published in Yedioth Ahronoth', an Israeli newspaper, in late 1999.

The European Parliament has condemned Israel's treatment of Vanunu, and referred to his detention by Mossad agents as a gross violation of Italian sovereignty and international law.

Vanunu and the story of Israel's nuclear secrets were the subjects of Israel's Secret Weapon, a BBC Correspondent television program. It was broadcast on BBC2 in the UK on March 17, 2003.

Vanunu remains bitter about the whole incident, but has stated that he has no regrets. While in prison, Vanunu says, he took part in small acts of rebellion, such as refusing to talk with the guards, reading only English-language newspapers, and watching only BBC TV. He even refused to eat food when it was served to him so as to maintain a small portion of his life not under Israeli control. "He is the most stubborn, principled, and tough person I have ever met," said his lawyer, Avigdor Feldman.

On February 5, 2004, former Mossad director Shabtai Shavit told Reuters that the option of killing Vanunu was considered in 1986 but "Jews don't do that to other Jews." [2]


Vanunu was released from prison on April 21, 2004. Upon his release, Vanunu claimed he had no further secrets to reveal, and indicated a desire to completely dissociate himself from Israel: He refused to speak in Hebrew, and expressed a desire to move to Scandinavia, Ireland or France as soon as the Israeli government would permit him to do so.

Release restrictions

A number of restrictions were placed upon Vanunu by Israeli authorities, who stated their reason was fear of him spreading further state secrets. These stipulate that:

  • Vanunu will have to register to live in an Israeli city of his choice.
  • He will have to give notice to the authorities if he wishes to travel to another city.
  • He will not be allowed to leave Israel for 6 months. This restriction will be reviewed at the end of 6 months and could be renewed.
  • He will not be allowed to contact foreigners either by phone or in person.
  • He will not be allowed to enter any embassy, visit any port of entry, or come within 500 metres of any international border crossing.

Vanunu says that his knowledge is now all outdated, and that he has nothing more he could possibly reveal that is not already widely known. Despite the stated restrictions, since his release Vanunu has freely given interviews to the foreign press.

2004 arrests

On Thursday, November 11, 2004, Vanunu was arrested by the International Investigations Unit of the Israeli police. The arrest stemmed from an ongoing investigation from lating restriction since his release from prison. Police removed papers and a computer from his room. After a few hours' detention, Vanunu was put under house arrest, which was to last seven days.[3]

According to a BBC report, there have been suggestions that Vanunu's latest arrest on the day of Yasser Arafat's death may have been timed to try to avoid widescale international media coverage.

On December 24, 2004, Vanunu was apprehended by Israeli Police while he was attempting to exit Israel, in a vehicle marked as belonging to foreign press, into the West Bank, allegedly to attend mass at the Church of the Nativity, in violation of his release restrictions (see above). After posting bail of 50,000 New Israeli sheqel, he was released into five-day house arrest as reported by the BBC.

2005 arrests

On January 26, 2005, BBC reported that its Jerusalem deputy bureau chief, Simon Wilson, was banned from Israel after BBC refused to submit interview material made with Vanunu to Israeli censors. Wilson was allowed to return to Israel on March 12 after signing an apology letter acknowledging that he defied the law [4].

On March 17, 2005 Vanunu was charged with 21 counts of contravening a lawful direction (maximum penalty two years imprisonment per count) and one count of attempting to contravene a lawful direction.

Books about the case

  • Ian Black, Israel's Secret Wars: A History of Israel's Intelligence Services, Grove Press, 1992, ISBN 0802132863
  • Avner Cohen, Israel and the Bomb, New York: Columbia University Press (1999), ISBN 0231104839
  • Yoel Cohen, The Whistleblower of Dimona: Israel, Dimona & the Bomb. ISBN 084191432X
  • Mark Gaffney, Dimona: The Third Temple? The Story Behind the Vanunu Revelation. ISBN 0915597772
  • Tom Gilling and John McKnight. Trial and Error — Mordechai Vanunu and Israel's Nuclear Bomb. 1991 Monarch Publications. ISBN 185424129X
  • Peter Hounam, The Woman from Mossad: The Torment of Mordechai Vanunu. ISBN 1583940057 paperback edition title: The Woman from Mossad: The Story of Mordechai Vanunu & the Israeli Nuclear Program
  • Louis Toscano, Triple Cross. 1990 Birch Lane Press ISBN 155972028X
  • Gideon Spiro, Vanunu and the Israeli Bomb, U.S. Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu, 1998. ASIN B0006ROYQ8

Contact details for support campaign


Resources and articles


  1. Board of Advisors, Deir Yassin Remembered, accessed July 19, 2007.
  2. Prize, International Peace Bureau, accessed February 16, 2010.

External links

This article has been adapted from Wikipedia.