Sixteen years ago this week, an agent of the Israeli secret police, Mossad, enticed the thirty one year old Israeli nuclear technician, Mordechai Vanunu to a romantic weekend in Rome. The agent’s code name was ‘Cindy’ and the romance ended abruptly with Mordechai being drugged, kidnapped and bundled into the hold of a ship which returned him to Israel where he was tried, in secret, charged with espionage and treason and given a prison sentence of eighteen years. His crime? In 1986 he had blown the whistle on Israel’s nuclear weapons. He was in London working with the Sunday Times Insight team on his revelation when Cindy swooped
In the absence of any international inspection of Israel’s nuclear capacity Vanunu is our unofficial, DIY, arms inspector. He is now, in his late 40’s, `living’ in Israel’s highest security prison, having spent twelve of his sixteen prison years in solitary confinement. Neither the UN nor any individual member of the Security Council has publicly questioned his imprisonment or demanded that Israel’s nuclear capacity be open to international inspection.
His story reads like a high intensity tragic thriller. But it’s real life. As real as the prison lunch he refuses to eat on time and as real as the prison guards with whom he refuses to speak, in an effort to preserve a sliver of life free from the Israeli state. Also real is fact that the Dimona nuclear weapons factory where Vanunu worked together with the biological and chemical weapons factory in Nes Zion, are still not open to international inspection. In 1994 Jane’s Intelligence Review, the world authority on the arms industry, confirmed that Israel has 200 nuclear warheads, making it the world’s sixth biggest nuclear power. The same politicians who currently threaten military invasion of Iraq because of its feared nuclear weapons capacities, have not demanded inspection of known Israeli nuclear weapons.
The double standards that scream at you whenever you see the words `weapons of mass destruction’ cannot be excused on the grounds that Israel is abiding by international regulations. Israel refuses to sign any treaty regulating the use of nuclear weapons. All correspondence concerning the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Agreement, the nuclear Test Ban Treaty and other copiously negotiated agreements on weapons of mass destruction go into the Israeli government’s rubbish bins. Yet Israel receives $3bn of aid, annually, from the United States. This is in spite of legislation, the Symington Accord, to prevent US governments from granting aid to countries who develop nuclear weapons outside of international control and agreement. Sharon claims that until there is peace in the Middle East, Israel will do what it likes with its weapons. Sharon’s policies of occupation, past an present, of all surrounding areas, Palestinian, Syrian, Egyptian and Lebanese suggests that what he likes is aggression. And, unlike in 1991, he has already threatened a nuclear response to any attack from Iraq.
MPs defending Tony Blair’s close relationship with President Bush claim that he has more influence `in the tent than outside’. Many of them agree with anti-war campaigners that action over Iraq must be somehow combined with action over Israel’s violation of UN resolutions on Palestine. This month, the Vanunu Committee in Israel are providing Tony Blair with a modest test of his transatlantic influence by making a highly practical suggestion which links the problem of Saddam with the problem of Sharon : they are asking Kofi Annan to apply the same UN arms inspection requirements that it is applying to Iraq, to Israel. Egypt has been making this demand for sometime. It’s a demand which requires support in the Security Council. Will our Prime Minister be using his boasted influence with President Bush to support this reasonable request? I fear not.
But surely the British government could do something about Vanunu, and make up for the Thatcher government failure, after the kidnapping in 1986, to take any action over Mossad’s flagrant breach of international law? The dossier on Iraq’s nuclear weapons, on which Blair rests his case for armed intervention, relies explicitly on information from Iraqi whistleblowers. These men have been given safe houses, money and the status of heroes. Meanwhile Vanunu has still not been granted the parole he was due three years ago. He is a prisoner of conscience. He signed a contract of secrecy at Dimona without being told the whole truth and when he discovered the true nature of his work and the secret which was being kept from the Israeli people, he spoke out. Amnesty International has ben calling for his release for years. The British government has supported legislation which encourages whistleblowers to speak out in the public interest. It could now, applying Article 19 of the UN’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights on the freedom to impart information regardless of national boundaries, give its support to a man who has spoken out in the interests of the whole of humanity. A spokesman for the Foreign Office made it clear that while the British Embassy has expressed concern about the conditions of Vanunu’s imprisonment it goes no further. It will not be supporting Vanunu’s application for parole when it comes up on October 29th.
Vanunu wrote a poem which described his transition from technician to citizen, in it he says : ‘ ‘Rise and cry out. Rise and tell the people. You can.’, ‘I ? … the technician, mechanic?’, ‘ Yes, you. You are the secret agent of the people. You are the eyes of the nation.’. It’s an appeal to all of us.
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