JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu will be barred from leaving Israel for a year for fear he will spill more state secrets once he completes his 18-year jail term on Wednesday.
The ban was due to “a tangible danger…that Vanunu wishes to divulge state secrets, secrets that he has not yet divulged and which have not been previously published,” a Defense Ministry statement said.
Vanunu’s brothers voiced fears for his safety during the year he will be forced to stay in Israel, where the former nuclear technician is widely despised as a traitor for revealing Israel’s nuclear secrets to a British newspaper.
Appealing to Britain to offer Vanunu sanctuary, his brother Meir told BBC radio: “If something happens to my brother, the blood and responsibility…is also on the British government.”
Vanunu’s brothers rented him a luxury seaside apartment in Jaffa, southern Tel Aviv, close to a church where the 49-year-old Christian convert can attend prayers. The location was supposed to have been secret but was leaked to the media.
Vanunu will be required to advise police if he stays overnight anywhere else. He must not approach border exits or talk to foreign nationals without prior approval for at least six months.
Security services will be keeping a close eye on Vanunu.
“The keys are in Vanunu’s hands. The reissuance of the restrictions depends on the steps he takes, on his conduct and on future violations of the law,” the Defense Ministry said.
Vanunu was jailed in 1986 for treason after disclosing information to Britain’s Sunday Times which led analysts to conclude Israel had produced more than 100 nuclear warheads.
The revelations embarrassed Israel which has maintained a strategic ambiguity over its nuclear program in an attempt to ward off its foes while avoiding a regional arms race.
Security officials say Vanunu will be bound by a non-disclosure agreement he signed when he was hired to work at the Dimona reactor in 1976.
Israel has kept the nuclear reactor in Dimona — where Vanunu worked for nine years until he was fired in 1985 — closed to international inspection.
The grey-haired Vanunu, who was disowned by most of his family, denies having anything more to reveal about Israel’s nuclear capabilities, but says he wants to campaign against its nuclear program.
Supporters say the Israeli restrictions are an attempt to gag legitimate anti-nuclear activism.
Anti-nuclear campaigners, Irish Nobel laureate Mairaed Maguire and British actress Susannah York were among scores of supporters who arrived in Israel to celebrate Vanunu’s release.
Asher Vanunu accused the authorities of orchestrating a smear campaign against his brother after television stations aired an audio tape of Vanunu talking to security officers.
In the tape Vanunu, who spent 12 years in solitary confinement, incensed many Israelis by saying Israel’s nuclear reactor should be destroyed, that the Jewish state should not exist and that Judaism is a backward religion.
The list of prohibitions slapped on Vanunu was less severe than those originally proposed after justice officials concluded they were illegal and could be overturned by the Supreme Court.
Speaking out for the restrictions Shimon Peres, the founder of Israel’s atomic program, told Army Radio: “Vanunu violated norms and betrayed his country…This is justice.”
VANUNU ANGRY AT INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT LEAK
Mordechai Vanunu is angry at the leak of an interrogation that paints him as a rambling man.
He is fearful that the defense establishment is laying a trap for him after his release from prison, scheduled for Wednesday, after serving 18 years for revealing nuclear secrets.
This was the sentiment his adopted parents, Nick and Mary Eoloff of Minnesota, had after visiting him in Ashkelon’s Shikma Prison on Monday.
Sources close to the Eoloffs said Vanunu was “really broken up” by the release of an “interview” in his cell three weeks ago with representatives of the Shin Bet and the Defense Ministry’s security office. Its objective was to see whether he still had more information and how he would behave once he is set free.
“He is discouraged now, you know, because of the restrictions that they are putting on him,” Mary Eoloff told reporters outside the prison.
A copy of the audiotape was leaked to Channel 10, which then turned over the transcripts to Yediot Aharonot and Ma’ariv, which published excerpts. The quality is very poor, indicating that the interview was probably taped with a hidden microphone. The tape was also censored and edited.
But leaking the tape also revealed how the defense establishment is trying to portray Vanunu, who spent more than 11 years in solitary confinement, as a psychological mess, not to mention unrepentant.
“We don’t need a Jewish state. There should be a Palestinian state. Jews can, and have, lived anywhere, so a Jewish state is not necessary,” Vanunu said in the interview.
Vanunu vowed to continue his efforts against nuclear weapons.
“Despite all that has been published, nothing has changed. Nobody has made any demands on Israel. I want the nuclear reactor to be destroyed, as was the one in Iraq,” he said.
“I am not a traitor, nor a spy like [Soviet spy Marcus] Klingberg. Although I was sworn to secrecy, I wanted to inform the world what was happening. Your big mistake was in providing me with secret information. You gave it to the wrong person. The task of Shin Bet and Mossad psychologists is to locate those with the potential to be secret agents.”
On Monday night, the Defense Ministry released copies of the secrecy agreements signed by Vanunu when he began working at Dimona and when he was fired. As far as it is concerned, Vanunu is still bound by these agreements and could face trial if he reveals forbidden information.
He will face severe restrictions as a condition for his release. Interior Minister Avraham Poraz signed an order on Monday banning him from leaving the country for a year. He will also be barred from giving interviews. Restrictions against approaching embassies were reportedly lifted. Channel 1 reported that Vanunu would live in the Givat Andromeda neighborhood in Jaffa.
On Monday, the Prime Minister’s Office asked ministers to refrain from speaking to the media about Vanunu’s release. Justice Minister Yosef Lapid will be the only minister allowed to speak to the media on the matter.
A few hundred anti-nuclear activists, including foreign parliamentarians and celebrities, are coming to celebrate his release.
“Billions see me as a hero,” Vanunu said in the interview, adding that the state would not be able to silence him because he would have a computer and Internet access.
Vanunu was fired from his job as a mid-level technician at the Dimona reactor in 1985. He later left the country and converted to Christianity while living in Australia. He also changed his name to John Crossman.
“Both Islam and Judaism are backward religions,” he said in the interview. “Christianity is progressive, and it is the religion that is developing in the world today… It’s the Europeans and democracy, and that says something.”
Vanunu claimed that the information he has on the Dimona reactor is no longer relevant. “I’ve been inside for 20 years. Everything has changed… science and technology have progressed in huge leaps, so what I saw seems to me to be very old. I don’t think that the Americans or Europeans need this information. They do not need Vanunu to tell them. If they want information, they will get it… As for myself, I just want to repeat the things I already said that were published.”