- The Washington Times - Tuesday, December 30, 2003

JERUSALEM — Israel is concerned that a whistleblower who spilled Israeli nuclear secrets to a newspaper two decades ago might have more to say after his imminent release from prison, and is looking for ways to silence him, officials said yesterday.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician, was sentenced to 18 years in prison for espionage after giving dozens of pictures and a description of purported weapons from Israel’s top-secret Dimona nuclear reactor to London’s Sunday Times in 1986. He is due to be released in April.

Israel’s official policy about nuclear weapons is purposely ambiguous: Officials say only that Israel will not be the first to introduce them into the Middle East.

But based on Vanunu’s pictures, experts concluded that Israel had the world’s sixth-largest stockpile of nuclear weapons. The CIA estimated more recently that Israel has 200 to 400 nuclear weapons.

Since his arrest, Vanunu has become the poster figure for critics of Israel’s nuclear program.

He was nominated for the 2003 Nobel Peace Prize and an American couple adopted him in the mistaken belief that this would entitle him to U.S. citizenship and hasten his release.

A Channel Two TV report said officials, concerned about what else Vanunu has to say, are considering options that include barring him from traveling overseas or speaking in public after his release.

While the Shin Bet security service and Israel’s Justice Ministry had no comment, Israeli security officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the report was true but would not elaborate.

Vanunu’s lawyer did not return calls seeking comment.

Yossi Katz, then a member of the Israeli parliament, visited Vanunu in prison in 2000. He said Vanunu had indicated that he had more to say, but then contradicted himself.

Mr. Katz said Vanunu appeared to mix fact with fantasy, and that his impression was that Vanunu was “not a [mentally] healthy man.”

Since his incarceration, Israel has treated Vanunu harshly, forcing him to spend long periods in solitary confinement and denying repeated parole requests.

Israel does not view Vanunu as the idealist he contends to be, but as “a disturbed, vengeful person,” said Hebrew University professor Shlomo Aronson, an expert on Israel’s nuclear policies.

“If this is the case,” Mr. Aronson said, “I would not be surprised if Israel does all it can according to the law to prevent him from bringing further damage to Israel.”

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