Wednesday, March 10, 2004

JERUSALEM — Nuclear whistleblower Mordecai Vanunu, who will complete his 18-year prison sentence in April for having revealed some of Israel’s nuclear secrets, will be denied a passport in order to prevent him from ever leaving the country, Israel Radio reported yesterday.

The decision was said to have been made at a meeting of senior officials called by Prime Minister Ariel Sharon Tuesday night.

Mr. Sharon, however, rejected a request by the head of the Defense Ministry’s security department, Yehiel Horev, to keep Vanunu locked up even after completion of his sentence. Mr. Horev asked that Vanunu be placed under administrative detention, which would permit his incarceration indefinitely without trial.

Instead, it was decided to use “certain supervisory means” to keep track of him, according to a statement by the prime minister’s office. There have been unconfirmed reports that Vanunu will be kept under semi-house arrest, denied use of telephones and kept under constant guard.

Vanunu, who had worked as a minor technician at the Dimona nuclear plant, left for Australia after his dismissal from the job in 1986 and converted to Christianity. He then flew to London for interviews with the Sunday Times about the nuclear plant, where he had secretly made numerous photographs. The articles and photographs led to estimates that Israel had about 200 nuclear warheads.

The U.S. government does not acknowledge publicly that Israel has a nuclear arsenal. But in his new book, “Rumsfeld’s War,” Rowan Scarborough, Pentagon correspondent for The Washington Times, reveals a Defense Intelligence Agency report that says Israel has about 82 deployable nuclear bombs and missiles.

A few days before the London Sunday Times story went to press, the Israeli Mossad had a female agent lure Vanunu to Rome where he was kidnapped, sedated and transported to Israel for trial. His confinement was mostly in solitary and the only visitors he has been permitted are first-degree relatives, his lawyer and a clergyman.

Security officials have recently met with Vanunu to sound out his intentions. According to reports in the Israeli media, he refused to answer most of their questions. However, family members have said that he told them he would not leak any more information.

During his interviews with the Sunday Times he had declined to give the names of co-workers, saying he did not want to endanger them and that the information was irrelevant.

A former senior official of the Shin Bet Security Services, Haim Ben-Ami, told Israel Television on Tuesday that Vanunu might be abducted if he left the country and forced to tell all he knew.

Most of Vanunu’s family is said to have severed ties with him for having abandoned the Jewish faith. However, two brothers have remained in contact. One of them, Meir, is said to be living in Australia.

Tuesday’s meeting on Vanunu, chaired by Mr. Sharon, was attended by senior legal and security officials, as well as a top official of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission.

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