Israel continues to harass nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu. He wants to be a free man but this is seemingly impossible.
This story from the UK Telegraph is written by the journalist who had broken Vanunu’s story in the first place back in the 1980s, Peter Hounam:
If Mossad was behind the murder of Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a Dubai hotel last month it should shock nobody. From my experience of the Israeli intelligence agencies, it is not their ruthlessness that is so remarkable but their disdain for international public opinion and tendency to take short cuts.
Hit teams dispatched by the spymasters of Tel Aviv have been surprisingly clumsy in exercising their licence to kidnap or kill around the world. Many operations have been botched, causing huge embarrassment to friendly countries.
My experience of them happened six years ago after I had gone to Israel on behalf of the BBC and The Sunday Times. The aim was to get the first interview with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu on his release after 18 years in jail, 11 of them spent in solitary confinement. I ended up being accused of nuclear espionage myself.
In 1986, I had exposed Israel’s nuclear weapons programme based on Vanunu’s eyewitness testimony of his country’s underground nuclear weapons plant where he had worked as a technician. He had then been kidnapped by Mossad, returned to Israel and convicted of treason and espionage.
Before he was freed in 2004, Vanunu was prohibited from talking to foreigners or leaving the country. Determined to overcome this, I assigned an Israeli journalist to interview him, with me sitting in the background. One copy of our film was impounded that night when being couriered out, but a second copy got to London. Soon afterwards while driving through the outskirts of Tel Aviv my luck ran out.
A car suddenly pulled into my path, others blocked me in, and I was dragged out. A man with a police badge said I was under arrest and being taken to Jerusalem for questioning by the security services. But first we would visit my hotel room where they would conduct a search.
As we approached the reception, I managed to break away, run into the hotel restaurant and warn someone I knew of my plight. Re-apprehended, my furious captors asked if I would like to be handcuffed. “It doesn’t matter now,” I replied. “The whole restaurant has seen what has happened to me.” I had rightly anticipated they wanted no one to know.
Two hours later, I was ”escorted’’ to a notorious underground jail, a relic of the British mandate era used by Mossad and the internal secret service, Shin Beth, for interrogations. Unnervingly, my legs were shackled, a blacked-out ski mask was dragged over my head so that I could see nothing, and I was pushed and shoved along corridors.
The mask was removed and I found myself in a windowless dungeon, one of 20 or more in the bowels of the building. There was no natural light; it was equipped with a piece of foam matting, a sink that doubled as a loo, and a blanket. The walls were smeared with excrement, sperm and blood, some of it used to write messages in Arabic.
Now I knew how countless other security suspects had been banged up, many never to be freed.
Back came the guards with the mask and I was pushed along more corridors into a brightly lit office. Two civilians who used false names and refused to say who precisely they worked for began to grill me. Now it became clear why I was regarded as a major security threat to the country. They falsely believed I had hidden some extra film footage revealing yet more of Vanunu’s secrets, though he clearly had no more to tell.
Several times I was taken to the dungeon and back for more questioning on suspicion of ”serious spying’’, but by 3am my interrogators were flagging. As light relief, one began asking what good restaurants I would recommend in London. Finally I was sent to bed, but warned the questioning would continue and I would be locked up for four days without seeing a lawyer.
Spending the rest of the night on the damp floor of the cell was grim, and breakfast, when it came, consisted of a boiled egg and some rice thrown into a carrier bag. I was dragged off to another room, where a police officer speaking only a smattering of English tried to take a statement from me. I realised my ordeal was ending when one of my interrogators came in and sheepishly announced my lawyer was there to see me.
Through the rest of the day negotiations took place about whether I would agree to be deported – I refused. In response to complaints about my treatment, I was issued with a new set of underwear. I learnt my arrest had become international news. Diplomatic efforts and the intense interest of the Israeli media had forced them to let me go.
My release was set for 8pm and I left shaken but unharmed, after 24 hours. To all the press and TV outside, I pulled out my Mossad underpants and waved them in victory.
These experiences have demonstrated several things to me. Firstly, the Israeli security apparatus makes many mistakes, such as giving Bentov an identity that allowed us to find her, or foolishly accusing me of aggravated espionage. Secondly, it doesn’t much care about its mistakes because Israel is almost never called to account. Long after Vanunu’s revelations, the country still has its ”secret’’ nuclear arsenal.
And thirdly, its gung-ho tactics are frequently counterproductive. Vanunu’s kidnapping attracted more attention to his revelations, and the inhumanity of his treatment since his release saddens many who once admired the country.