Thursday, February 12, 2004

Poor Bugger Mordechai

I heard on AM this morning that Mordechai Vanunu,is due for release from prison in two months:

Vanunu has spent 18 years in jail, much of it in solitary confinement, for telling a British newspaper about Israel's possession of atomic weapons.

It's not surprising that Vanunu would like to leave Israel once he's out of jail, but that seems unlikely:

Some senior Israeli security chiefs and politicians want the former nuclear technician gagged from speaking to the media and confined to house arrest once he's released from prison. They argue the crusading Vanunu could reveal more secrets.

There's a lot about this report that bothers me, starting with the story of Vanunu's arrest:

A nuclear technician at Israel's Dimona plant, Vanunu was laid off in 1985. He left Israel and wound up in Sydney, where he met a British journalist and agreed to reveal his knowledge of his homeland's nuclear program, including photos he'd secretly taken at Dimona.

The story caused a sensation.

But shortly after in London, Vanunu met an American tourist named "Cindy" who persuaded him to fly with her to Rome.

Cindy turned out to be a Mossad agent, and Vanunu was drugged and returned to Israel on a freighter.

He was tried in secret and condemned as a traitor.

But in hindsight Mordechai Vanunu may have been lucky, because the then head of Mossad, Shabtai Shavit revealed this week he nearly had him killed.

(Shabtai Shavit speaking)

"I would be lying if I said that thought didn't pass through our heads", the former spy chief says.

So why wasn't Vanunu killed?

(Shabtai Shavit speaking)

"Because Jews don't do that to other Jews", he says.

I suppose that Vanunu should consider himself lucky. Had he been a Russian suspected of releasing Russian secrets to the West, it's unlikely that the KGB would have shown the same squeamishness. If they'd felt any compunction about Russians killing Russians, they have just contracted the job out to the Bulgarian Intelligence who didn't even seem to scruple too much about killing Bulgarians back in the good old days of the Cold War.

It's going to be interesting to see if the Israeli security chiefs and politicians get their way; for some reason, the idea of keeping someone in permanent house arrest to prevent them from talking to the media doesn't fit with my possibly naive ideas about the way things are done in a democracy. Neither does kidnapping someone in a foreign country and then shipping them home for a secret trial but that, of course, is in the past.

Whatever the Israelis decide to do about Vanunu once he's out of stir, I reckon he's got Buckley's of being accepted as an immigrant to Australia. No doubt he'll have his supporters and advocates here, but I think the most likely response to Vanunu's application is going to be based on the premise that we don't want any Israeli traitors coming to this country, thank you very much.

It's a sad case of the wrong nationality at the wrong time; in 1954 the Australian government was quite willing to welcome a couple of Russian traitors into the country. Of course the Petrovs were only traitors by the standards of Totalitarian Russian Communism; by the standards of Freedom-Loving Australian Democracy they were political asylum seekers. I don't foresee such a conflict of outlooks arising in Vanunu's case.

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