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Paper publishes Vanunu trial extracts

BBC Wednesday, 24 November, 1999, 12:17 GMT

An Israeli newspaper Yedioth Aharonoth has for the first time published extracts from the trial thirteen years ago of Mordechai Vanunu, the man who revealed alleged details of Israel's nuclear programme.

The paper was allowed to go ahead with publication after a legal petition.

According to the transcript, Mr Vanunu told the court that he wanted to confirm what everyone already knew -- that Israel possessed nuclear weapons. The former Israeli prime minister, Shimon Peres, who is widely regarded as the father of Israel's nuclear programme, criticised the decision to publish the trial extracts.

He said every country had a right to keep secrets in certain areas. Vanunu made his revelations to the British newspaper, the Sunday Times.

He was subsequently lured from Britain to Italy by a female Israeli agent, and was then kidnapped and taken back to Israel.

AGENCE FRANCE PRESSE Wednesday, November 24 5:22 PM SGT

Israel's nuclear secrets revealed as paper publishes trial transcript


The open secret of Israel's nuclear arsenal became a little more open Wednesday with the publication of excerpts from the closed door trial of "traitor" Mordechai Vanunu.

The publication in the daily Yediot Aharonoth of extracts from Vanunu's 1986 trial was immediately slammed by former prime minister Shimon Peres, considered the father of Israel's atomic programme.

Evidence from the trial of Vanunu, 44, who was sentenced to 18 years in jail after being kidnapped by Israeli agents in Rome following his revelations to the London Sunday Times, was published in the wake of a high court decision.

State attorneys agreed in June to the lifting of some details of the Vanunu case following consultation with security officials, but the court rejected a petition by Vanunu demanding that all material from his case be made public, court officials said at the time.

A total of 1,200 pages of transcript were released, Yediot said.

Speaking on radio Wednesday, an official of the state prosecutions office, Dvora Hen, said, "After consulting the security services we authorised the publication of extracts which do not harm the security of the state.

"The decision to forbid publication 13 years ago was justified, but things have changed."

According to the extracts published Wednesday, Vanunu told the court: "I wanted to confirm what everyone knew, I didn't want Israel to go on denying that it had nuclear weapons, and Shimon Peres to go on lying to (then US president) Ronald Reagan, saying that we didn't have a nuclear arsenal."

"I also wanted controls to be placed on these weapons," Vanunu added.

The transcript also revealed that Peres, the then prime minister, had told the court that Vanunu's revelations "caused serious damage to Israel and their publication led certain Arab countries to harden their stance, to our disadvantage."

Peres said in a radio interview Wednesday, "It is not up to Vanunu, or the judiciary, or the media, but the competent bodies to decide on the nature of our deterrent forces."

"A certain amount of secrecy must be maintained in some fields," Peres added. "The suspicion and fog surrounding this question are constructive, because they strengthen our deterrent."

Peres, who is regional development minister in the present government of Ehud Barak, repeated the official Israeli line that the country would never be the first to introduce nuclear weapons into the region.

He added that Israel "entered the atomic age not to arrive at Hiroshima but to arrive at Oslo," referring respectively to the first atom bomb attack on Japan in 1945 and the Israel-Palestinian peace accord of 1993.

Vanunu's lawyer Avigdor Feldman welcomed the publication of the transcript, and expressed the hope that his client would soon be released.

"He has suffered greatly, spending years in total isolation which nearly drove him mad. He has passed 13 years in prison, more than two-thirds of his sentence," Feldman said on Israeli military radio.

The lawyer said he would be submitting a new plea within a month for Vanunu to be released.

Vanunu worked as an engineer at the Dimona nuclear facility in southern Israel when he provided the Sunday Times with details about Israel's secret atomic weapons programme.

He was lured from Britain to Italy by a female Israeli agent named Cindy and was then kidnapped and returned to Israel, according to press reports.

He was tried in secret, sentenced and then held in solitary confinement until last year, when the government agreed to ease his prison conditions.

Israel has never acknowledged possessing nuclear weapons but is said by foreign experts to hold at least 200 atomic warheads. The army also has a ballistic missile, the Jericho, capable of delivering the warheads, they say.

Viewed as a traitor and spy by Israel, Vanunu is considered a prisoner of conscience by international human rights and anti-nuclear groups who have campaigned for years for his release from prison.

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