October 2002

Peres summoned to testify at Vanunu parole hearing

The Sunday Times, Jerusalem, October 27, 2002
By Peter Hounam

[Posted 28/10/2002]

THE Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, has been subpoenaed to appear before a parole tribunal this week when Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed the secrets of the country's nuclear arsenal in The Sunday Times, will renew his efforts to win early release from jail.

Vanunu's lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, hopes to question Peres about an Israeli television interview last year in which he admitted Israel had the ability to manufacture nuclear weapons.

Feldman said he would seek a court order if Peres refused to appear, as he believed the broadcast was a turning point in the campaign for Vanunu's release.

"Up to now, Israel has had a policy of nuclear ambiguity and said it would never be the first country to introduce nuclear weapons into the Middle East," he said. "But Peres has now gone far beyond that."

The lawyer said this destroyed any argument that Vanunu could still harm the security of the state. "We say there is no such threat as everything has now been published, first by The Sunday Times and now by Shimon Peres. The minister spoke extremely openly about the nuclear programme and I want him to be equally direct with the tribunal."

In 1986, Vanunu reported that Israel had built between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons, including neutron bombs, and produced more than 50 photographs of a secret plutonium plant near the Israeli town of Dimona, where he had worked as a technician.

He also disclosed that France had secretly supplied most of the Dimona equipment, a fact now acknowledged by Peres. The veteran politician said in his broadcast: "Of the four countries which at that time had a nuclear capacity - the United States, the Soviet Union, Great Britain and France - only France was willing to help us."

While Vanunu was providing information to The Sunday Times he was kidnapped by Israeli agents and smuggled home to stand trial. He was sentenced to 18 years on charges of treason and espionage, and has served more than 16. Feldman believes it will still be a struggle to persuade the tribunal to free Vanunu because the nuclear issue is so sensitive.

"It has always been a taboo subject but it is getting less so," Feldman said. "The tribunal has also to take account of the fact that Mordechai spent more than 11 years in solitary confinement in very difficult conditions. Any fair person would conclude that he has been punished enough for what he did."

The lawyer will argue that an increasing body of international opinion in favour of Vanunu's release should not be ignored. "Vanunu has become an international issue," he said, "and it is in the public interest here to respond to that."

A previous parole attempt four years ago failed and Feldman said he was realistic about the prospects this time. "All I can tell you is we shall be making very strenuous efforts to persuade the court. He deserves it because he is a remarkable man, with strong convictions and a tremendous spirit."

The tribunal will meet on Tuesday.

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