summoned to testify at Vanunu parole hearing
The Sunday Times, Jerusalem, October 27,
By Peter Hounam
THE Israeli foreign minister, Shimon Peres, has
been subpoenaed to appear
before a parole tribunal this week when Mordechai Vanunu, who revealed
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
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
"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.