Vanunu – the man who disclosed Israel’s nuclear weapons

Goran Lefkov

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were many disclosures in developed countries related to the misuse of nuclear power plants. The most common reasons were the security of the power plants, and the second reason was the secret programs for developing nuclear weapons. There was a big famous case of whistleblowing in Israel in 1986.

Mordechai Vanunu, a former technician in Dimona, Israel, fled to the United Kingdom and revealed to the media some evidence of Israel’s nuclear program. He explained the purposes of each building, also revealing a top-secret underground facility directly beneath the installation.

The interview was published in The Sunday Times on October 5, 1986. According to Vanunu, the plant had been producing nuclear weapons for 10 to 20 years. It was estimated that there may be about 200 nuclear bombs owned by Israel’s nuclear weapons program. Vanunu told everything to Frank Barnaby and Theodore Taylor and they confirmed the veracity of his story. According to Frank Barnaby, Vanunu had the minimum knowledge of nuclear physics that a technician should have and accurately described the composition of the Dimona nuclear power plant. Vanunu’s whistleblowing greatly shook the security structures in Israel. Israel’s secret service Mossad reacted immediately.

They sent a female agent named Cheryl Bentov, who lured Vanunu to Italy, where he was arrested and smuggled to Israel on a cargo ship. The Israeli court then tried him in secret on charges of treason and espionage and sentenced him to eighteen years in prison. At the time of Vanunu’s arrest, the Times reported that Israel had the material for approximately 20 hydrogen bombs and 200 fission bombs by 1986. In the spring of 2004, Vanunu was released from prison and placed under several strict restrictions, such as the denial of a passport, restrictions on freedom of movement and restrictions on communication with the press. Since his release, he has been rearrested and charged multiple times with violating the terms of his release.

Amnesty International issued a press release on 2 July 2007 stating that “the organization considers Mordechai Vanunu a prisoner of conscience and calls for his immediate and unconditional release.” Vanunu is internationally described as a whistleblower and as a traitor by Israel. Despite the whistleblowing over the operation of Israel’s nuclear weapons program, the Israeli government denied all allegations. Vanunu is an ethnic Mizrahi Jew born in Marrakesh, Morocco, who emigrated to Israel after its independence in 1948.