A New Look at Vanunu's Betrayer

by Sam Day

The London Sunday Times was no match for Israel's secret service in protecting Mordechai Vanunu from the "honey trap" that landed him in prison more than 13 years ago, writes the reporter who helped the former nuclear technician blow the whistle on Israel's secret nuclear weapons program.

That is one of the conclusions of The Woman From Mossad, by former Sunday Times reporter Peter Hounam, who has played a leading role since 1986 in ferreting out details of the notorious kidnapping of the former nuclear technician who has become the subject of an international human rights campaign.

His 214-page book, published late last year by Vision Paperbacks in London, is the most authentic and readable account of the Vanunu affair-from its inception in the plutonium separation plant of Israel's underground nuclear weapons reactor, where Vanunu worked for nine years, through the long years of solitary confinement at Israel's Ashkelon Prison, where he may now be serving his final months behind bars.

Hounam focuses on the role played by Cheryl BenTov, an American-born Mossad special agent also known as Cindy, who lured Vanunu from London to Rome, where he was set upon by other agents and returned to Israel in a waiting freighter. Vanunu had just finished telling his story to the British newspaper. The kidnapping was ordered by then Premier Shimon Peres, father of Israel's nuclear weapons program.

Hounam credits Cindy and the Mossad withdoing their job well. He blames himself and Vanunu for not taking sufficient security precautions while Vanunu was in London being interviewed for the story. But he reserves his harshest criticism for the Sunday Times, which he says placed a higher value on its scoop than on Vanunu's safety and then failed adequately to support the campaign for his release.

The newspaper may have been stung by Hounam's criticism. Last December, after publication of the book, it hired Hounam to return to Israel to dig further into the case and report on mounting efforts for the release of Vanunu on humanitarian grounds.