Worldwide Vigil Reports -
more from Tel Aviv
Describing the evening at the Tel Aviv Cinematheque is a good example of the half-full/half-empty glass judgement.
The BBC film looked very effective on a big screen, and there was an irony in some of the bits that referred to events which have since taken place - notably the attempt to interview Douglas Feith at the Pentagon, which was prevented at the last moment when he found he was going to be asked questions about Israel nuclear programme and not Iraq's...
There were not many people in the hall (perhaps fifty or so), because there had been little promotion and advance notice. The discussion was not exactly high-octane: Professor Uzi Even - a physicist who was involved with Dimona in the early years - took the position that Israel was right to develop nuclear weapons, which, he argued, saved her from annihilation by the Arab armies in 1967; that Mordechai had committed a serious crime in revealing the secret of Dimona, and the government was entitled to handle him as it had, and that in another country he'd have been shot. On the other hand, he acknowledged that the Dimona reactor is too old to be kept running, that the degree of secrecy around it is unhealthy, as well as the obscurity surrounding the disposal of radioactive waste. He implied that some public or parliamentary supervision would be advisable. This has been his position for some time.
He accompanied these statements with some rather strange assertions - eg, that the Dimona reactor's capacity is still 27 megawatt, when it is widely known that it was increased repeatedly and nowadays stands at (if my memory does not mislead) 65 megawatts. Likewise, that Iraq had 12 kgs enriched uranium in 1981, when Israel bombed the Osirak reactor, so it could have made a bomb, and that the US and Russia between them have a total of 30,000 nuclear warheads. All these figures seem extremely doubtful.
Gideon Spiro spoke for the Vanunu Committee, making a strong case for the position that Israel's nuclear programme spurred the WMD arms race in the Middle East, that a monopoly of nukes never worked - first it was the US then Russia, then China; India then Pakistan, etc. And Israel's monopoly won't last.
Akiva Orr also spoke up, pointing out that with a country as small as Israel two single-megaton bombs, one on Tel Aviv one on Haifa, would more or less put paid to the State, while the Arab world has several vast countries. There were other interventions from the audience, including Dr Daniel Rohrlich, himself a physicist at the Weizmann Institute and a member of our committee, and a few others. Uzi Even was pretty well isolated in the place.
I myself acted as moderator, though without attempting neutrality. My main question to Even was, if the nukes are essentially for deterrence, why do we need so many of them? His answer was that you need a lot for the psychological effect. This led to his admission that in the final analysis Mordechai Vanunu did Israel no harm at all!
The rather darker side of the event was Even's hints that when the time comes for Mordechai to be freed, he may be prevented from leaving the country, and may also be forbidden to speak to the press. We can only hope that he has no information that Mordechai's lawyer, Avigdor Feldman, doesn't have.
Most of the members of the committee were pleased with the event, noting that Uzi Even's position suggests that there is 'a crack' in the stone wall of the establishment, and that in the future there may be more openness, and hence greater understanding of the anti-nuke position. I hope they're right!
All the best,
I've been asked by Gideon Spiro to add (a) that the venue of our gathering on 30th Sept, the Tel Aviv Cinematheque, is in fact a publicly-supported place, not a private one; (b) that the number of people in the hall was between 60 and 70 - not 50, as I said; (c) that the Hebrew book about Vanunu and the Bomb, which our committee published following the Tel Aviv conference in October 1996, was distributed gratis to all members of the audience at the end.
I understand that the event as Salon Mazal the following day was also quite successful, and Rayna Moss has reported on it.