Cracking the last taboo
Security considerations are not what is bothering those who wish to silence Mordechai Vanunu after he gets out of jail. At issue is a political act with a particularly odious stench.
Meir Schnitzer, Ma'ariv
Last Friday the Ma'ariv weekend magazine quoted various sources in the defense establishment who voiced deep fears about the big mouth of Mordechai Vanunu, who is going to finish serving his prison term this April. Those sources, god forbid they should be quoted by name, are sure that even after 18 years in prison - including 12 in solitary confinement - Vanunu is still holding on to a few significant state secrets he has not yet shared with the readers of The Sunday Times. Therefore those security mavens suggest continuing restricting the released prisoner's movements and even considering not letting him out.
This argument suffers from an acute case of faulty logic, resulting in a conclusion that would be facetious if we were not talking about such a serious matter.
If Vanunu has not spilled every bean he had, and chose to keep some of the secret information sealed in his mind, then that should actually have been a recommendation of his honesty during all the various legal discussions about his early parole or easing the conditions of his difficult prison sentence. Based on the reasoning that says Vanunu is a dangerous traitor he should be commended for the compartmentalization he employed in 1985 when he spread the secrets of Dimona's Institute 2 and held something back.
A hundred days before his scheduled release other experts are spreading around another false argument that is supposed to complement the former. This argument is that if Vanunu goes free without tight supervision he might disclose the secrets of the nuclear research institute's security. That is a rather loopy argument. Not only was the famous prisoner a technician and shift manager at a chemical institute, far removed from issues of patrolling and guarding, but it has, after all been 20 years since he set foot in the institute. And if security arrangements haven't changed in all those years, Vanunu is not the one who should be taken to task.
It appears that the security establishment's fear of Vanunu has nothing to do with whatever pertinent information he still may have about Dimona, but with information about how he was returned to Israel, and maybe also about the curious way he left Israel to Australia, when there already were security people who sensed what he was about to do. That is just the kind of information that leads to commissions of inquiry. From here it is a reasonable guess that the new attempt to shut Vanunu's mouth stems from political considerations.
The challenge Vanunu poses to Israeli public discourse - confrontation versus the state's technique of nuclear ambiguity - has never been played out. The local media consumer knows a lot more about the nuclear programs of North Korea, Iran, Indonesia or Pakistan than about what's going on in their own back yard. Taking this into account, the attempts to possibly gag Vanunu are, to put spin on an old Jewish adage, both not kosher and stink to high heaven.
Today Dimona stands as the last security taboo. After shattering the myth of the South Lebanon security zone, the open refusals of pilots and elite unit commanders to serve in the occupied territories, it is hard to find another taboo in the defense system. The release of the famous prisoner will crack the last bastion of silence for the first time. Maybe that is what all the mavens are afraid of, and that is why they are trying now, by scaring the public, to promote such blatantly illegitimate ideas such as putting Vanunu in administrative detention after he finishes serving his term. What scares them is not Vanunu's secrets, but his conscience. This is not surprising, since it is well known that the ultimate nightmare of those who have lost their consciences is a person who has kept theirs intact.
Meir Schnitzer is a veteran member of Ma'ariv's editorial board.