Israel Weighed Killing Nuke Whistleblower Vanunu
By Dan Williams
JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israel's spy agency considered killing nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu in 1986 before deciding to abduct him for trial on treason charges, a former Mossad director said Thursday.
Shabtai Shavit, who masterminded a "honey trap" for Vanunu after he told a British newspaper about his work at Israel's main atomic reactor, said he feared the ex-technician intends to spill more secrets upon his release from prison this April. " I would be lying if I said that thought (assassination) did not go through many of our minds," Shavit said, recalling Mossad debates after the Sunday Times interview that blew away Israel's policy of ambiguity over its nuclear capabilities. "But Jews do not do that to other Jews. He was a traitor, so in accordance with Jewish morality and Jewish law he paid for it with imprisonment," Shavit told Reuters.
Vanunu, 49, embraced Christianity and anti-nuclear activism after being fired from the Dimona reactor. He spoke to the newspaper on the promise of undisclosed payment.
In jailhouse letters he has vowed to keep campaigning to expose Israel's non-conventional capabilities. Vanunu's revelations, and 60 accompanying photographs, led independent experts to conclude Israel had between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads -- making it a military superpower.
Israeli officials, who point out that most Arab countries are still formally in a state of war with Israel, make no apologies for the assumed arsenal though they have never confirmed its existence.
Absent from the interview were the names of Vanunu's former colleagues at Dimona and details on security precautions at the site. Fearing these could also become public knowledge when Vanunu winds up his 18-year jail term on April 21, Shavit has been calling for Vanunu to be legally silenced.
" I propose gagging this man," said Shavit, who retired from Mossad in 1996 and now chairs the International Policy Institute for Counter-Terrorism at the Herzliya Interdisciplinary Center. " The main consideration should be his intent to go on causing damage to Israel. And who will guarantee that he will only speak the truth? What is to stop him imagining things?"
According to security sources, the Justice Ministry might confiscate Vanunu's passport to prevent him leaving the country, subjecting any press interviews he gives to military censors. Attempts by him to discuss state secrets could mean a new trial.