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Vanunu interview, Sunday Times (London)
30 May 04
by Tom Walker

Vanunu: the truth about my kidnap

FOR the first time since he was kidnapped by Israeli agents in 1986, Mordechai Vanunu has spoken out publicly about his abduction and 11 years in solitary confinement.

Vanunu, in the only interview he has given since he vanished from London 18 years ago, explained why he fell for "Cindy", the Israeli undercover agent who lured him into a honey trap.

He revealed that there was a Frenchman among his abductors; told how he was beaten and injected with drugs during his kidnapping; said he had no regrets for taking the wraps off Israel's secret nuclear arsenal and disclosed that he thought he was losing his mind in prison.

"You forget the past. Your brain is empty of all the images you have of the past. Watching only walls all day can damage the brain," he said.

Vanunu, who left prison last month after serving his full sentence for treason and aggravated espionage, gave the interview to an Israeli journalist as he is banned from speaking to foreigners.

Last week Peter Hounam, the Sunday Times reporter who broke Vanunu's story and subsequently campaigned for his release, was arrested in Tel Aviv by Israeli security agents hunting for tapes of the interview.

He was freed after the intervention of Vanunu's lawyers and the British ambassador.

Vanunu has been unable to tell his story in his own words since September 1986 when he handed Hounam details and photographs of Israel's secret nuclear weapons plant, housed in a deep bunker at Dimona in the Negev desert.

Israel has always refused to confirm that it has nuclear weapons. At the time, experts estimated that it had no more than 20 bombs. Vanunu, a former technician at Dimona, revealed that it had the production capacity for well over 100 atomic weapons and was able to make much more powerful thermonuclear bombs. He supplied details of the programme.

It was while Vanunu was staying in London, as The Sunday Times checked his disclosures before publication, that "Cindy" caught his eye on a West End street. "She looked like a very nice woman, American, a little bit of a beauty, not tall or short, blonde hair," Vanunu told his interviewer.

"After crossing the street she went in one direction and I went in another, but after 50 yards I asked myself if she was interested in me. Go and ask her what she wants, I said to myself.

"I caught up with her and asked her, "Who are you and what are you doing?' We started talking." A close relationship developed: "She was good company and affectionate. She used to kiss me a lot - all the time."

Cindy persuaded him to take a short holiday with her in Rome, where he was immediately ambushed and repeatedly injected with a drug - "I could walk and see, but I was not in control" - and shipped in chains to Israel.

"One (of the guards) was Israeli but we spoke in English. The other one was a Frenchman, speaking in French, not understanding English. I spoke a few words to him because I knew French."

He was landed clandestinely on an Israeli beach, strapped to a stretcher and taken to Ashkelon prison where he remained until last month.

"To move from being a free man, walking in the streets of London, to finding oneself in a cell is a huge fall - like falling from a very high building to the ground. You lose everything," Vanunu recalled.

Initially he was kept "in a very secret part of the prison. Nobody knew about me. They kept me for five days in a small cell without windows". When he was charged with aggravated espionage and high treason, "I was very angry. I was not a traitor; I did not go to any enemy with my information. I didn't work as a spy. I felt they just wanted to punish me".

He said his motive was "not about betraying Israel; it was about saving Israel from a new holocaust. My point was to bring the subject to the public and to prevent any future war and make it very clear that war is not the way to solve problems."

Vanunu was in solitary confinement for 11-1/2 years of his sentence: " I decided I should do everything I could to keep my sanity. I told myself in the first days: whatever I do, I shall get out of this prison as strong in mind and body as I am now.

"I could not speak with anyone, so I decided that I could speak by reading. I used to take the Bible in English to read it in a loud voice, or I prayed in a loud voice, or I was singing, humming. Most of the time my aim was to be alert. I was afraid that I would be under psychological brainwashing - that they could change my mind, put some new idea, a little idea here or there."

Vanunu's lawyers are to seek an urgent meeting with Israel's attorney-general to try to lift the ban on him leaving the country or meeting foreigners.

They believe the government is in a dilemma about how to handle mounting concern about the restrictions after a week of heavy-handed actions by Shin Beth, the internal intelligence service. Vanunu's brother Meir said Israel had reached the point where a negotiated solution might now be considered.

"He has no more secrets to reveal," Meir said. "He has given a detailed press interview with which the secret service can find no fault."

Besides arresting Hounam and Saadi Haeri, a BBC editor, last week, Shin Beth also stopped Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal, head of the Anglican church in the Middle East, as he was entering Israel from Jordan on Friday. The bishop has allowed Vanunu to stay at St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem.

"They made me remove all my belongings, took me to a room and interrogated me for 90 minutes," El-Assal said yesterday. "They tried to persuade me to stop providing sanctuary to Mordechai."

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