Prison Term Ends for Nuclear Tattletale

Published April 23, 2004, issue of April 23, 2004.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Mordechai Vanunu, the convicted nuclear spy, slammed the State of Israel and its law enforcement agencies immediately upon his release Wednesday morning from jail, but said he had no intention of harming the country.

Vanunu, 49, walked out of Ashkelon’s Shikma prison a free man around 11 a.m. Israeli time, as his 18-year prison term for aggravated espionage came to an end.

Speaking over the cries of reporters, supporters and opponents, Vanunu made a statement in the prison courtyard, flanked by two of his brothers, saying that he had been subjected to cruel and barbaric treatment during his incarceration.

He added that he had no further secrets to divulge, alleging that he had been made to suffer for 18 years because he had converted to Christianity.

“To all those who are calling me traitor, I am saying I am proud, I am proud and happy to do what I did,” he said. “I am now ready to start my life.”

“I didn’t say that there was no need for a Jewish state,” he added. “I said Mordechai Vanunu doesn’t need the Jewish state.”

Vanunu was convicted of treason and espionage on March 24, 1988, for providing the Sunday Times of London with classified information about Israel’s nuclear secrets. He was seized by Israeli officials in Rome on September 30, 1986 — five days before the Sunday Times published the story — after being lured there from London by a Mossad agent named “Cindy.” Vanunu was tried in secret by a three-judge court, and sentenced to 18 years, the first 11 of which were served in solitary confinement.

Vanunu has said he hopes to settle in the United States and study history.

During his press conference Wednesday, Vanunu spoke solely in English, refusing to respond to any questions in Hebrew. He called for international inspections of the Dimona nuclear reactor complex.

Vanunu said the Mossad spy agency and the Shin Bet security services tried to rob him of his sanity by keeping him in solitary confinement for nearly 12 years. “I said to the [Shin Bet], the Mossad, you didn’t succeed to break me, you didn’t succeed to make me crazy.”

Asked if he was a hero, he said “all those who are standing behind me, supporting me … all are heroes.”

“I am a symbol of the will of freedom,” he said. “You cannot break the human spirit.”

Vanunu alleged that the woman known as “Cindy” was not a Mossad agent, but someone working for the FBI or CIA.

A brief drama developed about an hour before Vanunu’s slated release when media reported that the release was in danger of being postponed after he refused to give the prison a permanent address for the next six months. Vanunu later informed the prison that his permanent address would be an Anglican Church in Jerusalem.

Dressed in a simple white-checked shirt, black tie and slacks, and carrying a solitary bag, Vanunu flashed victory signs as he walked out of the prison to be greeted by hundreds of supporters. After finishing his statement, he was driven away in a convoy of police cars, with proponents yelling encouragement on one side of the vehicle, and opponents screaming and making rude gestures on the other.

His first stop upon release was the St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem, where he was mobbed by supporters and the media. “I am going to the church to give thanks to my friends and to God,” he said as he left Ashkelon.

The Israeli defense establishment has declared Vanunu to be a security risk, and officials have signed orders forbidding him to leave the country for a year and requiring him to obtain official clearance before speaking to foreign nationals or traveling far from his place of residence. Vanunu, however, told one of his attorneys on Wednesday that he would not recognize any of the restrictions placed upon him.

Along with Israel, the United States will be following Vanunu’s words and actions after his release. Gideon Frank, the director general of Israel’s Atomic Energy Commission, met here yesterday with John Bolton, the U.S. undersecretary of state for arms control and international security, and the pair discussed Vanunu’s release. The working premise of the discussion was allegedly that Vanunu will be trying to cause problems for Israel.

FREE: Mordechai Vanunu waves to his supporters April 21 after being released from prison (top). He later embraces Peter Hounam, the journalist who investigated his claims about Israel’s nuclear reactor (middle), and goes to pray at an Anglican church in Jerusalem (bottom).

Find us on Facebook!
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • Planning on catching "Fading Gigolo" this weekend? Read our review.
  • A new initiative will spend $300 million a year towards strengthening Israel's relationship with the Diaspora. Is this money spent wisely?
  • Lusia Horowitz left pre-state Israel to fight fascism in Spain — and wound up being captured by the Nazis and sent to die at Auschwitz. Share her remarkable story — told in her letters.
  • Vered Guttman doesn't usually get nervous about cooking for 20 people, even for Passover. But last night was a bit different. She was cooking for the Obamas at the White House Seder.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?

We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.