CONSIDERING that Israel officially has no nuclear weapons, it is extraordinary that it continues to persecute Mordechai Vananu, a man who has served the full 18 years of his imprisonment for revealing information about the Dimona atomic reactor to the Sunday Times in the 1980s. Based on what Vananu, then a middle-rank technician, had told it, the newspaper estimated that Israel held between 100 and 200 nuclear weapons. Vananu was lured from London to Rome, captured there and transported to Israel to stand trial for treason.

He was released from prison earlier this year but told that he could not leave the country and must not talk to the foreign media. A appeal against these conditions has just been turned down by Israeli's highest court. The earlier warnings given to him about contacts with foreigners have been reinforced with the additional threat that he could be charged afresh if he violates them. Mr Vananu, who has converted to Christianity and is living in the compound of St George's Cathedral in Jerusalem for fear of being attacked by Jewish extremists who regard him as a traitor if he were living more openly.

Mordechai Vananu's case concerns the right to be free when one has served a sentence. There is the wider issue of why Israel continues to pursue its policy of “strategic ambiguity” over its non-conventional weapons. Everyone know that Israel has nuclear weapons but the fiction is maintained that they do not exist. Talks were recently held beween the government and the International Atomic Energy Authority about the creation of a nuclear-free zone in the Middle East. Israel expressed its support for the idea, but only when the Palestinian problem has been settled and a wider peace agreement for the region established.


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