JERUSALEM (Nov. 11)
Mordechai Vanunu, the former technician at the Dimona nuclear facility, will be charged with either treason or espionage for allegedly revealing secret information about Israel’s nuclear weapons capabilities, it was learned here Monday.
If convicted of espionage, the 31-year-old Israeli who recently converted to the Christian faith would face life imprisonment. Capital punishment applies for treason.
The government announced Sunday that Vanunu is being held in Israel “under lawful detention” and is represented by counsel. The statement, released after the weekly Cabinet meeting, was the first official acknowledgement that Vanunu, who was reported missing in London October 1, is in Israel.
He was remanded in custody for 15 days by order of a senior police officer, an indication of the gravity of the charges which will be brought against him. In cases other than espionage or treason, a suspect cannot be detained unless brought before a judge within 48 hours of arrest.
KIDNAPPING CHARGES DENIED
The government statement said that Vanunu was checked by a medical doctor shortly after he was brought to Israel. It emphatically denied charges that he was kidnapped in London by Israeli agents and brought here against his will. But there was no indication of how or when he arrived in Israel.
Britain has formally asked Israel to clarify this. The British Ambassador, William Squires, contacted the Foreign Ministry’s Political Director General, Yossi Beilin, Tuesday to request further information. Squires was acting on instructions from the Foreign Office in London.
Israeli officials are uncertain whether the British are genuinely seeking additional information or whether the inquiry is to help the government of Prime Minister Margaret Thatcher fend off demands for “clarification” from opposition members of Parliament and the media. The Thatcher government has already denied media reports that the Prime Minister was secretly advised by Shimon Peres last month that Israeli agents would abduct Vanunu on British soil and that she did not raise objections. This allegedly occurred while Peres was still Israeli Premier, before the rotation of power.
Initial reaction in Jerusalem to the British inquiry is that there is no need for explanations beyond Sunday’s announcement that Vanunu was in custody.
After the government’s admission that Vanunu is in custody. Amnon Zichroni, a lawyer well known in leftist circles, revealed that he had been appointed to represent the suspect, at his own request. Zichroni told reporters Monday that he asked Premier Yitzhak Shamir several days ago to announce publicly that Vanunu was being held in Israel.
BASIS FOR DECISION TO GO PUBLIC
But according to media reports, the decision to go public was made in consultation between Shamir, Vice Premier and Foreign Minister Peres and Defense Minister Yitzhak Rabin. This followed a request by Attorney General Yosef Harish.
Zichroni reportedly hastened the decision by threatening to ask the Supreme Court to order the government to make a statement about Vanunu. Had such an appeal been made, the government would have no choice but to make public that Vanunu is in Israel.
Zichroni told reporters that Vanunu complained he was the target of public lynching by the media in Israel. He is alleged to have been the source of a story in the Sunday Times of London in October that Israel has been manufacturing nuclear weapons for 20 years and has enough in stock now to rank as the world’s sixth nuclear power.