Prospective Israeli Disasters

Mordechai Vanunu was the Israeli “atomic spy,” the nuclear technician who in 1986 revealed secret information about Israel’s covert weapons program at the nuclear reactor at Dimona, in the Negev desert of southern Israel, in an interview with the London Sunday Times. For his troubles he was lured to Rome later that year and kidnapped there by Mossad agents, who brought him back to Israel and so to Israeli legal jurisdiction. In a secret trial, he was sentenced to eighteen years in prison for treason, which he finished serving last April.

Out of jail, it seems Vanunu still just can’t hold his tongue. (This profile in the Guardian mentions that, among other restrictions, he is obliged not to talk to the foreign press; at the same time, he is appealing to Israel’s supreme court for permission to leave the country again. Yet he recently gave an interview to the London-based Arab newspaper Al Hayat.) This strangely-stubborn behavior is probably something the rest of the world should be grateful for, at least for those who would prefer to be a little better aware of Israeli nuclear activities than the Israeli government would prefer, and the German newspaper Die Welt has picked up on his latest (Atom Expert Warns of a “Second Chernobyl” in Israel).

So what news does Vanunu have now? Not that Israel is a nuclear power; he was jailed for so long precisely for helping confirm that back in 1986, but most of the world had started to assume that long before. But his new topic is again nuclear, and again involves that plant in Dimona, which in ex-employee Vanunu’s estimation is a disaster waiting to happen. It’s forty year old now; it is way out-of-date, and therefore vulnerable to a Chernobyl-style meltdown that could kill millions both in Israel and neighboring states. Goodness, what that might do to the already-faltering Middle East peace process! Via Al Hayat, Vanunu called on both the Israeli and Jordanian governments to begin stockpiling anti-radiation medicines in preparation for such an incident.

Clearly, Vanunu is outspoken. (If he’s not careful, his name could become a synonym for that adjective: “Quit being so vanunu and shut up!”). But there’s little doubt he has the background to evaluate such things. We need to keep in mind what he is qualified to pronounce on, and what he is not, when we continue in Die Welt’s article to where he speculated that Israel was involved in the 1963 assassination of President John F. Kennedy. Kennedy had been putting pressure on then-Israeli premier David Ben-Gurion to make public the building of the Dimona reactor and all the related (i.e. weapons-producing) activities that were going on there. But, as Die Welt notes, “Vanunu provided no concrete evidence” to back up this assertion.

UPDATE: This article in Le Monde reports that the Israeli supreme court has rejected Vanunu’s appeal to ease the restrictions still placed on him after his release from prison, including the prohibition from travelling abroad (and from talking to the foreign press, for what that’s worth).


This subject of threatening disaster lets us transition smoothly to a current article over in Munich’s Süddeutsche Zeitung: Israel Fears Attack on Temple Mount. That’s “attack” in the new September 11 style, that is, destruction via a crashing aircraft, or perhaps explosive-laden unmanned drone. Israeli Interior Minister Zahi Hanegbi stated Saturday on television that his ministry considers the risk of an attack by “extremist or fanatical Jews” on the Temple Mount “today greater than ever before.”

Why would fanatical Jews try to destroy the Temple Mount, location of Judaism’s holiest site, the Wailing Wall? Mainly because that ultra-historic man-made hill also contains the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa mosque, making it the third-holiest site in Islam after Mecca and Medina. The point would be to put a halt to current plans by Israeli premier Ariel Sharon for withdrawal from Gaza – by plunging the entire region into bloody chaos, of course! As it is, the Al Aqsa mosque has already been the target of minor attacks by such Jewish extremists in the past, and you’ll recall that it was Sharon’s provocative visit there back in September, 2000, that set off what has become known as the Second Intifada.

Also in the Israeli media over the weekend was former Jerusalem police chief Arieh Amit, who opined that Minister Hanegbi would not have made such public warnings if he wasn’t in possession of “concrete information about planning” for such a spectacular attack. Of course, such an incident would mean “genuine holy war for Muslims against the Jews.” But many pious (ultra-pious?) Israelis are under pressure these days in the face of Sharon’s determination to terminate their settlements in Gaza. “For them it’s the same thing as the end of the world,” remarked Amit. So perhaps they’d just like to take everyone else along.

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