Israel attacks BBC 'tricks' in taping Vanunu

Whistleblower insists he revealed secrets to prevent 'second holocaust'

The Israeli authorities' frequently tense relationship with the BBC will take a turn for the worse this week when they complain about the methods used to broadcast a taped interview with nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu.

The Foreign Ministry is expected to seek a meeting with the BBC's Middle East bureau chief, Andrew Steele, to discuss the circumstances in which the tape of the interview was smuggled out of the country despite demands that all copies be handed over to the Israeli censor.

Peter Hounam, the journalist who first broke the story in 1986 of Mr Vanunu's revelations of Israel's nuclear weapons programme and who has been making a documentary on him for the BBC, was ordered to leave the country last week after being held for 24 hours by Shin Bet, the domestic intelligence agency.

Shin Bet conspicuously failed to find all the tapes, despite their interrogation of Mr Hounam and the separate detentions of two members of the team from the Magnetic North independent production company, Chris Mitchell and a freelance editor, Sadi Haeri.

The interview was carried out on behalf of the team and The Sunday Times by Yael Lotan, an Israeli supporter of Mr Vanunu, who was released last month from jail after serving an 18-year sentence. The restrictions attached to Mr Vanunu's release expressly preclude him from meeting foreigners without prior permission. The BBC repeatedly trailed the interview, conducted eight days ago, on its news bulletins yesterday.

A senior government source in Jerusalem said there could be "repercussions" for relations between the BBC and the Israeli government. The source added that the government wanted to express its "disappointment" that the BBC had appeared prepared to "trick" Israel by bypassing restrictions, including those on Mr Vanunu after his release.

In his interview Mr Vanunu appears to say nothing new of relevance to Israel's present security. He strongly denies that he betrayed the country and says that he exposed Israel's nuclear secrets because he wanted to prevent the second holocaust that might occur as a result of a nuclear war.

He also reveals that "Cindy", the Mossad agent who lured him from London to Rome where he was seized, had kissed him throughout the car journey from Rome's airport to distract him from the trap he was falling into. He says he had suspected she might be a Mossad agent but that she appeared not to know what he was talking about when he challenged her. He adds: "I'm not interested in living in Israel. I want to start my new life in the United States or Europe."

Shin Bet, which says that Mr Vanunu breached his restrictions by meeting Mr Hounam, is still deciding whether to take action against him.

Comments