Whistle-blower: 'I feared brain-washing... They were out to destroy my personality'

As newly released technician speaks out, Sharon comes close to admitting his country has nuclear weapons
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The Independent Online

Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu was convinced during his long years of imprisonment that his jailers were out to brainwash him.

Nuclear whistle-blower Mordechai Vanunu was convinced during his long years of imprisonment that his jailers were out to brainwash him.

In an extended interview in The Sunday Times, which ran his story in 1986, the man who revealed Israel's weapons programme at the Dimona nuclear plant said: "They were trying to destroy my personality. They monitored all my moves and I suspected they were tampering with my meals. I felt I had to resist accepting any changes or they would succeed in breaking me."

He said that what helped him survive his imprisonment ­ including 11 years in solitary confinement ­ was listening to opera tapes and CDs sent by well-wishers, Wagner being a particular favourite.

His remarks came as Mr Vanunu's family and supporters reported him to be in high spirits, despite their continued worries about his security from bitterly hostile elements among the Israeli public. He was brought face to face with that hostility by the taunts and shouts of "death to traitors" when he was driven from the high-security jail in Ashkelon after an otherwise tumultuous welcome from his supporters on Wednesday.

Mr Vanunu's brother Meir said that foreign governments, including Britain's, should act to ensure that Mr Vanunu was protected after the Justice Minister, Tommy Lapid, said that Israel would not be providing security for Mr Vanunu. He was also disturbed by the heavy emphasis laid by sections of the Israeli media on his brother's conversion from the Judaism of his Moroccan immigrant parents. Referring to the main headline in the mass-circulation daily Yedhiot Ahronot after his release ­ "Mordechai the Christian" ­ he said: "They are treating him as a traitor to his religion and not as a man who is also idealistically and ideologically motivated."

Although a few of the restrictions on his release have been slightly relaxed, he will not be able to make a new life in the US for at least a year. Despite his repeated denials, ministers continue to insist he has more security-sensitive details to divulge.

The former Dimona technician has been fascinated by the technological changes since his imprisonment in 1986, according to Rayna Moss, who helped to form the Israeli Campaign for Mordechai Vanunu 18 years ago but never met him until an emotional encounter after his release last week.

"It was more like a reunion than a first meeting," she said. "He has this phenomenal memory for everyone. What he really treasures is having people around him, hugging and talking to them. He said, 'In prison I had food and sleep. What I didn't have was people.'"

Meanwhile, Ariel Sharon, Israel's Prime Minister, has ended a week of saturation coverage of Vanunu's release by going closer than ever towards admitting that his country has nuclear weapons.

Little more than 48 hours after Mr Vanunu completed his sentence, Mr Sharon indicated that the US recognised Israel needs a credible deterrent against the threat from Iran and other hostile countries that pose an "existential threat" to Israel.

In an interview broadcast as Mr Vanunu prepared to spend his third night outside jail in the precincts of St George's Anglican Cathedral in Jerusalem, the Prime Ministerattributed estimates of Israel's nuclear capability ­ calculated at 200 weapons ­ to "foreign press" reports.

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