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Last Updated: Wednesday, 21 April, 2004, 12:49 GMT 13:49 UK
Press fears over Vanunu release
Israeli press graphic

Israeli fears that the release of nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu after 18 years in prison will stir up the debate over its controversial nuclear weapons programme are reflected in the country's press.

Most commentators have little sympathy for Mr Vanunu, with some worrying he could become a rallying point for anti-Israeli sentiments.

The government also comes under attack for the way it is handling his release, particularly the decision not to keep him in some form of administrative detention.

The damage he will continue to do to Israel as a propagandist will considerably exceed the damage he caused as a spy
The Jerusalem Post

The Jerusalem Post is not optimistic that Mr Vanunu will maintain a discrete silence.

"We wish we could be as sanguine that Vanunu will disappear from public view. More likely, he will become a handy tool for anti-Israel campaigners, particularly if he is allowed to leave Israel in a year.

"The cumulative damage he will continue to do to Israel as a propagandist will considerably exceed the damaged he caused as a spy."

The Post believes that "ostensibly, Vanunu owes his fame to what he stands for: nuclear disarmament, freedom of information, human rights. In fact, it is owed mainly to what he stands against. 'I am against Israel' he is reported to have told the Shin Bet (Israeli secret service). 'I am against your state'."

'Vanunu circus'

An editorial in Hatzofe condemns the government for "acting in haste".

"It rejected the recommendation of the heads of Shin Bet to hold him in administrative detention immediately upon his release. It preferred, for some reason, to accept the attorney-general's recommendation to allow him freedom of action with reasonable restrictions. This recommendation is liable to start a Vanunu circus."

Leave Vanunu alone. Don't turn him into a hero
Commentator in Ha'aretz

Writing in Ha'aretz, commentator Reuven Pedatzur makes a plea for the media not to give the freed man the oxygen of publicity:

"Leave Vanunu alone. Don't turn him into a cultural hero."

Mr Pedatzur argues that the security lapses which allowed Mr Vanunu to reveal details of Israel's nuclear programme to London's Sunday Times have still not been investigated.

"The defence establishment, and particularly the Shin Bet security service and the Defence Ministry's internal security department, simply want to avoid the embarrassment and criticism of Vanunu revealing how he made a laughing stock of the system in charge of protecting secrets at the Dimona reactor.

"To this day, there has been no serious probe into the failures of Shin Bet and the internal security department... Everything could change if Vanunu talks."

Secrets of the dome

An editorial in Ha'aretz also calls for the authorities "to allow him to live as a free man" or pay the price.

"Any further extraordinary efforts to silence him will only perpetuate both his mythical status and the campaign that has grown up around him."

Writing in Ma'ariv, commentator Rafi Man believes the decision to impose restrictions on Mr Vanunu's freedom after his release "has nothing to do with secrets. It is about the level of public debate, at home and mainly abroad, on what is hidden under the silver dome in the desert near Dimona".

Expressing an opinion, even on the nuclear issue, is not an offence
Ma'ariv commentator

The Israeli establishment has long sought to maintain an ambiguity about Israel's nuclear arsenal, and fears that dropping the veil on the issue could expose Israel to "very harsh sanctions", Mr Man writes.

"In view of the attempts to scare us with spin, it is important to reiterate one basic fact: expressing an opinion, even on the nuclear issue, is not an offence," he concludes.


However, another commentator writing in Ha'aretz, Aluf Benn, argues that although he "managed to pierce the cloud of ambiguity covering Israel's nuclear programme... Vanunu completely failed to attain his political objective, assuming his intention was to stir an international outcry that would culminate in demands that Israel shut down its Dimona operations".

If he opens his mouth, he will be tried
Yediot Aharanot commentator

"As he walks out of Shikma prison today, Israel's nuclear programme enjoys an unprecedented level of international legitimacy, leaders in the West openly justify Israel's nuclear programme as an insurance policy taken out by a small, vulnerable country whose hostile neighbours constantly threaten to destroy it."

A columnist in the top circulation Yediot Aharonot, Itan Haber, believes that Mr Vanunu has paid his dues and "must be congratulated on his exit to a new life".

"If Vanunu says nothing about Dimona, nothing will happen to him. If he opens his mouth on prohibited subjects, he will be tried."

BBC Monitoring, based in Caversham in southern England, selects and translates information from radio, television, press, news agencies and the internet from 150 countries in more than 70 languages.

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Vanunu: Israel's nuclear telltale
20 Apr 04  |  Middle East

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