Jeffrey LewisMordechai Vanunu, Israel and the Bomb

Mordechai Vanunu will be released from an Israeli prison Wednesday. Vanunu was a technician in the Israeli nuclear weapons program who took his camera to work one day. When The Sunday Times published the photographs along with technical analysis in a 1986 article entitled “Revealed: The Secrets of Israel/’s Nuclear Arsenal,” the world knew a lot more about the size and sophistication of the Israeli nuclear weapons program. The original story is hard to find, but here is a summary and a sample of the photographs.

The Israeli authorities were not amused. Before the story was even released, Vanunu was kidnapped from Rome, tried in secret in Israel and sentenced to 18 years imprisonment – spending the first 12 years in solitary confinement. Vanunu was nominated for the Nobel prize several times and received the 1987 “Right Livelihood” award (often called the “alternative” Nobel prize). Nobel laureate Joseph Rotblat called Vanunu “a sincere, whistle-blower, who attempted to warn the world of a potential source of danger.”

Frank Barnaby, one of the experts consulted in The Sunday Times piece, summarized the Israeli nuclear program in the Journal of Palestinian Studies. A thorough, book-length treatment is Israel and the Bomb. The author, CISSM scholar Avner Cohen, was subjected to “Kafkaesque” harassment by the Israeli authorities, himself. Avner wrote an excellent article in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists arguing that extreme nuclear secrecy undermines democracy in Israel.