London, Wednesday, April 21, 2004, Nisan 30,
nuclear whistle-blower was 'a lucky stroke,' agents
By Yossi Melman
"IT was luck, pure luck, that we
managed to track him down, establish contact with
him, and bring him to Israel in the end," a former
official who was involved in Mordechai
Vanunu's capture, recalled this
The original report that a worker at the Dimona
nuclear plant named Mordechai Vanunu intended to
disclose information to the British Sunday
Times reached Israel's security establishment
in August 1986, via the journalist Ami
Doron. A few years earlier, Doron had tried to
publish a book about the Dimona plant, together
with former Haaretz correspondent Eli
Teicher, but Israel's censorship had flatly
banned the manuscript.
ISRAEL HAS nuclear weapons. Israel has
refused to sign the 1970 Nuclear
Non-Proliferation Treaty. By Act of
Congress, the US government is therefore
prohibited from providing financial aid to
Israel. Go figure, as the Americans
The fact is that
President NIxon negotiated a sweetheart
deal with Israeli Prime Minister Golda
Meir in 1969, under which Washington
undertakes to turn a blind eye on Dimona,
provided that Israel does not publicly
Mordechai Vanunu was
what the American government in its
righteousness calls a whistleblower, which
places him at the other end of the scale
from a stoolpigeon, sneak, or informer. A
make-believe hooker Cherly Bentov
confesses to having been an accomplice in
the "honey trap" -- (1) the forced
injection of a noxious substance into
Vanunu's veins in Rome, and (2) his
kidnapping in a drugged state.
Both are criminal
offences under US and Italian law, bearing
pretty hefty penalties.
Unwanted criminal Cherly
is alive and well in Touristenstadt
Why does Italy not
demand her extradition?
Why do the US
authorities not prosecute?
In August, a journalist from the Sunday
Times contacted Doron, asking for help about a
person named Vanunu who claimed he worked in the
Dimona reactor. Doron relayed the information to a
friend, Yoav Deigi. Since security at the
reactor is not the IDF's responsibility, the
information was passed on to the Shin Bet security
service and the Mossad and a "steering committee"
was created, with key security figures, such as the
Shin Bet's Yossi Ginossar and then deputy
Mossad head Shabtai Shavit, as members.
What was called the "prime ministers' club" --
prime minister Shimon Peres, his designated
replacement under rotation agreements Yitzhak
Shamir and defense minister Yitzhak
Rabin -- decided the authenticity of the
information on Vanunu should be checked, that
Vanunu should be tracked down, and that an effort
should be made to prevent him from disclosing
information. This assignment was given mostly to
the Mossad, since it is responsible for secret
missions outside the country's borders.
Shabtai appointed "B," a Mossad veteran with
experience directing agents who was then waiting
for a new appointment, to head the damage control
The security establishment received information
indicating that Vanunu was to be found in
Australia. A joint Mossad-Shin Bet team went to
Australia, but was unable to find the technician.
By studying passenger lists and border crossing
information, security officials concluded that
Vanunu was in London. A number of consultations
were held: officials decided that if Vanunu were
found in London, and if there were a need to bring
him to Israel against his will, the kidnapping
would not be done on British soil.
Between 1981 and 1985, intelligence relations
between Israel and Britain were soured by a number
of embarrassing incidents.
- The first occurred when a courier lost a bag
that contained forged British passports in a
supermarket in Germany. The passports were to be
used by Israeli Military Industries officials
who sought entry to China.
- Another incident involved a Mossad agent who
infiltrated a PLO cell in Britain. Members of
the cell were arrested on suspicion of
involvement in the murder of a Kuwaiti
caricaturist whose work ridiculed Yasser
Arafat. During interrogations, one member of
the cell, a Druze from the Golan Heights,
admitted he was a Mossad agent. British security
officials were angry the Mossad hadn't shared
information which might have prevented a murder,
and they expelled some Mossad agents who worked
in Britain under diplomatic cover -- this move
effectively shut down Mossad operations in
When the Vanunu situation arose, the Mossad
decided not to conduct a kidnap operation on
British soil, and Shimon Peres welcomed this
position due to his desire to avoid another
embarrassing entanglement with the "iron lady,"
prime minister Margaret Thatcher.
A Mossad team, including Cheryl Bentov,
nicknamed "Cindy," after her brother's girlfriend
(and today his wife), combed through London. With
the help of information culled from various
sources, the Mossad managed to track down Vanunu.
It identified his hotel and kept tabs on his
contacts with the Sunday Times.
In Tel Aviv, Shimon Peres was at this point
alarmed by the prospect of public disclosure about
his "baby" -- the Dimona reactor.
He convened a meeting
of the newspaper editors committee and in an
off-the-record talk implored them not to print
reports based on stories in the international
press about the Dimona plant.
Information about the importance accorded by
Israel's prime minister to the subject was leaked
via an Israeli journalist to the Sunday
Times, and the British newspaper decided after
a two-week period of vacillation that the story
told to them by Mordechai Vanunu was genuine and
The special security team established to work on
the case formulated a few possible action
scenarios. One proposal,
which was not taken very
seriously, was to kill Vanunu, rather than
trying to kidnap him and possibly bungling the
operation. It was clear to security officials that
this proposal was, at most, wishful thinking --
since the establishment of the state, Israel's
security services had never assassinated an Israeli
Mossad agents continued to comb the streets of
London with a picture of Vanunu in their pockets.
In an incredible stroke of luck, "Cindy" found
Vanunu as he was staring at a store window in
Leicester Square. She stood alongside him, and
established eye contact with him. Vanunu, who
(according to family members) was normally shy with
women, summoned the courage to talk with her.
"Are you also a tourist," he asked "Cindy." She
identified herself as a cosmetician by profession,
and a Jewish American who was touring London.
Vanunu invited her for coffee; she played hard to
get. Vanunu was hooked.
On September 30, the Sunday Mirror
released Vanunu's picture and a report ridiculing
the Dimona nuclear reactor disclosure, in an
attempt to belittle the Sunday Times, which
was about to purchase Vanunu's account. Vanunu was
upset, and Cindy exploited his high-strung state.
She proposed they leave the following day for Rome,
where her sister had an apartment. Though the
Sunday Times journalist Peter Hounam
explicitly warned Vanunu that Cindy might by a
Mossad agent, and that he must not leave British
soil, Vanunu took up her offer.
After they flew to Rome, and entered the
apartment, two Mossad agents pounced on Vanunu,
tied his hands, and injected him with a drug. He
was then brought back to Israel by boat. Cherly
Bentov told Ha'aretz in a telephone
interview that she didn't want to discuss the
Vanunu story. Bentov, 44,
lives in Orlando, Florida with her husband, Ofer,
who is a former IDF intelligence
May 2002: A
rare court appearance by Israeli whistleblower
dossier on The Mossad
of photos taken by Vanunu documenting Israel's
Daimona nuclear weapons project
Mossad's use of other
Mossad agents arrested in Auckland, NZ, trying
to obtain a false New Zealand passport
investigating: Mossad has history of using
counterfeit Canadian documents
at Mossad's continued use of Canadian Passports
in Murder Operation
6, 1999: Probe of Mossad's use of Canadian ID
secret service still using Canadian
investigating: Mossad has history of using
counterfeit Canadian documents