Vanunu trial puts Israeli nuclear policy on stand

Israel's nuclear policy is likely to be put on the stand during the trial of Mordechai Vanunu, a former nuclear technician who allegedly disclosed his country's atomic secrets to a British newspaper. Mr. Vanunu, whose trial opened this week, has been charged with treason and espionage because of his account to the Sunday Times of the workings of Israel's nuclear power plant in the Negev Desert. He faces a possible life sentence if convicted. Vanunu began testifying yesterday.

Vanunu disappeared from London last Sept. 30, shortly after passing the information to the London paper. According to foreign reports, he was abducted by Mossad (Israeli intellegience) agents, who lured him to Rome with a female operative's help.

The security measures surrounding the trial are unprecedented. Proceedings are held behind closed doors, with only the defendant, attorneys, and judges allowed into the courtroom. The windows are boarded. Vanunu arrives in a police van with sealed windows, and is hussled into the building behind a canvas screen, while wearing a motorcycle helmet to prevent him from talking to journalists.

The tight security is partly a response to his previous effort to communicate with the press. Several months ago, he scrawled details of how he was brought to Israel on his palm, which he flattened against a police van window in full view of reporters.

Vanunu's defense counsel, Avigdor Feldman, plans to challenge the secret nature of the trial, hoping to turn it into a public discussion of Israel's nuclear policy. Mr. Feldman has asked that the part of the trial not dealing with specific issues of state security be opened to the public, maintaining it has the right to hear witnesses who will raise basic moral questions about the nuclear program.

In preliminary arguments, Feldman reportedly told the court that Vanunu's confession was extracted under duress and that the trial is illegal because his client was illegally kidnapped and arrested.

If the trial is declared legal, the lawyer will move to basic questions. He plans to argue that Vanunu acted to warn against the dangers of a secret nuclear program that is being carried out without public debate or control. He will say Vanunu decided to reveal details of Israel's atomic arsenal in order to save it from a nuclear holocaust. Such an argument has apparently led to Vanunu's nomination by a British politician as a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Five expert witnesses will be called to testify on the dangers of nuclear weapons and the illegality of their development without international supervision. According to press reports, Feldman plans to call an international law expert to establish that stockpiling nuclear weapons without international controls is a war crime.

Israel is not a signatory to any international nuclear nonproliferation pact. It has refused inspection of its nuclear plants on the grounds that the Arab states have rejected its proposal for a nuclear-free Mideast. With the help of an expert on the effects of the atom bomb, Feldman will reportedly try to show that at times one has the moral right to violate the laws of the state.

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