BBC Transcript of “Israel’s Secret Weapon” (part 1)

Israel declared over the weekend that it is cutting off ties with the BBC to protest a repeat broadcast of a documentary about non-conventional weapons said to be in Israel. The program was broadcast for the first time in March in Britain, and was rerun Saturday on a BBC channel that is aired all over the world. The boycott decision was made by Israel’s public relations forum, made up of representatives from the Prime Minister’s Office, the Foreign Ministry and the Government Press Office. It was decided that government offices won’t assist BBC producers and reporters, that Israeli officials will not give interviews to the British network, and that the Government Press Office will make it difficult for BBC employees to get press cards and work visas in Israel. Before the broadcast Saturday, Israeli officials tried to pressure the BBC to cancel the broadcast, saying that the program was biased and presented Israel as an evil dictatorship. Here is a complete transcript of the program.


Tx Date: 17th March 2003

This script was made from audio tape - any inaccuracies are due to voices being unclear or inaudible

00.00.01 Correspondent Theme Music

00.00.11 Music

00.00.11 Graphic: Which country in the Middle East has undeclared Nuclear weapons?

00.00.16 Graphic: Which country in the Middle East has undeclared biological and chemical capabilities?

00.00.21 Graphic: Which country in the Middle East has no outside inspections?

00.00.26 Graphic: Which country jailed its nuclear whistleblower for 18 years?

00.00.31 Title page: ISRAEL’S SECRET WEAPON

00.00.36 Music

00.00.42 St Paul, Minnesota

00.00.45 Olenka Frenkiel: Meet the Eoloffs. Five years ago they adopted a man they’d never met who writes to them from a prison cell in Israel.

00.00.55 Actor’s voice

00.00.55 Voiceover: My dearest Nick and Mary, I am very glad to hear from you so soon. About the next parole hearing I don’t know what will happen. We’ve passed a long time in a very bad cruel condition.

00.01.07 Voiceover: We will see what the U.S. is going to do with Iraq, if they’ll go to war.

00.01.13 Olenka Frenkiel: The man they adopted is Mordechai Vanunu, jailed as a traitor. He spent eleven years in solitary confinement.

00.01.21 Mary Eoloff: He was buried alive. He was shut up in a six by nine-foot cell with no windows so he couldn’t see outside. Even when he exercised there was a canvas around him when he was out walking.

00.01.32 Nick Eoloff: He has spent more time in isolation in a prison in the western world than any other human being. It was that bad. His condition was that bad. And that was what really moved us to adopt him. How can a country treat a human being that way?

00.01.52 Olenka Frenkiel: Vanunu moved to Israel as a child with his family from Morocco. He served in the Israeli army, studied philosophy, and found work at Dimona.

00.02.07 Olenka Frenkiel: This mysterious complex in the Negev desert employed thousands of people all sworn to secrecy. For years Israel called it a textile factory, never admitting its true purpose; making plutonium for bombs.

00.02.26 Olenka Frenkiel: Vanunu’s dissent over government policies was noted. He was given a warning and decided to leave.

00.02.35 Olenka Frenkiel: But not without the evidence which would change history. Today his are still the only photographs ever seen of the inside of Israel’s nuclear bomb factory.

00.02.55 Olenka Frenkiel: It’s 16 years since Sunday Times journalist Peter Hounam heard rumours that an Israeli whistleblower was offering proof of what the world had long suspected.

00.03.05 PETER HOUNAM, Freelance Journalist: Here was someone who said he’d worked right inside the plutonium separation plant helping to fabricate atomic weapons; who had taken photographs of the machinery and who had lots of information about how much material was being processed, and so on.

00.03.21 Peter Hounam: Therefore he was potentially going to be able to provide incontrovertible evidence that Israel had a very advanced programme.

00.03.31 Olenka Frenkiel: Hounam flew to meet Vanunu, who was now a Christian living in Australia.

00.03.36 Olenka Frenkiel: He was brought to England. He was hidden in a country hotel and smuggled into the paper’s offices in the boot of the car while they checked his story.

00.03.45 Olenka Frenkiel: But Israeli intelligence agents caught here on Wapping’s security cameras were onto him. They were waiting to strike.

00.03.58 Olenka Frenkiel: It took weeks for The Sunday Times to go to press with their scoop. When they finally did on Oct 5th 1986 Vanunu had vanished.

00.04.10 Reconstruction

00.04.14 Olenka Frenkiel: He’d met an American woman in Leicester Square who seemed to like him. He was vulnerable and afraid.

00.04.23 Olenka Frenkiel: When she suggested he’d be safer with her in Rome, he fell for it. It was a classic honey trap.

00.04.39 Olenka Frenkiel: Once in Rome the full weight of Israel’s wrath kicked in. Vanunu was overpowered, assaulted and drugged.

00.04.56 Olenka Frenkiel: He’d been kidnapped and smuggled back to Israel by boat, unconscious. For weeks no one knew where he was.

00.05.09 Olenka Frenkiel: Eventually the Israelis brought Vanunu to court for a secret trial. They now admitted they had him but still no one knew how he’d got there.

00.05.19 Olenka Frenkiel: His kidnap - an illegal act on foreign soil - was kept secret. Somehow Vanunu found a pen and solved the mystery for the waiting press.

00.05.31 Olenka Frenkiel: Hijacked in Rome thirtieth of September 1986.

00.05.38 Olenka Frenkiel: It was Shimon Peres, then Prime Minister, who had ordered Vanunu’s capture. To this day the kidnap remains an official state secret. Peres was the father of Israel’s secret nuclear programme and for him Vanunu was a spy.

00.05.52 Shimon Peres: He was a traitor to this country.

00.05.56 Olenka Frenkiel: So what was your reaction?

00.05.57 Shimon Peres: Very negative.

00.05.58 Olenka Frenkiel: What did you do?

00.06.00 Shimon Peres: What I thought should be done.

00.06.01 Olenka Frenkiel: Which was what?

00.06.03 Shimon Peres: To put him to trial.

00.06.06 Olenka Frenkiel: Kidnap him?

00.06.08 SHIMON PERES, Former Prime Minister: My lady, I can’t go into all the processes. I am unwilling. I don’t see any reason to do so. The fact is that he was brought to trial.

00.06.22 Olenka Frenkiel: Vanunu’s trial was held in secret. He was found guilty of treason and espionage and sentenced to eighteen years in jail.

00.06.41 AVIGDOR FELDMAN, Mordechai Vanunu’s lawyer: Vanunu was treated this way out of revenge out of a way to deter others and because actually he was the person who broke the taboo of the secrecy in Israeli society, a very strong and influencing taboo in a very closed society more like a tribe.

00.07.05 Olenka Frenkiel: Mordechai Vanunu started his sentence on the twenty seventh of March 1988. Few tears were shed. For most Israelis he was more than a traitor. He had rejected Judaism.

00.07.18 Olenka Frenkiel: His parents declared him dead. And the world forgot about Israel’s nuclear whistleblower. But the truth was out.

00.07.27 Peter Hounam: Vanunu told the world that Israel had developed between one hundred and two hundred atomic bombs and had gone on to develop neutron bombs and thermonuclear weapons. Enough to destroy the entire Middle East and nobody has done anything about it since.

00.07.45 Olenka Frenkiel: Today, proliferation experts report Israel has the world’s sixth largest nuclear arsenal with small tactical nuclear weapons, nuclear landmines as well as medium range nuclear missiles launchable from air, land or sea.

00.08.00 Olenka Frenkiel: It’s thought plutonium is made in Dimona; nuclear weapons are assembled at Yodefat and stored at Zachariah and Eilabun. Three nuclear submarines are based in Haifa and Israel’s biological and chemical warfare laboratories are at Nes Ziona.

00.08.16 Olenka Frenkiel: Israel never comments on such reports.

00.08.20 Olenka Frenkiel: But evidence continues to emerge. In 1992 an Israeli cargo plane crashed in Amsterdam killing forty-three people.

00.08.28 Olenka Frenkiel: The Israelis claimed it was carrying flowers and perfume. It took six years and a Dutch parliamentary enquiry before they admitted it was carrying DMMP, a key component for sarin nerve gas.

00.08.42 Olenka Frenkiel: The DMMP was bound for The Israeli Institute of Biological Research at Nes Ziona, one of Israel’s most secret defence sites. It is subject to no international inspection and reporting of its activities in Israel is prevented by strict military censorship.

00.09.08 Olenka Frenkiel: As war has loomed closer small signs of dissent have appeared on the suburban streets of Middle America. Nick and Mary Eoloff have been peace campaigners since the Vietnam War and the draft.

00.09.20 Mary Eoloff: The definition of a conscientious objector is someone who sincerely objects to participation in all forms of war. There are two words that are extremely important in that definition: “sincere” and “all”.

00.09.37 Olenka Frenkiel: Fear that the draft may return has lead a new generation to the local church hall to hear how, if they’re called up to fight, they can claim their right to say no.

00.09.50 Olenka Frenkiel: For the Eoloffs, Mordechai Vanunu is the ultimate conscientious objector. When they first visited him in 1997 it was his eleventh year in solitary confinement.

00.10.03 MARY & NICK EOLOFF, Mordechai Vanunu’s adoptive parents: And we waited and they brought him in and he looked like an old man. I didn’t anticipate that. And he came up to us and he put his fingers through the bars through the cage, because it was a steel cage. We were crying. We felt so awful to see him like this.

00.10.33 Olenka Frenkiel: Vanunu writes regularly. It is the only communication he is allowed with the outside world. But his letters take months to arrive and are always censored.

00.10.46 Mary Eoloff: He says, don’t feel so bad, we can bear another year.

00.10.50 Nick Eoloff: My, what courage!

00.10.54 Mary Eoloff: The early letters that we got were totally cut out. This isn’t even an example because they were cut out more than that, this. They use a highlighter and then they bring it to Mordechai, and he has to cut out the things they’ve highlighted.

00.11.11 Mary Eoloff: One time, he said they weren’t paying attention. And so he just put the pieces in the envelope and we got them, because we said, you know, we got the pieces, and they’re really not even significant. I think it’s control, total control.

00.11.30 Music

00.11.34 Olenka Frenkiel: Today Jerusalem is a ghost town, drained of life. Israel’s nuclear weapons have proved useless in its latest war. The suicide bombers have frightened the tourists away. The economy has collapsed.

00.11.51 Olenka Frenkiel: Israelis have learnt to live with war. Every citizen gets a gas mask, is taught how to use it and is expected to have it ready in case of attack.

00.12.13 Olenka Frenkiel: Nuclear weapons are seen as a justifiable deterrent by most Israelis, who feel besieged by enemies.

00.12.21 Olenka Frenkiel: Forty years ago Uzi Even, then a young scientist at Dimona was in at the start of Israel’s bomb.

00.12.28 Professor UZI EVEN, Dimona scientist, 1962-68: We were a very small country, and we were surrounded by much much larger, more populous states on borders that are almost impossible to defend. The holocaust was very much in our memory at that time, and we all realised that we have to do something to prevent the same scenario from happening again.

00.12.51 Uzi Even: So we were a young crew, most of us very young, very enthusiastic, working on something we believed is essential for our existence, like building the final insurance policy that we will not be attacked or terminated.

00.13.15 Olenka Frenkiel: It was the young Shimon Peres, back in the fifties who negotiated a secret deal with the French to buy a nuclear weapons reactor like theirs.

00.13.24 Olenka Frenkiel: But while Dimona was going up, intelligence reports reached Washington that Israel was building an atom bomb.

00.13.30 Olenka Frenkiel: Despite claims that Dimona was for peaceful purposes only, Israel’s leader Ben Gurion was summoned to Washington. President Kennedy feared an arms race in the Middle East and demanded inspections.

00.13.45 Olenka Frenkiel: But when inspectors finally entered the plant in May 1961 they were tricked. They were shown a fake control room on the ground floor. They were unaware of the six floors below where the plutonium was made.

00.14.00 PETER HOUNAM, Freelance journalist: Well this was something of great pride and almost a legendary story in Dimona, according to Vanunu. When the Americans came they were completely hoodwinked.

00.14.11 Peter Hounam: All the entrances including the lift shafts were bricked up and plastered over so it was impossible for anyone to find their way down to the lower floors.

00.14.24 Olenka Frenkiel: After Kennedy’s assassination the pressure on Israel was off. His successor Lyndon Johnson turned a blind eye.

00.14.33 Olenka Frenkiel: Then In 1969 Israel’s Golda Meir and President Richard Nixon struck a deal, renewed by every President to this day. Israel’s nuclear programme could continue as long as it was never made public. It’s called nuclear ambiguity.

00.14.48 Olenka Frenkiel: The term nuclear ambiguity, in some ways it sounds very grand. But isn’t just a euphemism for deception?

00.14.58 SHIMON PERES, Former Prime Minister: If somebody wants to kill you, and you use a deception to save your life it is not immoral. If we wouldn’t have enemies we wouldn’t need deceptions. We wouldn’t need deterrent.

00.15.12 Olenka Frenkiel: Was this the justification for concealing the floors of the plutonium reprocessing areas from the Americans, the inspectors, when they came?

00.15.23 Shimon Peres: You are having a dialogue with yourself, not with me.

00.15.27 Olenka Frenkiel: But that’s been documented in a number of books.

00.15.30 Shimon Peres: Ask the question to yourself, not to me.

00.15.32 Olenka Frenkiel: I mean, Is it not true?

00.15.35 Shimon Peres: I don’t have to answer your questions even. I don’t see any reason why.

00.15.43 Olenka Frenkiel: Ambiguity is a luxury unique to Israel. Today the country’s an inspection-free zone, protected from scrutiny by America and her allies.

00.15.56 Ronen Bergman: This is the place where Vanunu identified as the separation plant, built mostly underground. And this is the silver dome of the Dimona nuclear reactor.

00.16.11 Olenka Frenkiel: Ronen Bergman is an Israeli journalist specialising in security and defence.

00.16.17 Ronen Bergman: This picture was taken by one of the best commercial satellites available called Ikonos, and Ikonos is capable of taking pictures up to a resolution of one metre.

00.16.30 RONEN BERGMAN, Journalist, “Yediot Ahronot”: However due to the demand of Israel the American Congress ruled a new amendment to the law that forbids American satellites to sell anything of Israeli sites that is better than two metres, meaning the Ikonos is taking imagery of Israel. Then they change the imagery to the resolution of two metres.

00.16.52 Olenka Frenkiel: Worse, less clear?

00.16.53 Ronen Bergman: Much much less clear.

00.16.55 Olenka Frenkiel: And that was a ruling in the United States that’s specifically for Israel, not for other countries.

00.17.00 Ronen Bergman: Only to Israel.

00.17.03 Olenka Frenkiel: Last November there were signs of a softening towards Vanunu. The authorities allowed pictures to be taken at his parole hearing. Parole itself has always been refused. Vanunu still has secrets, the prosecutor claims, that could harm Israel. It’s an argument his lawyer will have to fight at the next hearing.

00.17.22 Olenka Frenkiel: Will the court hear the secret that they claim Vanunu holds?

00.17.27 AVIGDOR FELDMAN, Mordechai Vanunu’s lawyer: They will hear some of the secrets, not the real secrets. They will hear secrets about the secrets.

00.17.34 Olenka Frenkiel: And you too, as his lawyer, will hear those?

00.17.37 Avigdor Feldman: Part of it. Less that the court. The court will hear the secrets about the secrets. I may hear the secrets about the secrets about the secrets.

00.17.47 Olenka Frenkiel: Is that really the case, or is that a sort of ironic…?

00.17.50 Avigdor Feldman: No, it’s really the case. I will be given some type of general description of the secrets. The court will get something more concrete and the secrets themselves will be never released to anybody, they exist at all.

00.18.14 Olenka Frenkiel: Nick and Mary Eoloff have arrived in Israel. They hope to visit Vanunu in prison but they haven’t yet got permission.

00.18.28 Mary Eoloff: Oh gosh, any news?

00.18.31 Rayna Moss: Not yet. Not good news. Not yet.

00.18.33 Olenka Frenkiel: Rayna Moss is one of a small group of Israelis campaigning for Vanunu’s release. She’s been hassling the prison authorities for weeks to get Nick and Mary the necessary permissions.

00.18.46 Rayna Moss: What she says now is that they have approval from one authority but she’s waiting for approval from a second authority.

00.18.54 Nick Eoloff: Do they clearly understand our time limitation that we’re due to be leaving on Friday?

00.18.53 Rayna Moss: Oh absolutely. I made that absolutely clear to them. I said that you’re leaving on Friday, that you’ve already been here for a couple of days.

00.19.06 Mary Eoloff: Well I appreciate you making all these calls, Rayna.

00.19.08 Mary Eoloff: Oh it’s nothing. I don’t mind. I just wish I had good news for you.

00.19.16 Olenka Frenkiel: Forty-year-old reactors are usually shut down, but Dimona grinds on. Dimona is under the control of the Prime Minister, beyond the reach of Parliament or public scrutiny.

00.19.32 Olenka Frenkiel: And that worries the scientist who once worked there so optimistically.

00.19.37 UZI EVEN, Dimona scientist, 1962-68: As the reactor gets older the tendency to have accidents becomes more probable. You should have an outside watchdog and the secrecy more or less created an ex- territorial area in Israel where standard procedures of safety monitoring is not implemented.

00.19.58 Uzi Even: So, worker safety, environmental questions, industrial safety procedures, all are not covered and there are thousands of people working there.

00.20.25 Olenka Frenkiel: But the secrets of this old reactor are beginning to leak.

00.20.34 Olenka Frenkiel: Evidence has seeped out of accidents, lies and deceit.

00.20.43 Olenka Frenkiel: In 1996 the press heard rumours of a radioactive hotspot in the desert. The Environment Minister took them to watch him test the site with a Geiger counter. They weren’t allowed to bring their own, one journalist told me.

00.21.00 Olenka Frenkiel: The Minister proclaimed the site clean. The readings for radioactivity, his instrument showed, were below normal.

00.21.06 Olenka Frenkiel: But journalists weren’t happy.

00.21.09 Journalist, Subtitles: What worries us is the disposal of the waste. Can you please tell us where it is buried?

00.21.21 YOSSI SARID, Environment Minister, 1992-96, Subtitles: In a good place. I am being honest with you… I would lose my job if I told you where the nuclear waste is buried. The Prime Minister considers this information to be classified.

00.21.46 Olenka Frenkiel: But on Israeli television last year, a groundbreaking documentary alleged it was a cover-up.

00.21.57 Olenka Frenkiel: Ariel Spieler, a holocaust survivor and a loyal Dimona worker for 27 years, described how he had been told to prepare the site for the Minister’s visit by removing contaminated waste from a deep crater.

00.22.11 Olenka Frenkiel: He said he’d replaced it with fresh soil and planted trees to cover the hole as though it had never happened. Then he said they brought the minister and the press to prove that everything was okay.

00.22.24 Olenka Frenkiel: Five Dimona workers appeared on the programme. They’d given their lives for Dimona, they said, and now they felt betrayed.

00.22.32 Olenka Frenkiel: They broke no secrets. Only the code of silence.

00.22.36 Olenka Frenkiel: They said they’d worked with uranium. There were fires, spills, and explosions of toxic gas.

00.22.44 Olenka Frenkiel: Now they were sick, they said, the plant didn’t want to know. The management was denying they’d worked with radioactive materials, and because they were bound to secrecy they couldn’t fight for their rights.

00.23.01 Olenka Frenkiel: The programme listed more than a hundred Dimona workers who’d developed cancer and whose claims were being ignored.

00.23.08 Olenka Frenkiel: A doctor and two lawyers backed their story.

00.23.18 Olenka Frenkiel: It was the first time Dimona workers had spoken out.

00.23.26 Olenka Frenkiel: I want to talk to Ariel Spieler. He’s suffering from cancer and in the last few years he’s seen a number of his friends and colleagues who worked there with him die of the disease.

00.23.35 Olenka Frenkiel: He’s been fighting for compensation for their families, for their widows, and I know he’d really like to talk to us about this.

00.23.41 Olenka Frenkiel: He’s told me he wishes he could, but he’s also told me he’s been warned off. He’s been told not to talk. I’m going to go and see him and see if he’ll change his mind.