BBC Transcript of “Israel’s Secret Weapon” (part 2)


00.23.59 Secret filming

00.23.59 Olenka Frenkiel: I just wanted to ask you, you know, why you can’t?

00.24.04 Ariel Spieler, Subtitles: The Secret Service silenced me. They’ve silenced me completely. They told me not to say one word. What can I do? What can I do?

00.24.18 Ariel Spieler, Subtitles: They told me; “You’ll end up like Vanunu”. How long has he been in prison? 15 years? Do you want me to go to jail? I really wanted to talk. I asked the others but they refused. Nobody wants to talk.

00.24.50 Olenka Frenkiel: It was time to try the others: The doctors, the relatives, the lawyers.

00.24.58 Voice One: Hello?

00.24.59 Olenka Frenkiel: Hello. I just wanted to ask if there would be any possibility of doing an interview with you about the cancer victims and about their case?

00.25.07 Voice One: I’m really reluctant to be interviewed publicly on the media over the story overseas. It’s just not appropriate.

00.25.13 Olenka Frenkiel: But why is it so sensitive?

00.25.21 Voice One: Come on now. Any discussion of nuclear issues is sensitive.

00.25.30 Voice Two: I talked to my family. I don’t want to participate in this. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do.

00.25.37 Olenka Frenkiel: Nobody is prepared to talk about it.

00.25.45 Voice Three: There are things that it’s not good to talk about, even if you’re a lawyer.

00.25.54 Olenka Frenkiel: Are you worried about a sort of Vanunu scenario?

00.25.58 Voice Three: Of course! You think about it.

00.26.03 Olenka Frenkiel: I just don’t get it. If this was the Soviet Union or Iraq or North Korea I’d understand why people are so scared to talk.

00.26.11 Olenka Frenkiel: But this is Israel. This is supposed to be a democracy.

00.26.22 Olenka Frenkiel: In Israel today, an invisible power enforces the code of silence - through fear. It comes from one man, whose own identity was itself a secret until two years ago, Yehiyel Horev.

00.26.39 RONEN BERGMAN, Journalist, “Yediot Ahronot”: Horev is the smartest, most brilliant official figure in the sense of getting power. He took some kind of very small office and made it the fourth intelligence agency in Israel, with no law, no real scrutiny and monitoring by the Israeli Parliament.

00.27.05 Ronen Bergman: In this sense he is a grave danger to Israeli democracy.

00.27.11 Olenka Frenkiel: For sixteen years Horev has been the faceless guardian of Israel’s secrets. His picture has never been published unmasked till now.

00.27.24 Olenka Frenkiel: It’s Horev from his office at the Ministry of Defence who is blocking Vanunu’s early release.

00.27.35 Olenka Frenkiel: But next year Vanunu’s sentence is up. So Horev found a new Vanunu, Brigadier-General Yitzhak Yaakov, known to his friends as Yatsa. In his retirement he wrote a fictionalised memoir and talked on camera about his life.

00.27.54 Olenka Frenkiel: A distinguished soldier and scientist, Yaakov had for years led Israel’s top-secret weapons development programme.

00.28.02 Olenka Frenkiel: So eminent was he, he was a candidate for the prestigious Israel Prize.

00.28.07 Olenka Frenkiel: But when he told his life story to a journalist, he broke the rules.

00.28.13 Olenka Frenkiel: The journalist was Ronen Bergman. He showed his article, as all Israelis must, to the censor.

00.28.19 Olenka Frenkiel: It went straight to Horev - who sent in the heavies.

00.28.23 Ronen Bergman: They were deadly deadly serious. My phones were bugged. I was followed by Israeli Secret Service, Yaakov was followed by Israeli Secret Service, and the whole system was surrounding us and following us and stalking us.

00.28.43 Olenka Frenkiel: Yaakov went from hero to zero. He was arrested secretly and charged with treason. He spent two years fighting Horev. Two years of jail, heart disease, bankruptcy and house arrest ended in public disgrace.

00.29.01 Olenka Frenkiel: He was spared prison, but the court found him guilty of betraying Israel’s secrets.

00.29.08 Ronen Bergman: Horev was afraid that veterans of the Israeli army, the Israeli intelligence, the Israeli nuclear effort, would try to maintain their footprint in the history of Israel and tell their story.

00.29.26 Ronen Bergman: And he wanted to frighten them. In this sense he was successful.

00.29.33 Olenka Frenkiel: Do you think that there is too much secrecy? The power of somebody like Horev to destroy the life of an individual like this Brigadier-General Yaakov, for example. The man’s life had been destroyed and he’d been a very loyal Israeli all his life.

00.29.51 SHIMON PERES, Former Prime Minister: It happens unfortunately in life, of false accusations, and some innocent people are paying the high cost.

00.29.59 Shimon Peres: I cannot see how can it be avoidable.

00.30.04 Olenka Frenkiel: Israel’s parliament had never debated Dimona or nuclear weapons, until one MP three years ago forced them onto the agenda for the first time.

00.30.14 Olenka Frenkiel: Issam Makhoul an Israeli Arab broken the taboo - to the outrage of his colleagues.

00.30.21 Issam Makhoul, Subtitles: Vanunu is not the problem. The problem is the Israeli government’s policy. A policy that’s turned a small territory into a poisonous nuclear waste bin… which could make us all disappear into a nuclear cloud.

00.30.40 Olenka Frenkiel: These words uttered in the heart of Israel’s democracy were seen by his fellow MPs as a sacrilege.

00.30.48 Issam Makhoul, Subtitles: The entire world knows that Israel is a vast nuclear, biological… and chemical warehouse that is used as an anchor… for the nuclear arms race in the middle east.

00.31.04 Olenka Frenkiel: He wasn’t allowed to finish his speech, but he had made his point.

00.31.16 Olenka Frenkiel: But in his constituency during the recent election campaign it was a different story. Here his audience are - like him - Israeli Arabs.

00.31.23 Issam Makhoul, Subtitles: Why are the Americans looking for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq? I can tell them where there are weapons of mass destruction… including nuclear weapons.

00.31.40 Issam Makhoul, Subtitles: They are in Dimona, in Haifa Bay in the Eilabun mountain… and in the area of Sakneen, Yolfhata. Let them send their inspectors to me… and I will lead them by the hand and show them.

00.32.00 Olenka Frenkiel: There is a cry going up which is talking about a double standard. The world has to check Iraq’s nuclear installations but not Israel’s.

00.32.08 Shimon Peres: How can you compare it? Iraq is a dictatorship. Saddam Hussein is a killer. He killed a hundred thousand Kurds with gas bombs. How can you compare that at all?

00.32.23 Shimon Peres: Just because he calls himself a state? He’s not a state - he’s a Mafia. He’s not a leader - he’s a killer. You cannot say that about us.

00.32.34 Olenka Frenkiel: But even in Israel some do. The current Prime Minister Ariel Sharon directed the invasion of Lebanon in 1982. Thousands of innocent civilians were killed.

00.32.49 Olenka Frenkiel: The worst excesses were in the refugee camps of Sabra and Shatila, for which an Israeli enquiry held Sharon personally responsible. In Belgium there are plans to prosecute him for alleged war crimes.

00.33.09 Olenka Frenkiel: While Sharon has been Prime Minister seven hundred Israelis have been killed. But more than two thousand Palestinians have died in attacks by Israeli soldiers.

00.33.21 Olenka Frenkiel: The Israeli army has used new unidentified weapons. In February 2001, a new gas was used in Gaza. A hundred and eighty patients were admitted to hospitals with severe convulsions.

00.33.41 Voiceover: The Israelis say this is tear gas. But this is not tear gas. We have never seen this gas before. We need some medicine for treatment. But it must be the right medicine.

00.33.56 Dr MOHAMMED SALAMA, Director, Palestinian Health Ministry: We asked, what kind of gas? But nobody verified for us the type of gas to give the antidote at that moment. Also we don’t know how to check, how to examine, how to send this. We are in occupied area. We are surrounded. It is impossible to send these samples to international lab to test.

00.34.27 Olenka Frenkiel: Israel is outside chemical and biological weapons treaties and still refuses to say what the new gas was.

00.34.44 Olenka Frenkiel: The Eoloffs have still not heard from the prison. Their flight home is tomorrow night and they worry they may have to leave without seeing their adopted son.

00.34.56 Olenka Frenkiel: Today they are having lunch with a small group of activists who for sixteen years have fought in vain for Vanunu’s release.

00.35.03 First Israeli activist: They pressurise Iraq about nuclear weapons. What about Israel and nuclear weapons?

00.35.07 Second Israeli activist: Imagine for one moment that Mordechai Vanunu was not an Israeli, that the whole story had happened with a Korean or an Iranian or a Pakistani technician, he would have had the Nobel Peace Prize. He would have been the second Sakharov.

00.35.23 Second Israeli activist: Instead he is a non-person in the West. This tells you what we are dealing with. We’re dealing with the number one privileged state on earth.

00.35.34 Third Israeli activist: Counter to the Israeli argument that the whole world is against us, it is the exact opposite. We started the nuclear race in the Middle East. There is no doubt about it.

00.35.53 Third Israeli activist: And there is not even one important state in the Western Hemisphere who is dealing with it seriously.

00.36.00 Rayna Moss: You can talk all we want. We can sit until tomorrow morning and discuss Israel’s nuclear policy. We can discuss whatever we want. It’s the people who work in those areas, with weapons of mass destruction, the environment, Dimona itself, all these research places.

00.36.16 Rayna Moss: Vanunu is a living warning to them. This is what will happen to you if you speak out. You’ll be Vanunu-nised. That’s the warning. You will spend ten years in solitary confinement.

00.36.28 Rayna Moss: You will be cut off from all your family. You will be cut off from everyone who knows you. You will be this prisoner without a number and without a name. That’s what will happen to you if you speak out.

00.36.41 Olenka Frenkiel: It’s the prison on the phone.

00.36.47 Mary Eoloff: Hello? Oh how marvellous! What time? Well, if we come at eleven, can we have an hour and a half? Okay. Thank you so much. Okay. Bye.

00.37.06 Olenka Frenkiel: On their last day the Eoloffs get their visit. After an hour and a half they emerge with a message.

00.37.16 Mary Eoloff: It’s just wonderful. We’re so excited we don’t know what to think. All right, you talk.

00.37.21 Nick Eoloff: It was a marvellous experience. It was the first time we’ve seen him so high and just anxious to talk about what’s going on in his life and what he’s looking forward to. Especially the anticipation of getting out.

00.37.33 Nick Eoloff: He’s just strong. That was his final word: “Let them know that I’m strong and anxious to get out of here, out of Israel and just start life all over again”. And he was just beaming.

00.37.45 Mary Eoloff: And he said the message to world is the message to the world is that I have forgotten the last sixteen years. I’m looking towards the future. I believe in a future of non- violence.

00.37.56 Olenka Frenkiel: So did he say that he’d do it all again?

00.37.58 Mary Eoloff: You know, he did. He said, of course I would. Isn’t that incredible?

00.38.12 Olenka Frenkiel: The Eoloffs have gone, and Vanunu is again up for parole. But as usual everything, even the location of the parole hearing, is secret.

00.38.22 Secret filming

00.38.22 Olenka Frenkiel: Apart from me and Peter Hounam, who has come from London, there are no other journalists here.

00.38.27 Peter Hounam: Mordechai Vanunu? Mordechai Vanunu? Is he in there?

00.38.34 Olenka Frenkiel: Mordechai Vanunu is in there? Is that where the case is being held?

00.38.40 PETER HOUNAM, Freelance journalist: He is the most sensitive prisoner that this country has got, and whenever he comes here they block off the windows of his van if they can, or they, in the early days they used to put a crash helmet over him so people couldn’t see him.

00.38.54 Peter Hounam: At one point they even had an electronic device that emitted a screeching signal so people couldn’t hear him speak.

00.39.02 Olenka Frenkiel: And yet you and I are the only journalists here. The most sensitive prisoner Israel has got, and there’s not a single member of the press here apart from you. Why do you keep coming?

00.39.10 Peter Hounam: I keep coming because he’s in there because he spoke to me and we published his story on the Sunday Times in 1986, and I feel a sense of responsibility that we should be helping him get out.

00.39.23 Olenka Frenkiel: Three hours later the hearing ended. As usual Vanunu left behind darkened windows. In court Horev’s prosecutor had cited the war with Iraq as a new reason for blocking parole.

00.39.38 AVIGDOR FELDMAN, Mordechai Vanunu’s lawyer: The prosecutor of course went back to the old argument that Vanunu is a threat to security and she even said that if Vanunu will be released, probably the Americans would leave Iraq and go after Israel and Israel’s nuclear weapons, which I found extremely ridiculous.

00.40.11 Olenka Frenkiel: Minnesota, the Peace Bridge and a weekly ritual. Every Wednesday hundreds protest against the war.

00.40.22 Olenka Frenkiel: Mary is there. So of course is Nick. Every week the numbers grow. There is a new generation of peaceniks who were children when Israel’s nuclear weapons were exposed.

00.40.38 Olenka Frenkiel: Have any of you guys heard of Mordechai Vanunu?

00.40.42 Protesters: No.

00.40.43 Olenka Frenkiel: You don’t know who he is.

00.40.47 Olenka Frenkiel: And if I tell you that he’s somebody who exposed Israel’s weapons of mass destruction, which nobody knew about until then, what would you say?

00.40.56 Protester: One Why is our media that’s supposed to be free and open not telling us and why is our government not letting us know this information if we’re living in the home of the free?

00.41.06 Protester Two: I think if our administration was consistent or had any integrity, then he would be held as a hero.

00.41.14 President George W. Bush: We’re going to work with the members of the Security Council in the days ahead to make it clear to Saddam that the demands of the world and the United Nations will be enforced.

00.41.26 Olenka Frenkiel: In Washington, which gives Israel more than three billion dollars a year, the talk is only of Iraq. For weeks we’ve tried to get an interview about Israel’s weapons of mass destruction, but no one in this Bush administration wants to talk about Israel.

00.41.41 Olenka Frenkiel: So we’ve asked for an interview about the military balance of power in the Middle East. And now they’ve agreed.

00.41.43 Olenka Frenkiel: This morning we’ve finally been told that we’re going to have an interviewee. He’s an expert in all matters Israeli. He’s an Under Secretary of Defense, and his name is Douglas Feith.

00.42.04 Olenka Frenkiel: The Pentagon has demanded a list of questions in advance. So, it’s “The balance of power”, “Israel’s nuclear ambiguity”, “Allegations of a double standard” and “Mordechai Vanunu”.

00.42.16 President George W. Bush: The gravest danger facing America and the world is outlaw regimes that seek and possess nuclear, chemical and biological weapons.

00.42.35 Olenka Frenkiel: Yet again the shutters have come down on this story. Our interview with Under Secretary for Defense Douglas Feith was scheduled for four o’clock somewhere in this vast complex of the Pentagon behind me. Yet at the last minute we’ve heard the interview is cancelled.

00.42.50 Olenka Frenkiel: Questions about Israel, it appears, are strictly off-limits.

00.42.56 Olenka Frenkiel: We’d received this e-mail from the Pentagon.

00.43.00 Voiceover: Subtitles. Ladies: We showed Mr Feith the list of topics for the BBC interview. He is not willing to answer any of the questions you listed… Respectfully request you resubmit your questions as soon as possible this morning. Questions directed towards the current Iraqi situation.

00.43.17 Olenka Frenkiel: On February nineteenth Vanunu was again refused parole. He remains in Ashkelon prison.

00.43.30 Olenka Frenkiel: Horev has let it be known he intends never to let Mordechai Vanunu leave Israel.

00.43.36 End music

00.43.46 Olenka Frenkiel: You can comment on tonight’s programme by visiting our web site at:

00.43.46 Credits:

Dubbing Mixer CLIFF JONES
Graphic Design STEVE ENGLAND
Production Manager JANE WILLEY
Film Research NICK DODD
Historical Research AVNER COHEN
Yitzhak Yaakov photos YEDIOT AHRONOT
Produced & Directed by GISELLE PORTENIER
Deputy Editor DAVID BELTON

(c) BBC MMIII 00.44.20

Related Links:

  • The US Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu
  • Boycotting the Beeb