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The Time for Mordechai Vanunu is Now

As the world awaits the announcement of this year’s recipient(s) of the Nobel Peace Prize, there is no doubt 2008 has been witness to a call to war.

The pressure exerted by Israel in goading the United States to attack Iran has been relentless, and thankfully, resisted up to now. In this context, is there any better person to receive the Peace Prize than the man who initially exposed the Middle East’s first—and only—nuclear power over two decades ago?

After divulging pictures related to Israel’s clandestine atomic stockpile during a 1986 interview with The Sunday Times, Mordechai Vanunu was lured back to Israel by the Mossad and subsequently spent the next 18 years in prison (11 of them in solitary confinement) before being released in 2004. “I am proud and happy to do what I did,” he said at the time. He had remained unrepentant and indeed, unbreakable.

Life after release has not been easy, however. In flagrant violation of Article 12 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, the Israelis placed numerous prohibitions and restrictions on Vanunu’s movements and travels. His freedom to speak with the press or any non-Israeli citizen for that matter was also severely curtailed. In 2007, he was found to be in violation of his parole, in part for attempting to leave Jerusalem in order to visit Bethlehem, and sentenced to six months in prison. The sentence was suspended pending appeals, and this past September an Israeli court reduced the term to three months, citing “…the absence of indications that his actions put the country’s security at risk.”

As many are no doubt keenly aware, unlike Iran, Israel is a non-signatory to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty and prohibits full inspection of its Dimona reactor by International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) personnel.

At the IAEA’s 52nd General Conference of Member States which recently concluded in Vienna, a resolution was passed calling for a Middle East nuclear-free zone. It implored countries “not to develop, test or otherwise acquire nuclear weapons” until such a zone is established and demanded all Middle East nations open up suspected facilities to the agency’s inspectors. The vote was 82-0 in favor of the resolution. The United States and Israel were among the 13 countries abstaining. Although a second resolution more critical of Israel was narrowly defeated after opposition by the United States and the European Union, a clear message was nonetheless sent to the region’s only true rogue nuclear state.

All of this would not have been possible without the courage of Vanunu 20 years ago and today. Although often described as a mere “whistleblower”, the term does not do him justice. He was rather the “siren” who first alerted the world that nuclear weapons had found their way into the volatile Middle East.

As he sits incarcerated, and as the nuclear outlier that imprisoned him manufactures the casus belli required to plunge the region into a war ironically over non-existent nuclear weapons, there can be no more a compelling set of circumstances than these needed to award the 2008 Nobel Peace Prize to Mordechai Vanunu. The overdue recipient should wait no longer. His time has come and it is now.

RANNIE AMIRI is an independent commentator on the Arab and Islamic worlds. He may be reached at: rbamiri <at> yahoo.com.

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