Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

Mordechai VanunuIsraeli nuclear whistleblower Mordechai Vanunu, who spent 18 years in prison for revealing the existence of Israel’s nuclear program, has spoken for the first time about his 1986abduction by the Mossad in Rome. Vanunu was an employee at Israel’s top-secret Negev Nuclear Research Center, located in the desert city of Dimona, which was used to develop the country’s nuclear arsenal. But he became a fervent opponent of nuclear proliferation and in 1986 fled to the United Kingdom, where he revealed the existence of the Israeli nuclear weapons program to the The Times of London. His action was in direct violation of the non-disclosure agreement he had signed with the government of Israel; moreover, it went against Israel’s official policy of ‘nuclear ambiguity’, which means that the country refuses to confirm or deny that it maintains a nuclear weapons program.

Soon after Vanunu settled in London, the Israeli intelligence agency Mossad began making plans to capture him. The spy agency sent one of its American-born female officers, Cheryl Bentov, to befriend Vanunu. The decision was taken after Mossad psychologists determined that Vanunu was lonely and longed for female companionship. Masquerading as an American tourist by the name of ‘Cindy’, Bentov convinced Vanunu to go with her on Vacation to Rome, Italy. Soon after the couple arrived in the Italian capital, Vanunu was abducted by a Mossad team who injected him with a paralyzing drug before taking him away in a van. Vanunu was then transferred onboard the INS Noga, an Israeli signals-intelligence ship masquerading as a merchant vessel, which transported him to Israel. He was convicted to 18 years in prison and was released in 2004, after having spent 11 years in solitary confinement.

On Wednesday, Israel’s Channel 2 television showed excerpts of Vanunu’s first-ever interview to an Israeli media outlet. The interview, which is to be aired in full on Friday, includes Vanunu’s personal account of his capture by the Mossad. He told the interviewer that ‘Cindy’ first spoke to him as she walked alongside him while the two of them were crossing a London street. But he said that it was he who “initiated the relationship” with the woman posing as an American tourist. That was a critical moment in the whole process, said Vanunu, because “if she initiates you’ll suspect her”. The nuclear whistleblower insisted, however, that he did not “fall in love with her”, as some accounts of the Mossad operation have suggested, though he was “definitely attracted” to her, he said.

Vanunu added that the thought of ‘Cindy’ being a Mossad officer had initially crossed his mind; but he disregarded it and did not realize he was being tricked “until the very last moment”. He told Channel 2 that even after several days after his capture, he still believed that ‘Cindy’ had also been abducted. It was only later that he “reached the conclusion that she was part of the plan”, he said. At another point in the interview, Vanunu said that ‘Cindy’ was not the only Mossad officer who had tried to befriend him while he was in London, but that he was able to detect every other attempt by Israeli intelligence operatives.

Author: Joseph Fitsanakis | Date: 03 September 2015 | Permalink

One Response to Israeli nuclear whistleblower recalls his 1986 capture by the Mossad

  1. In March 2006, after I ran out of tape for what became “30 Minutes with Vanunu” which is freely streaming at YouTube:

    I asked Israel’s Nuclear Whistle Blower what he was thinking when he took off with Cindy/Cheryl?

    Vanunu maintained eye contact and readily replied, “It wasn’t like THAT-when Maxwell’s paper published my photo without ever talking to me and some of the stolen Dimona photos with a very bad story against me, I knew the Mossad was after me. Cindy said she had a sister in Rome and I thought I would be safe there until I could return to London. We went to movies and art galleries, I trusted her. But, as soon as I got into the apartment, I was hit on the head and drugged. When I woke up and they took me for interrogation, they threw the Times article on the table and said, ‘Look, what you did.’ I was so relieved they had published it and that I had done what I did.”

    On 5 October 1986, London’s SUNDAY TIMES, ran a front-page photo of the Dimona reactor and a three-page spread revealing Israel had an arsenal of 200 nuclear warheads.

    Israel did not deny the story and refused to say anything about Vanunu. The Press was denied access to Vanunu, but he reached them without speaking a sound!

    On the way to his closed door trial Vanunu asked a Security officer for a pen, which he used to ink his palm: “Vanunu M was hi-jacked in Rome. ITL. 30.9.86. 21.000. Came to Rome by fly BA504”.

    A photographer caught Vanunu’s inspired move as he pressed his palm to the car window. Peter Hounam, the reporter who broke the story used that info to track down the Mossad agent who had purchased the business-class tickets on British Airways Flight 504 flight to Rome.

    Hounnam confronted Cheryl Hanin Ben Tov who was then living in Netanya and asked her if she was Cindy?

    “I deny it, I deny everything,” she shouted as Hounam snapped a few photos. By that night, the house was deserted.

    In 1997, another Sunday Times reporter found Cheryl back in Orlando living in a secluded villa. Her only concern was that any story about her should not “harm her position in America.”

    The Ben Tov’s also had a villa in Israel in an area that is home to many security officials and reported that Cheryl “continues to work for Mossad, according to her Israeli neighbors,” the Sunday Times said. She and her husband, they believe, have rented out their house, while she is engaged in an overseas assignment, and were expected to return.

    Until recently, Florida state records showed Cheryl had an active real estate sales license and was employed by CFI Sales & Marketing of Orlando.

    But CFI, whose Westgate Resorts is one of the world’s largest timeshare companies, said she was terminated in 1997, the same year the Sunday Times found her in Orlando.

    The St. Petersburg Times began looking into Cheryl Hanin Ben Tov’s background, and discovered that State records were changed to show her license was inactive and there was no reference to CFI. Officials could not say who requested the change. CFI says it did not.

    It is illegal under American-Israeli diplomatic protocols for the Mossad to operate in America, but it does not make it impossible.- Excerpted from “Heroes, Muses and the Saga of Mordechai Vanunu”

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