Arafat and Vanunu: Two Prisoners of War

The death of Yasser Arafat overshadows the re-arrest of Mordechai Vanunu, and it was, as they say, no accident: Arafat had barely breathed his last gasp when 20 to 30 heavily armed Israeli police commandos stormed the Anglican cathedral of St. George in Jerusalem, seized Vanunu, and confiscated his computer, while their superiors absurdly yelped that he had "leaked classified information."

Yes, the Israelis get really mad about the leaking of classified information – unless it’s their own agents in the U.S. who are on the receiving end. But the funny part – if black humor suits your tastes – is that the "secrets" he is alleged to have "leaked" have been known for nearly 20 years. The thuggery of the Israeli "International Crimes Unit" that desecrated a Christian church will only serve to remind the world what Vanunu revealed all those years ago. This act underscores the brazen hypocrisy of Israeli whining about Iran’s efforts to obtain nuclear weapons – when everyone knows Israel has as many as 200 to 400 nuclear-armed missiles aimed at Arab capitals, and – who knows? – perhaps at a few European ones as well.

As a worker at Israel’s Dimona nuclear weapons facility – supposedly devoted, like today’s Iranian equivalents, to the pursuit of "peaceful" nuclear power – in the mid-1980s, Vanunu had first-hand knowledge of Israel’s weapons of mass destruction – and his conscience would not permit silence. He gave an interview to British journalist Peter Hounam, and the story, complete with photos, was published in the Sunday Times of London: the truth about Israel’s "nuclear ambiguity" was out.

In retaliation, the Mossad, with the aid of one of their "American" female assets, Cheryl Bentov, lured him to Rome, kidnapped him, and dragged him off to Israel, where he was tried, convicted, and served out his 18-year sentence, much of it in solitary confinement. Released with the proviso that, like the Soviet Jews once held captive by the Kremlin, Vanunu is not allowed to leave the country, and may not speak to the media, or publish his own thoughts and opinions.

So much for the myth of Israel’s much-vaunted "freedoms," which are supposed to make it a part of the West. Like Iran, Israel is a religious theocracy dressed up in "democratic" trappings and afflicted with delusions of military grandeur.

The extremists who control the Israeli government live in mortal fear that Vanunu, having once exposed their limitless hypocrisy, will continue to do so at the most inopportune time imaginable – when Israel is kvetching about Iran’s alleged pursuit of nukes, while Tel Aviv sits atop the sixth largest stockpile of nuclear weapons on earth.

America claims the right to launch a preemptive war against any Arab nation even suspected of trying to acquire nuclear arms, yet Israel is allowed weapons of mass destruction that would make the International Atomic Energy Agency’s toes curl. So why not bring the inspectors into Israel? Why are they exempt from the "rules" that others must obey?

These are questions the Israelis would much prefer nobody asked, and they are less likely to be raised if Vanunu is silenced or gotten out of the way, one way or another. Because the truth is that Israel, and not Iran, is far more likely to use nukes – in "self-defense," of course – and turn much of the Middle East into a radioactive wasteland. Contemplate the words of the influential Israeli Rabbi Zelman Melamed, who wrote:

“It is not impossible that the Jewish people will have the ability to threaten and put pressure on the entire world to accept our way. But even if we acquire the power to seize control of the world, that is not the way to realize the vision of complete redemption.”

Yeah, but it’ll do until the Messiah arrives. The rise of religious fanaticism in Israel parallels the development of the same phenomenon in the Arab world. While the Committee of Rabbis in Judea, Samaria, and Gaza protests the dismantling of any settlements, and declares that “Everyone who has faith in his heart … will not countenance betrayal of the divine promise of the Jewish people," Professor Hillel Weiss, writing in Ma’ariv, interprets this fatwa as follows:

“The purpose of the armed struggle is to establish a Jewish state in all the territory that will be captured, from the River Euphrates [in Iraq] to the Egyptian River [Nile].”

The Committee of Rabbis, armed with nuclear weapons – is this really a good thing?

With the Israeli ultra-nationalist right on the march, and threatening civil war, a nuclear-armed Israel is far more dangerous than nuclearized Pakistan, where fundamentalists of a different sort are held in check by Pervez Musharraf with U.S. assistance. But what sort of leverage does the international community, including the U.S., have over the Israelis? We don’t even know what they have – because they won’t sign on to the IAEA or submit to inspections. Yet Iran must submit – or face sanctions and a possible U.S. (or Israeli) military strike.

The Israelis are in a position to blackmail both the Iranians and the Americans. They can threaten Tehran with nuclear annihilation – or threaten the U.S. with unilaterally taking out Iran’s reactors and plunging the entire region into war. With U.S. troops, as it were, in the midst of it.

If anything, the Iranian acquisition of a similar arsenal will deter their opposite numbers in Tel Aviv from ever using the nukes we know they have. Because, right now, there is nothing to stop Ariel Sharon – or some other even more extreme and excitable Israeli politician – from launching a nuclear attack on Tehran. The close proximity of some 150,000 American troops in Iraq may give them pause for a few seconds. However, when it comes to ensuring their own survival, in the end they won’t fail to put Israel first.

That’s all too understandable: what country doesn’t put its own interests first? Answer: the United States of America, whose lopsided Middle Eastern policy is unfailingly Israeli-centric.

The huge propaganda campaign launched by Israel even before Arafat stopped breathing is designed to demonize the Palestinians, and anyone who treats them as anything other than Israel’s helots. The disgusting orgy of death-worship that has greeted his demise – from bloodcurdling weirdness over at a site deemed by Yahoo to be racist, to Jeff Jacoby in the Boston Globe dancing on the man’s grave, to this circle jerk over at "Reason" magazine – is yet more provocation, much like the work of Theo van Gogh, the David Duke of Dutch film. Israel’s amen corner wants Muslims worldwide to read and hear about this sort of nonsense: anything to stoke the fires of hate and create the enemy that extremists on both sides require.

Central to the hateful festivities surrounding Arafat’s death is the myth of the missed opportunity, the completely false conception that Arafat was offered a good deal by former Prime Minister Ehud Barak, and Bill Clinton, and, because of a psychological inability to make the transition from revolutionary leader to "statesman," failed to take it while the taking was good. This is utter balderdash, as a simple glance at a map of what the Palestinians were offered – here and here – graphically reveals. Alexander Cockburn put it well:

"Bill Clinton has always been one for the phony reconciliation, the win-win solution, the photo-op deal. The defining moment of his diplomacy was the ‘handshake’ between Rabin and Arafat, offered to the world as the insignia of a decent settlement brokered by America."

But it was nothing of the sort, as Cockburn notes. The Palestinian "nation" was to be a series of disconnected bantustans, surrounded entirely by Israeli military posts and "settlements" populated by ultra-Zionist fanatics. All water, roads, communications, and other vital command posts of this "independent" entity would be controlled by the Israelis. Some independence!

As Michael C. Desch wrote in The American Conservative:

"In the Palestinians’ view, they had surrendered 78 percent of historic Palestine to Israel when they recognized Israel as a sovereign state at Oslo in 1993; in return, they expected that they would get the remaining 22 percent (the West Bank and Gaza) as part of the final agreement. Yet the Israeli occupation of Palestinian lands continued to deepen and expand after Oslo and the Israeli government began to interfere ever more intrusively in the lives of ordinary Palestinians."

If Palestinians were black, instead of a rich nut-brown, the UN would have imposed strict sanctions long ago, and in the U.S. the Israeli government would be as reviled as the white South African or Rhodesian regimes that lorded it over their native African majorities. As it is, Israeli propaganda seeks to depict any and all Arabs, and practically all Muslims, as terrorists, a definition that suits Osama bin Laden just fine. The Israelis have been particularly eager to smash all manifestations of secular Arab militance, in a perfect complement to bin Laden working the other side of the street.

Arafat was no saint, but then the only saints in that part of the world are already buried in their graves. It’s a rough neighborhood, and by local standards the PLO leader was no better or worse than most of his Israeli counterparts, whose crimes fall in the category of state terrorism as opposed to the more freelance variety practiced by the other side. After all, the Israeli state was founded by groups that employed terrorism as a tactic, who bombed hotels full of innocent civilians, massacred Arab villagers, and drove the remaining Palestinians off the land. These are the very same people, by the way, who claim that they are a bulwark against terrorism – even as they carry out a brutal policy of state terrorism in the sight of the whole world.

This goes beyond mere arrogance, or ordinary hubris – there is a leering, jeering, positively sinister quality to this style of argument, and in the sneering tone affected by Israel’s amen corner as they claim moral superiority over their Arab and Muslim enemies. We’re a democracy!, they bray, as they step on the necks of their Palestinian prisoners, spit at Christians in the streets of Jerusalem, and threaten their neighbors on every side. All must disarm in the face of their nuclearized belligerence, and submit to Israeli expansionism – or face the wrath of the United States. Their terrorism is "self-defense," or, in the case of the U.S. in Iraq, "liberation" – while Arafat’s, or Islamic Jihad’s, or the Mahdi Army‘s is barbarism pure and simple.

The Israelis should shut up about terrorism, look at their own bloody history, and change the name of their country to "Blowback." The worst error the Western powers ever made, even more than the colonization and conquest of the Middle East, was the Balfour Declaration. Since that time we have had nothing but trouble, and the conflict it created has increased exponentially with the passage of time until it threatens to engulf the whole world in a maelstrom of hate and retribution. When oh when will it ever end – and why must we in the United States be a part of it?

It is time, high time, that we got out of it, because our alliance with Israel certainly does not serve our national interests. Israel is a tyranny, not the Athens but the Sparta of the Middle East: a militarist, socialist, ethno-nationalist monstrosity that represents the single greatest danger to the peace of the region. The Balfour Declaration has functioned as a kind of curse, an incantation that has cast a dark shadow over the Holy Land – and the world. Anyone who points this out – Arafat, Vanunu, whomever – is subjected to a merciless campaign of demonization, such as we now see unfolding over the corpse of the fallen Palestinian leader. No doubt Arafat would consider it a badge of honor.

In any case, there is not much honor to be found in that part of the world, and no amount of American intervention is going to change that. As American politicians buy into the Israeli narrative of Arafat the Monster, the American people ought to realize that there are even worse monsters out there – and some of them are our allies.

Both Arafat and Vanunu were prisoners of Israel’s war on the Middle East, and much of the world: one is now dead, and the other is a target. The campaign to demonize them, no matter how well-financed (with American tax dollars) and ubiquitous, is too crude to succeed. Whatever else might be said about this unlikely pair, they certainly made all the right enemies.

Author: Justin Raimondo

Justin Raimondo passed away on June 27, 2019. He was the co-founder and editorial director of, and was a senior fellow at the Randolph Bourne Institute. He was a contributing editor at The American Conservative, and wrote a monthly column for Chronicles. He was the author of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement [Center for Libertarian Studies, 1993; Intercollegiate Studies Institute, 2000], and An Enemy of the State: The Life of Murray N. Rothbard [Prometheus Books, 2000].