Peter Hunnam* – (The Daily Telegraph) 2010/02/20
Translation: Aladdin Abu Zina
If Israeli Mossad agents were behind the assassination of Hamas military leader Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in a hotel in Dubai (January 2010), it should not surprise anyone given their organization’s violent history. ?
In the 1980s, when I was working for the Sunday Times, I tracked down an Australian-based Israeli technician named Mordechai Vanunu, who went on to reveal the deepest secrets of Israel’s top-secret nuclear weapons center at Dimona in the Negev desert. public. He worked there and managed to smuggle photos of the plutonium separation facility and machinery for producing nuclear trees.
I interviewed him at length in Sydney and then brought him to London for expert questioning. Knowing that he could be a target for Mossad agents, Vanunu accepted the high security measures, but later grew impatient. While wandering around Leicester Square in London alone, he met an attractive blonde American tourist named Cindy . They drank coffee and arranged to go to the cinema. Vanunu foolishly walked into a classic Mossad honey trap.
And he didn’t tell me anything about his dangerous relationship until it was too late. After hearing from Cindy one morning, she expressly warned him that she might be an agent of Israel, but he ignored the idea. I suggested that I meet him and Cindy for dinner that night, but he canceled and then disappeared. It was only a few weeks before Israel announced that they were holding him.
Mordechai Vanunu’s motive was to expose his country’s secret program of weapons of mass destruction so that international pressure would lead to an end to this program. Tragically, he is now imprisoned in a cell in Tel Aviv, on charges of treason and espionage for which he was sentenced to 18 years in prison, the first eleven years of which were held in solitary confinement.
Of course the Mossad failed in its aim to stop the publication of Vanunu’s story – we sent it to the press the same week he disappeared – but we see some of the star was missing, and I am now focusing on finding those responsible expose party to its disappearance. We suspected it must be the infamous Mossad. I remembered seeing two people in a car looking at my house early one morning, and now I realized it was a big problem. But who was this mysterious Cindy?
It took nearly a year to track her down, uncover her identity – and, to my great relief, destroy her espionage career. We succeeded because the Mossad took many shortcuts, and it was Vanunu himself who gave us the conclusive evidence.
While leaving a Jerusalem court one day in a prison truck, with the photographers standing by, he pressed the palm of his hand, with a message, against the window glass. The letter revealed that he had gone to Italy on a certain British Airways flight, and that his “hijacking” had taken place in Rome.
His boarding passes showed that he flew with a woman named Cindy Hannin, most likely Cindy Hannin who we eventually found in Orlando, Florida. She was getting married, and she was clearly not the direct suspect, but she was Jewish, and I had a hunch that the real spy might be related to her.
The trail led to Cheryl Bentov, the sister of Cindy’s future husband who had left Orlando as a teenager, joined the Israeli army and now lived in the coastal town of Netanya north of Tel Aviv. Evidence from hotels in London used by Cindy confirmed my suspicions, and I flew to Israel to confront her.
It soon became clear to me that working for the Mossad was not a way to amass wealth. Sheryl Bentov and her husband Ofer, who also worked in military intelligence, lived in a dilapidated house on a street off Haifa’s main highway, but it was close to the new Mossad headquarters at West Glilot Junction, just a few kilometers to the south.
At her door I announced that I was from the Sunday Times and asked if I could get a pass from her. There was a flash of shocked realization in Bentov’s eyes. “Yes. Come in,” she answered cautiously and led the way.
I briefly told her how we had carefully proved that she was the spy who played a major role in engineering the Vanunu kidnapping. She complained passionately that I was on tape, and when I indicated that she did not deny my allegations, she suddenly jumped up and ran to the other side of the room, screaming, “I deny it. I deny everything.”
I only had time to take a picture of her with a camera hanging around my neck before she locked herself in the bedroom and refused all attempts to persuade her to leave. I then left, immediately made arrangements to have my pictures sent to London, prepared a story about what had happened, and stood aside to watch the reaction.
I had visited Israel several times before to report on Vanunu without any problems, although it was clear that I was under surveillance. Considering I was complicit in Vanunu’s alleged betrayal, it came as a bit of a surprise as my encounter with Cheryl Bentoff did not lead to a knock on my door. She disappeared from the dilapidated house in Netanya and I returned safely to London. I published my story and it became popular; So famous that she can no longer continue working as an agent. ?
Years later, Yedioth Ahronoth, Israel’s largest newspaper, quoted a close friend of Cheryl’s in Florida, where she had returned, saying: “I left Israel to escape the media and the people who come into her life. It upset her so much.”
“She was terrified of the journalists who came to her house and asked her questions. She felt the need to run away. Ever since this story, Cheryl wants only one thing: a normal, quiet life.” Eighteen months ago, a picture of her smiling with her husband, Ofer, on a hiking holiday in Slovakia appeared on the Internet.
It was another 17 years – in 2004, before I really had problems, probably because I relied on my luck so many times. In Israel, the public hatred of Vanunu was so great that the authorities let him serve his full prison sentence. Upon his release in April 2004, my job was to get him his first televised and press interview, but shortly before the interview he was prevented from speaking to foreigners or leaving the country.
But we managed to get around the ban by using an Israeli journalist to talk to him, while I sat in the background. A copy of the film was booked that night, but a second copy came to London. And it was while I was driving through Tel Aviv that night, when I ran out of luck.
A car suddenly overtook me and stopped in my path, other cars pulled up next to me and behind me, and they pulled me out of the car. A man in a police hat said that I was under arrest, and that I was going to Jerusalem for questioning. But first we will visit my hotel room where they will do a search. ?
Fortunately, on my way to the hotel reception desk, I managed to dodge a bit and alert someone I know at a nearby restaurant to my plight. After I was arrested again, they searched my room and ended up in a notorious secret prison used for interrogation by the Mossad and the internal intelligence service, the Shin Bet.
It was disturbing and terrifying that I was handcuffed, a dark ski mask pressed against my head, and they led me from time to time, from a windowless and excrement-stained cell, into their brightly lit interrogation room. It eventually became clear when they tried to interrogate me that they thought I was hiding some extra footage that revealed more of Vanunu’s secrets. The folly of this was that Vanunu had no core secrets.
They tried to keep me in prison for four days, but international pressure and intense attention from the Israeli media forced them to release me, shaken but unharmed, after 24 hours. These experiences showed me several things. First, the Israeli security services make many mistakes, such as giving Bentouf an ID that allowed us to find her, or foolishly accusing me of aggravated espionage.
Second, they don’t pay much attention to their mistakes because Israel is never held accountable. Even after what Vanunu revealed, the country has had little trouble maintaining and building up its nuclear arsenal.
And, third, that these devices’ reckless tactics are often counterproductive. It was Vanunu’s kidnapping that drew the most attention to his revelations. It is the brutality with which he has been treated since his release that has led many to view Israel as a country that has lost its way since its founding.
Perhaps surprisingly, I love Israel and have many friends there, including Mordechai Vanunu. But unfortunately I can’t go back there. My entry was barred after my last arrest there – by order of the Mossad.
* Peter Hounam: Former chief investigative journalist for the Sunday Times, columnist for the Daily Mirror, presenter of Channel 4’s Despatches and BBC’s Panorama program on economic journalism. BBC). As a freelance journalist, Peter has written numerous books and exposed corruption and fake news of global importance. Peter has investigated murders and corruption in many different countries. Responsible for the “Insight” column in the Sunday Times, he published the story of Mordechai Vanunu, who exposed Israel’s nuclear program.
*This article was published under the title: How I Escaped Mossad’s Clutches