In his first interview since he was released from prison after spending 18 years behind bars, Vanunu said he did not regret divulging Israel's nuclear secrets to the London-based Sunday Times newspaper

"I felt it was not about betraying, it was about reporting," Vanunu said. "It was about saving Israel from a new holocaust."

"What I did was to inform the world what is going on in secret. I didn't come and say, we should destroy Israel, we should destroy Dimona," he said.

"I said, look what Israel have and make your judgement."

Breaking silence

Now aged 50, Vanunu was speaking publicly at length for the first time since being kidnapped in 1986 in Rome by Mossad, Israel's intelligence service and then jailed for espionage and treason.

"I felt it was not about betraying, it was about reporting," Vanunu said. "It was about saving Israel from a new holocaust"

Mordechai Vanunu

On his release on 21 April he was given a hero's welcome by the global anti-nuclear movement.

"I have no regrets in spite of the fact I have paid a heavy punishment," Vanunu said. "I think it was worth it."

"I don't think I deserved this punishment, but it is not only I that should do it, everyone should do it," he argued.

Vanunu, a former technician at the Dimona nuclear plant in southern Israel, is barred from talking to foreigners without prior security service authorization.

About his future, Vanunu said he wanted to leave Israel.

"I want to start my new life in the United States, or somewhere in Europe, and to start living as a human being."

But Israel is reluctant to let him go on the ground that he could divulge more damaging secrets.

Israel has never acknowledged having a nuclear arsenal, but foreign experts are convinced that the country has clandestinely produced between 100 and 200 nuclear warheads.