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Israel's Mysterious Prisoner 'X'

Former Shabak Official Rami Igra: "We don't know what we don't know about Australian prisoner Ben Zygier prisoner X who was found hanging in Israel's Ayalon prison"

Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr seeks Israeli Explanation of the Affair that Israel tried to hush up

Case sparks firestorm in Israel over government's gag order on publishing details of case

Ben Zygier

What can be said about Ben Zygier, the young Australian Jew who arrived in Israel in 2000 to serve in the Israel Defense Forces and was purportedly recruited by the Mossad Intelligence Service? According Australia's ABC News, Zygier was placed in solitary confinement in 2009 and in 2010 he was found hanging.  After informing Australia of his death, the Israeli authorities hushed up the affair and quietly sent his body back to Melbourne for burial. At the time of his death Zygier was thirty-four years old and married to an Israeli with two children. After news of the affair threatened to surface, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu summoned an urgent session of the top Israeli news editors requesting them to suppress the story that he described as: 'very embarrassing for a certain government agency'.

In Israel, Zygier had changed his name to ‘Alon’ and carried an Australian passport in the name of ‘Ben Allen’. While the Israeli media complied with Netanyahu's 'national security' request, three Left wing politicians did not; they exploited 'question time' in the Knesset to publicly raise the issue of the unknown Australian who had been held ex-communicado in an Israeli prison where he later committed suicide.  ABC News took it from there and Australia's Foreign Minister Bob Carr has ordered an enquiry, saying: "I'm not reluctant to seek an explanation from the Israeli government". Israel's ambassador was also summoned to the Australian Foreign Ministry.

Although the editors of the Israeli media first played ball with Netanyahu's request, the story now dominates the headlines of the Internet, the printed press, radio and TV. It centers on the question of the media's self-imposed censorship and whether it went too far in the Zygier affair. The fact is that anyone who is writing or talking about it hasn’t the foggiest idea of just what happened: was Ben Zygier-Alon-Allen really a Mossad agent? If so, why did an Israeli court secretly order his being jailed in solitary confinement, and how and why did he commit suicide while being held in solitary confinement, possibly under suicide watch?  Zygier was being held in the same special facility that housed Yigal Amir, the assassin of Yitzak Rabin.  

In Israel, Channel 10 has just concluded an in-depth discussion of the affair. Defense commentator Allon Ben David, said intelligence services in Iran, Syria and Lebanon will now be working overtime, checking if Ben Allen visited their countries and whom he met with. Interviewed in Australia, reporter Trevor Bormann who uncovered the story said he first learned of it from an Israeli, apparently an Israeli journalist, while in Israel six months ago. Due to Israeli censorship the Israeli would never have been able to publish it. Another reporter noted that members of Kibbutz Gazit, where Zygier had spent some time, were surprised to learn of Zygier being recruited by the Mossad because he did not appear to be of the ' stable profile' required of an agent. The general trend of the discussion was that under Israeli law it is possible to secretly jail an Israeli on espionage charges if both sides agree, and after approval by a court. The discussants noted that Zygier's family has refused to discuss any details involving their son. It was also understood that ASIS, Australia's Secret Intelligence Service, had been informed of Zygier's incarceration and his subsequent death.

Rami Igra, former Shabak Official

But so far all the facts have not been released, and maybe they never will. If, as it appears, he was a Mossad agent, did he have a mental breakdown that turned him into a great security risk? Did Zygier, as one former Australian agent speculated, betray Israel wittingly or unwittingly and then commit suicide while suffering pangs of guilt? As for Netanyahu's urgent request that Israeli media editors hold off on publishing the Zygier affair after ABC aired the story, this could have been for operational reasons - to gain time, or, in intelligence jargon 'to clean up the mess'. Yinon Magul of the Walla website said he attended the emergency meeting with Prime Minister Netanyahu and another top official and was convinced there was justification in delaying disclosure of the case in Israel. It is true that whenever Israeli media carry reports on security or intelligence affairs, they are picked up by the international media as officially sanctioned, although this is not always the case. Former Shabak security official Rami Igra said he knew nothing about the Zygier affair but that Israel was in a state of war and the only state in the world threatened with annihilation. It had to wage a dangerous intelligence war with its enemies and Israel's critics both at home and abroad would do well to heed: "We don't know what we don 't know. This should also apply in the case of Ben Zygier".   

David Essing

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