Australian security officials have claimed that Ben Zygier, the suspected Mossad spy known as Prisoner X, may have been close to blowing the whistle on Israeli intelligence operations.
“[Zygier] may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,” an Australian security official was quoted by a media report as saying.
An Australian-born Israeli, Zygier (34), also known as Ben Allen or Ben Alon, was mysteriously imprisoned by Israel in 2010 and hanged himself several months later in a maximum-security cell.
He was set to reveal details, including on the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media before he was arrested, said an AAP news agency report.
The sensational saga has dominated public discourse in Israel since it was reported by Australia’s public broadcaster on Tuesday. Israel maintained a gag order for 24 hours before acknowledging late on Wednesday that it had held a dual Israeli citizen under a false name for security reasons, and that he died in prison in 2010 from an apparent suicide.
The Israeli announcement did not identify the man and left key questions unanswered: What crime was Zygier accused of? Why was he confined to severe isolation? How did he commit suicide when he was under 24-hour surveillance? And why was the case hidden from the public for more than two years, even after it was reported in Australia?
What Zygier actually did remains a mystery, but various media reports have suggested that he used his Australian passport, perhaps under different names, to conduct covert operations for the Mossad. It appears that Australian authorities might have grown suspicious.
Israel’s Channel 10 said that in 2009 Australian intelligence officers interrogated Zygier about trips he took to Iran, Lebanon and Syria. The report alleged that the case was leaked to an Australian reporter who phoned Zygier and questioned him about his alleged links to the Mossad. The reporter, Jason Katsoukis, told Israel’s Channel 2 TV that Zygier strongly denied the allegations. Zygier was arrested shortly after they spoke. Australia government was informed in February 2010 through intelligence channels that the Israeli authorities had detained an Australian citizen.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Thursday told a senate hearing, Australian government sought “specific assurances” that Zygier’s legal rights would be respected and that “the Israeli government responded that the individual would be treated in accordance with his lawful rights as an Israeli citizen. The government relied on these assurances.”
It has also come to light that Zygier was in contact with Israeli human rights lawyer Avigdor Feldman the day before he apparently hanged himself in an Israeli prison.
Mr. Feldman said: “When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide,” adding that he was rational, focused and without self-pity.
“I understood that he was told he was likely to face the longest possible jail term and that he was likely to be ostracised by his family,” he said.