Israel's Prisoner X Said to Have Exposed Spies

Share with others:


Print Email Read Later

JERUSALEM -- Israel has revealed very little about the man known as Prisoner X, an Australian-Israeli who was jailed here in 2010 after apparently getting caught in a web of espionage and intrigue, other than how he died: alone, by asphyxiation, after hanging himself in the shower of his cell.

Since the episode was exposed last month, the authorities here have rigorously concealed the reason for the arrest and secret imprisonment of the man, identified as Melbourne-born Ben Zygier, as he awaited trial in solitary confinement, citing interests of national security.

But in the latest twist, two news organizations have reported that Mr. Zygier, who was 34 when he died, had unintentionally exposed two top spies for Israel in Lebanon, revealing their identities to a European man known to be close to Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite organization Israel fought in a monthlong war in 2006.

A lengthy report on Monday in The Sydney Morning Herald, the result of a joint investigation with the German magazine Der Spiegel, said that Mr. Zygier had given the man the information as part of an unauthorized, freelance effort to recruit him as a double agent for the Mossad, Israel's intelligence agency.

Most of the details of Mr. Zygier's case remain subject to a strict, court-ordered blackout in Israel, and the story could not be independently verified.

Mr. Zygier is now known to have been an enthusiastic Zionist who grew up in a prominent Jewish family in Melbourne, Australia; immigrated to Israel as a young man; served in the Israeli military; and worked for a year as a lawyer in a prominent Tel Aviv firm. According to the new reports, he was recruited to the Mossad and was sent on his first mission to Europe in 2005 with instructions to infiltrate companies that had business relationships with countries like Iran and Syria.

He was hired by a midsize European company, according to The Sydney Morning Herald, where he was said to have shown great acumen but to have quickly grown bored with the jobs he was assigned. By 2007, the report said, the company had let him go and the Mossad brought him back to Israel, relegating him to a desk job at its headquarters outside Tel Aviv.

After a while, Mr. Zygier is said to have returned to Australia to study for a master's degree in management at Monash University. But he was again called back to Tel Aviv after the Israelis received a tip that his identity as a Mossad agent had become known to Hezbollah, according to the report. During a subsequent internal investigation, it added, Mr. Zygier broke down and said he had tried to recruit the man in Eastern Europe as a double agent for the Mossad as part of an independent bid to rehabilitate his own reputation with the agency.

But the man had already been playing a double game, and when Mr. Zygier furnished him with information to establish his own credibility, the man relayed it all back to Hezbollah, according to the report. It said that the intelligence that Mr. Zygier had supplied led to the 2009 arrest and imprisonment of Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh, the Mossad's two top informants in Lebanon.

Citing unnamed Israeli officials, The Sydney Morning Herald added that when Mr. Zygier was arrested in Israel, he was found carrying a compact disc with additional classified intelligence information, which he may also have been planning to hand over to the man in Europe.

Earlier news reports had suggested that when Mr. Zygier was arrested in February 2010, he might have been about to reveal secrets about how Israel used false passports from Australia and other countries in intelligence operations. But the Israeli prime minister's office released a terse statement in February saying that Mr. Zygier "had no contact with the Australian security services and organizations," rebutting news reports that had suggested otherwise.

An Israeli lawyer who met with Mr. Zygier has said that he was considering a plea bargain at the time of his death, which came a few days after the birth of his second daughter.

world

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.


Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

You have 2 remaining free articles this month

Try unlimited digital access

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here

You’ve reached the limit of free articles this month.

To continue unlimited reading

If you are an existing subscriber,
link your account for free access. Start here