Following an explosive Australian ABC news report Tuesday that a dual
Australian- Israeli citizen and Mossad agent committed suicide in an Israeli
prison in 2010, Israel confirmed on Wednesday – without giving his name – that a
dual national did indeed take his own life while in custody.
Australian report identified the man as 34-year-old Ben Zygier from
The Justice Ministry issued a statement saying that the
Prisons Service had held the dual-national and had, for security reasons,
imprisoned him under a false name.
According to the statement, the family
received immediate notification of his arrest, and he was represented throughout
by three lawyers: Ro’i Belcher, Moshe Mazur and Boaz Ben-Tzur.
to the statement, the prisoner was held under the authority of a court order,
and his case was followed by the most senior officials in the Justice
“The individual rights of the prisoner were maintained, in
accordance with the law,” the statement read.
The statement said the
prisoner was found dead in his cell about two years ago, and the president of
the Rishon Lezion Magistrate’s Court had ordered an investigation into the cause
A month and a half ago, the investigation ruled that the death
was the result of suicide, and the file was passed on to the State Attorney’s
Office for examination of possible negligence.
The ABC news report said
he was held in a special high-security cell in Ramle’s Ayalon Prison that was
once used to house Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir, and was under constant
The statement said that no further aspects of the case
could be published because of national security
Jerusalem, meanwhile, is not anticipating that the
incident will create any diplomatic tension with Canberra.
pointed out that on Wednesday, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr ordered a
review of his ministry’s handling of the case. The official said he was not
aware of any Australian demands for explanations from Jerusalem on the matter,
and the impression was that the Australian officials were aware of Zygier’s
arrest, incarceration and death.
The Australian media reported that Carr
corrected earlier claims he had made in regard to the embassy in Tel Aviv not
knowing anything about the case until Zygier’s family, which is prominent in the
Melbourne Jewish community, asked that his body be brought home for burial. The reversal came after the government admitted that an
Australian diplomat knew Zygier was being held in prison, but had not passed the
information on to Canberra.
A spokesman for Carr told the Australian
Associated Press that “some officers of the department were in fact aware of his
detention,” according to a report in The Australian. The newspaper noted that
some Australian diplomatic personnel were aware of Zygier’s incarceration in
Ambassador to Australia Yuval Rotem met with Australian deputy
opposition leader Julie Bishop on Wednesday for a prearranged meeting during
which the “Zygier Affair” was raised.
One Israeli official said the
concern in Jerusalem was less over a diplomatic incident with Canberra, and more
as to how this would tarnish Israel’s image and cast it in a negative light as a
country where prisoners “disappear.”
There was also some concern that the
matter could become an issue in the current Australian election
The ABC report named Zygier as “Prisoner X,” saying he had been
jailed for unknown reasons in early 2010, a decade after he moved to Israel and
years after being recruited by the Mossad. The report also said that Zygier’s
detention has been one of the most closely guarded secrets in Israel in recent
years, one that the Israeli government had tried relentlessly to cover
Multiple Australian media outlets are reporting that Zygier, married
to an Israeli woman and the father of two children, had been under investigation
in his native land at the time of his death.
According to Fairfax Media,
which owns the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Security Intelligence
Organization (ASIO) suspected Zygier of using his Australian passport to conduct
espionage for Israel.
The Sydney Morning Herald said Wednesday that in
early 2010, a Fairfax Media reporter had confronted Zygier, who was known in
Israel as Ben Alon, about his activities for the Mossad. Zygier had angrily
denied the allegations, the report said, calling them “total
The Age reported Wednesday that Fairfax Media spoke to Zygier
after learning that the ASIO was investigating at least three dual
Australian-Israelis for using their foreign nationality as a cover for espionage
The report said that in each case the men used new passports,
with changed names, to travel to Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Zygier, in addition to
the name Ben Alon, also used the names Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows, according
to the report.
According to The Age report, the investigation predates
the assassination of Mahmoud al- Mabhouh, the Hamas operative killed in Dubai in
January 2010 in what is widely believed to have been a Mossad hit. Israel drew
intense criticism from Australia and Britain for the suspected use of their
passports in the operation. Zygier and his two fellow Australians were not
suspected in the Mabhouh operation, the report said.
The Age reported
that it was believed Zygier traveled back to Australia in 2009 to study for an
MBA at Monash University.
According to the paper, “a source at the time
observed him over several days sitting with a group of students from Saudi
Arabia and Iran at the university’s Caulfield campus.”
According to the
JTA, Zygier attended the King David and Bialik College Jewish day schools in
Melbourne; was a member of Hashomer Hatza’ir; attended the Machon leadership
program in Jerusalem; and lived for some time at Kibbutz Gazit.
reported that Zygier had a law degree and clerked at the Tel Aviv office of
Herzog, Fox & Neeman, the prestigious firm at which Justice Minister Yaakov
Neeman was a founding partner.
Jerusalem Post staff contributed to this