Alleged Mossad agent Ben Zygier, who killed himself in an Israeli prison in 2010, received full legal and psychological services, Public Security Minister Yitzhak Aharonovitch said in the Knesset on Monday.
“Let me say clearly: There are no anonymous prisoners in Israel,” Aharonovitch stated in the plenum during a summary of his time as minister.
“There is appropriate supervision, laws are followed and there is great concern for the security of the State of Israel, which, in order to protect, sometimes leads to secretive action.”
According to Aharonovitch, Zygier was seen by both independent and Prisons Service mental health professionals.
“Any suicide is unfortunate and difficult. We have taken action that has drastically decreased the number of incidents in recent years,” the minister added, pointing out that Judge Daphna Blatman Kedrai investigated Zygier’s death immediately after it took place and declared it a suicide. The government is considering the removal of at least part of the gag order on Blatman Kedrai’s probe.
Aharonovitch clarified the details of the case that are not under a gag order: An Israeli citizen with foreign citizenship was arrested according to the law and held in prison under a fake name. He was given all of the rights of prisoners in Israel, and his family knew about his arrest and visited him in jail. He had a lawyer that he chose of his own free will, and received a regular criminal trial, which was held behind closed doors for national security reasons.
According to Aharonovitch, Zygier agreed to be held under a false name for national security reasons and in order to protect his family. He also agreed to the gag order, which was upheld by then-Supreme Court president Dorit Beinisch.
Earlier on Monday, IDF Censor Brig.-Gen. Sima Vaknin was seen in the Knesset less than 24 hours after the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee announced that its subcommittee on intelligence would discuss the “Prisoner X” affair.
The subcommittee’s meetings are confidential, and as such, a spokesman refused to confirm or deny whether one took place Monday morning and whether Vaknin participated.
Meanwhile, State Comptroller Joseph Shapira said on Monday at a conference in Ra’anana that he would wait a few days before deciding whether to review the affair.
He said he wanted to wait to see how the Knesset State Control Committee, the attorney- general and the government in general treated the issue.
Shapira acknowledged the receipt of a request to investigate the matter by Labor MK Nachman Shai.
According to Shapira, it is not obvious that the issue comes under his jurisdiction, and he has not received an official request to investigate from the state control committee, the committee to which he most directly answers.
The state comptroller said that it is better for his office to get involved only when a formal request is made through proper channels, not by individual MKs.
Kadima leader Shaul Mofaz said in a press conference on Monday that, although he was Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee chairman for much of the last Knesset, he was not informed of the issue, but that he trusts the legal and defense systems.
When asked whether he thought something went wrong in the case, Mofaz said, “I was not updated on the issue despite all of my recent jobs, and you can learn from that my opinion on the way it was handled.”
Knesset Legal Adviser Eyal Yinon explained in a letter to MKs that their “parliamentary immunity is not unlimited,” after three lawmakers discussed the “Prisoner X” affair in the plenum, even though there was a gag order on the case.
Yinon emphasized that his legal opinion is not a concrete stance on the questions MKs Zehava Gal-On (Meretz), Ahmed Tibi (UAL-Ta’al) and Dov Henin (Hadash) asked Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman last week, but rather an explanation of the basic principles of immunity.
“Freedom of expression is a basic right in Israel, but like every other basic right, it is not total.
As such, the law limits certain expressions in order to protect other important interests, such as incitement to racism, violence or terror, revealing secret information, libel, breaking a gag order, et cetera. These are expressions that, in certain cases, could lead to criminal responsibility,” Yinon explained.
According to Yinon’s legal opinion, if an MK planned in advance to break a gag order, he or she can be put on trial like any other citizen and his or her speech does not fall under the category of immunity. In addition, he wrote that the Knesset is not an “immune territory” such that lawmakers cannot be brought to court for their words.
Attorney-General Yehuda Weinstein denied reports that, following the publication of Yinon’s opinion, he ordered a criminal investigation of the three MKs’ comments.
MK Miri Regev (Likud Beytenu) announced soon after receiving Yinon’s letter that she plans to submit a bill meant to put Gal- On, Henin and Tibi on trial.
“MKs are not above the law, and it is not right that, just to star in a headline, they would harm national security,” Regev said.
Australian media outlets reported on Monday that a suspected Mossad agent who died in an Israeli jail in 2010 was arrested by his spymasters, who believed he may have told Australian intelligence about his work with the Israeli espionage agency.
The Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) said Zygier, a dual Australian-Israeli citizen who died at age 34, had met officers from Australia’s domestic spy agency ASIO and had given details about a number of Mossad operations.
Quoting undefined sources, the ABC, which broke the initial story about Zygier’s secret arrest and death in prison, said that he had also applied for a work visa to Italy on one of his four trips to Australia. But the Mossad became concerned when it discovered that Zygier had contact with the Australian spy agency, the ABC reported, adding it was worried he might pass on information about a major operation planned for Italy.
The ABC said Zygier was one of three Australians who changed their names several times and took out new Australian passports for travel in the Middle East and Europe for their work with Mossad.
Australian Attorney-General Mark Dreyfus, who is in charge of ASIO, said on Monday that he would not comment on intelligence matters or suggestions ASIO had exposed Zygier’s identity.
He also said he saw no need for a review of how the intelligence agencies handled the case.
“I haven’t seen any need either, for any such review to take place within the Attorney-General’s Department,” he told reporters.
Reuters contributed to this report.•