Amid Prisoner X storm, PM backs security services

Netanyahu vows peace process, Iran and Syria will be high on agenda of new government.

February 17, 2013 12:06
3 minute read.
ABC mock up of Ben Zygier passport.

Ben Zygier passport 370. (photo credit: ABC News)


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Too much discussion of Israel’s intelligence activities could severely harm state security, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu said Sunday in his first public comments on the puzzling “Prisoner X” Affair.

Referring to the case of Ben Zygier – the Australian immigrant and alleged Mossad operative who committed suicide two years ago in an Israeli jail cell – Netanyahu said at the weekly cabinet meeting that he had “complete trust” in both the country’s security services and the “completely independent” legal authorities who supervise it.

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“With this combination of maintaining security and maintaining the law, we will also maintain freedom of expression,” Netanyahu said.

“However, the over-exposure of security and intelligence activity could harm, sometimes severely, state security. Therefore, in any discussion, the security interest cannot be made light of, and in the reality in which the State of Israel lives, this must be a main interest.”

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Israel’s situation, Netanyahu said, was unique in the world.

“We are an exemplary democracy and maintain the rights of those under investigation and individual rights no less than any other country,” he said.

“However, we are more threatened and face more challenges; therefore, we must maintain proper activity of our security agencies.”

Netanyahu called for everyone to “let the security forces do their work quietly so that we can continue to live in security and tranquility in Israel.”

The story continued to make waves in Australia on Sunday, with Foreign Minister Bob Carr saying that a report on the Zygier case that he ordered from his ministry will “canvass all the consular contact between Australia and between Israel, and contact between the security agencies.

And we have asked the Israeli government for a contribution to that report.”

Carr said he wanted to give Israel an “opportunity to submit to us an explanation of how this tragic death came about.”

Australian former prime minister Kevin Rudd, engaged in a bitter rivalry with current Prime Minister Julia Gillard, demanded that the government be “robust” with Israel over the matter. Rudd was prime minister when Zygier was arrested.

Israeli officials expressed concern last week that this issue would play into the current Australian election campaign. Elections are to be held there in September.

The intelligence subcommittee of the Knesset Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, meanwhile, announced that it would hold “an intensive inquiry into all aspects of the affair.”

Bayit Yehudi MK Uri Ariel called for the establishment of a committee of inquiry.

In a related development, Channel 2 reported that negotiations over a plea bargain with Zygier were in the advanced stages when he was found dead in his cell.

The report said that attorney Avigdor Feldman, who last week said Zygier was interested in proving his innocence in court, met him to give his father a second opinion regarding whether he should sign the agreement.

The report quoted a security official as saying that Israel was willing to agree to a “one-digit prison sentence” if Zygier would assist the investigators in “repairing the damage” and also commit to “shutting his mouth.”

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