Ben Zygier, Australian citizen and Mossad agent, was not the first Prisoner X to be held secretly in an Israeli jail. Double agents caught after turning traitor or crossing the lines into crime for personal motives are the exception – but not unknown in most spy agencies. In the 1950s, Israeli agent Mordecai (Mottele) Kedar was secretly incarcerated for many years for betraying his mission.
The Australian ABC went to great lengths to uncover the story of the Israeli-Australian double citizen, aka Ben Alon, who committed suicide on Dec. 15, 2010 at the age of 34 in a top-security cell of Ayalon Prison where he was held in solitary confinement. A former inmate of that cell is said to have been Yitzhak Rabin’s assassin Yigal Amir.
After a longstanding Israeli gag order, his name was finally released for publication Wednesday, Feb. 13.
According to ABC, after his death, his body was flown to Melbourne, Australia, where his family, active in the local Jewish community, buried him one week later. The headstone on his grave bears his name and the dates of his birth and death. The ABC investigation disclosed that an autopsy was conducted by the Israeli Forensic Institute which issued a death certificate listing the cause of death as asphyxiation by hanging in the name of Ben Alon. Also found was a second Australian passport in the name of Ben Allen.
An Israeli organization called ZAKA, religious volunteers known for recovering the remains of Jewish terrorism victims, arranged for the body to be flown to Melbourne.
ABC reporters left no stone unturned to discover the reason for the extraordinary cover-up by the Israeli government. Was this a matter of national security? And what did the Australian authorities know? When Ben Zygier died in that prison what questions were asked by Australian diplomats and what were they told? And, finally, how did he manage to kill himself in a top-security cell under constant surveillance?
A senior Israeli intelligence official, who remained anonymous, told Australian TV that if what Ben Zygier did and knew were made public, it would pose an immediate threat to Israel as a nation state.
International protocols demand that when a foreign national is jailed or dies, their diplomatic mission must be informed. The Australian new investigators assumed that whatever crime or sin Ben Zygier committed, it must have involved espionage, possibly treachery, and very, very sensitive information endangering Israel.
Still, despite their best professional efforts, ABC’s reporters did not find a single lead to the mysterious story of Prisoner X or verify any wild conjectures. One tied him to various episodes in which Israeli Mossad undercover agents were found operating on Australian passports; another, to the Iranian defector, Gen. Ali Ashgari, who disappeared from his hotel in Istanbul with suitcases full of Iranian nuclear secrets.
They were only able to establish that Ben Zygier was a lawyer by profession.
One of the many questions still open is how was he able to commit suicide? Warren Reed, a former Australian secret service agent, disclosed that not only are cameras installed in this type of cell, but sensors which measure the inmate’s heart, respiration and perspiration rates. How did his watchers fail to notice that he had stopped breathing and his heart was no longer beating?
One possible answer is that in the Mossad training courses he underwent, he was taught how to take his own life under the noses of his captors, and used this method to kill himself.
Early Wednesday, the Australian Foreign Ministry spokesman said that the minister, Bob Carr, had ordered a new investigation into Canberra’s conduct in the affair, after it emerged that Israeli authorities had told a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv about the arrest of Australian citizen Ben Zygier. But the diplomat never relayed the information to Canberra through the conventional channels, he said.
debkafile: “Conventional channels” is a term used in inter-governmental intelligence relations. Its use may indicate that the Tel Aviv embassy passed the Israeli notice to the Australian spy agency – not the “conventional channels” of the foreign ministry.
This comment opens up more suggestive enigmas: Who was Ben Zygier, or Ben Allen, working for? Was it the Israeli Mossad or Australian intelligence – or both?
In any case, the Australian authorities may have had their own reasons for cooperating in the tight information clampdown imposed by Israel on the Ben Zygier affair.