Israeli intelligence sources dismissed today a new sensational account, broadcast by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC), regarding the fate of an Australian-born Jew who immigrated to Israel and became a Mossad agent, and who was eventually found dead at the age of 34 in a high-security Israeli prison cell on December 15, 2010.
The latest account of Ben Zygier’s death, which has come to be known as the “Prisoner X” affair, was ridiculed by sources who spoke to The Tower as “nonsense”.
Those sources indicated, however, that Zygier was imprisoned for seriously endangering other Mossad operations.
The newest “nonsense”
ABC reported on Tuesday that Zygier sabotaged an operation to discover the remains of three Israeli MIA’s who died in a battle in Sultan Yaacob in Lebanon, during Israel’s 1982 war. The Australian report has been blasted for putting the families of the three missing soldiers under renewed emotional stress.
ABC’s report repeated accounts published in Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, which were also described by Israeli intelligence sources as “baseless”.
Both reports are grounded in claims made by Ziad el Homsi, a former Lebanese officer who fought with the PLO and became local politician. Homsi was arrested by Lebanese security services in 2009 and was imprisoned for 15 years on espionage charges. He admitted that he was a spy for the Mossad.
Three years later he was released under mysterious circumstances. Homsi told the Australian TV station that his Mossad handlers gave him the exact location where the soldiers were buried in Lebanon and asked him to dig up their graves.
But Israeli sources insist that, according to intelligence data gathered from reliable sources, the bodies were transferred at the time by the PLO to Syria and buried there. They also emphasize that Homsi is an unreliable source who may have concocted the story in order to divert attention from whatever actual missions he was conducting on behalf of Israel.
The Prisoner X Affair
Zygier was born in 1976 in Melbourne Australia to a prominent Jewish family. He went to a Jewish school, joined a pioneer Zionist youth movement, and in 1994 moved to Israel as an 18 year old. He changed his family name to Alon and served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF).
Reports indicate he was recruited for intelligence work by the Mossad. He would have gone through standard yet rigorous psychological and aptitude tests. In 2003 he formally joined the Mossad and seems to have been tasked with penetrating Iran and its networks.
Zygier was discharged by the Mossad in 2008 without any apparent hint of suspicion or scandal. Still, sources indicate he was considered no longer suitable for his tasks. In 2009 he returned with his family to Australia to study for an MBA.
According to sources, Zygier was excessively talkative upon his return in Melbourne. He spoke openly of his Mossad career with other students, including potentially hostile Lebanese and Iranian agents. At one point he tried to run a rouge operation to recruit a Hezbollah source, likely seeking to demonstrate his value and impress his former superiors at the Mossad.
He was so indiscreet that the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) heard about him and began investigating whether he was a fantastically boastful Australian citizen or a staggeringly imprudent Israeli intelligence officer.
Meanwhile the Mossad also became aware of Zygier “blabbing”, which is not quite a term of art in Israel’s intelligence apparatus but which aptly summarizes the sentiment of Israeli officials. The Mossad examined to whom he was talking, and it concluded that some of its operations were being endangered by his revelations.
Zygier was arrested on his next trip to Israel – in 2010 – which was a visit that may or may not have been facilitated by Israel. He was charged with espionage and treason. Sources say that after his arrest, which was not announced publicly, he was interrogated and confessed that he had violated the Mossad’s lifetime secrecy pledge.
Senior Israelis have been categorically unwilling to state officially what he did to trigger action by the Mossad, by the domestic security agency Shin Bet, and by the prosecutors who were eventually brought into the case. Well-informed sources tell The Tower that, in the Mossad’s view, he seriously endangered some Mossad operations and that his actions did indeed border on treason. Some operatives could have been in danger because of what he revealed.
But those sources explicitly refute the claim that the endangered operations were aimed at digging the unknown graves of the Israeli MIA’s, per the ABC report.
Investigators can not explain why Zygier eventually chose to end his own life. Reports published last month indicate that he had been visited by his wife, who conveyed “difficult news” that caused him distress. Those reports also revealed that he was taking anti-anxiety medication and had previously attempted suicide.
Prosecutors were at the time discussing a plea bargain with his attorneys and with the prisoner himself. One of the lawyers said that a “double-digit” prison sentence was being discussed.
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