A Mossad agent whose death in Israel’s highest security prison was kept secret for nearly two years may have revealed details of one of Israel’s most important intelligence-gathering networks, Australian and German media reported Monday.
Ben Zygier was found hanged in a supposedly suicide-proof cell at a Tel Aviv jail in 2010, with reports this week saying he was imprisoned after inadvertently passing secrets to the Lebanese militant group Hezbollah.
Known until earlier this year as "Prisoner X," Zygier, 34 — who was born in Melbourne, Australia, but emigrated to Israel — revealed the names of two Lebanese nationals spying for Israel, German news weekly Der Spiegel wrote this week.
In the events leading up to his apparent bungle while playing what has been characterized as a high-stakes spy game, Zygier had been ordered back to Israel from Europe in 2007 by Mossad bosses unhappy with his work.
In 2008 he took a leave of absence, Spiegel wrote, and returned to Melbourne to finish his studies.
In the meantime, however, and in a bid to restore his standing with his bosses, Zygier tried to recruit new agents for Israel.
He came in contact with Hezbollah supporters and while trying to convince them to work for Mossad, spilled highly sensitive information in what has been called one of the most serious security breaches in Israeli history.
They were Lebanese nationals Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh and were arrested in May 2009 on charges of spying for Israel and later sentenced to several years of hard labor.
Back in Israel, Zygier spent nearly a year in solitary confinement and his presence in the Tel Aviv jail was so closely guarded that not even his jailers knew his real name before he died.
Israeli officials even banned journalists from reporting on the case after Zygier was found dead in his cell in December 2010, the result of suicide, officials say.
Meanwhile, the Australian government said Tuesday it was continuing to push Israel for a fuller explanation of the circumstances surrounding Zygier's death.
Foreign Minister Bob Carr told Australia's ABC News:
"I'm not aware that there has been a comprehensive accounting for what has happened. What gave rise to his arrest, his detention, his suicide?"
Zygier was suspected of using his Australian passport to spy for Israel, focusing attention on Israel's recruitment of agents with foreign travel documents, and Carr said he was also awaiting answers on this issue.
"That would create risk for all Australians who are traveling. So Australia's got a clear interest, a distinct point of view on this, an objection to Australian passports being used by dual citizens who are off working for a foreign intelligence agency. We have asked them for all information relevant to Australia on this and we will continue to do that."