Ben Zygier in IDF uniform
Ben Zygier in IDF uniform. Photo by SMH Website
Text size

The mysterious identity of Israel’s Prisoner X, who hanged himself under suspicious circumstances in Ayalon Prison on December 15, 2010, was that of a Jewish man from Melbourne. An explosive Australian investigative report that aired on Australian TV on Tuesday revelaed the identity of Ben Zygier, a Mossad agent.

Despite earlier claims that Israel engaged in a cover-up of the Australian's detention, a spokesman for the Australian foreign affairs minister, Bob Carr, admitted early Wednesday that while the Israeli authorities had informed a diplomat at the Australian Embassy in Tel Aviv about the arrest, the diplomat never relayed the information to Canberra.

According to reports in the Australian media, Australian intelligence services were updated by the Israeli government on the arrest Zygier's arrest in 2010. The information was then reportedly passed on to the foreign service.

MK Nitzan Horowitz (Meretz) told Haaretz on Tuesday that in June 2010 he argued against keeping "Prisoner X" isolated and out of public view, but was assured by the State Prosecutor’s Office that it was keeping close watch on the affair and ensuring the prisoner’s welfare and safety. Horowitz was surprised to learn of Zygier's death from the Australian television report.

While the rumor mill in Melbourne’s tight Jewish community went into overdrive following the broadcast on Tuesday night, few had hard facts about the case. Acquaintances of Zygier's family said the news of his death came as an absolute shock to his parents.

The Australian Age newspaper reported Wednesday that Zygier was under investigation by Australian intelligence months before he was arrested in Israel for fraudulent use of his Australian passport for espionage purposes.  

Members of a Kibbutz in northern Israel have confirmed that Zygier was a "lone soldier" – a soldier who left his family in his native country to make aliyah – in the Israeli Defense Forces and that the kibbutz served as his home during his service.

In light of a gag order that was imposed on Zygier's story by Israeli authorities and then promptly lifted, Haaretz's Aluf Benn writes that government censorship in modern times becomes a "pathetic attempt to turn back the clock" to a time before WikiLeaks, Facebook and Twitter, and before bloggers who elude the censor's authority.