Report: Prisoner X Scuttled Operation to Return Bodies of Israeli MIAs in Lebanon

Australian Broadcasting Corporation claims Ben Zygier, eager to impress his Mossad superiors, revealed name of a Lebanese double agent, blowing a major operation to return bodies of soldiers captured after battle of Sultan Yacoub.

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Mossad agent Ben Zygier, otherwise known as Prisoner X, was imprisoned because his own desire to please his Mossad handlers led him to inadvertently sabotage a secret operation to return the bodies of three captured Israeli soldiers from Lebanon.

According to a report on Tuesday from the Australian Broadcasting Corporation, Zygier exposed the identity of a double Lebanese agent and thus scuttled the entire operation to return the bodies of the Sultan Yacoub MIAs to Israel.

The three – Zacharia Baumel, Zvi Feldman, and Yehuda Katz – had been missing in action since the battle at Sultan Yacoub in Lebanon in June 1982.
ABC, the media outlet that exposed the Prisoner X case in February, said its investigation showed that Zygier’s reckless indiscretion caused Mossad officials to abort the sophisticated mission, which would have brought closure to a 30-year campaign for the return of the soldiers’ remains.

The report characterizes for the first time the seriousness of claims against Zygier, who was facing 22 years in prison for espionage and treason and was being held in solitary confinement. He was found hanged in his prison cell in Ayalon Prison in December 2010. Neither his arrest nor his death was reported until earlier this year.

The Battle of Sultan Yacoub was considered one of the Israel Defense Forces' worst failures of the first Lebanon War. On June 11, 1982, an IDF armored force rode into a Syrian ambush in the area of the village in Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley. Twenty IDF soldiers were killed and more than 30 were wounded, while two were taken prisoner and three disappeared, their whereabouts unknown.

During the ensuing 30 years, Israel had made great efforts to locate the three MIAs, one of whom, Baumel, had dual U.S.-Israeli citizenship. Some reports reaching Israel said that the three had been taken alive to Syria, while others said they had been killed but had been buried in Syria.

ABC reporter Trevor Bormann reported that Zygier had “burned” a Mossad source, a man named Ziad Al Homsi, the one-time mayor of the Lebanese village of Saadnayel. Bormann interviewed Homsi, who claimed he was recruited by Mossad in 2007, after being lured to China for a mayoral convention.

Homsi said he was asked by his handlers to help retrieve the bodies of the MIAs, given that during the Lebanon War he had been a senior military officer and had good ties with PLO members and the Syrian military.

For his report, Bormann also interviewed Rami Igra, a former head of the Mossad’s department for MIAs and prisoners of war, who had handled the matter. Igra did not confirm in the interview that Zygier sabotaged the mission to recover the bodies, but he didn't deny it, either.

According to Bormann’s report, the Mossad did not believe that the three MIAs had been buried in Syria, but rather that they’d been interred in Lebanon. Homsi told Bormann that the Mossad gave him the exact location of the place of burial, asked him to exhume the remains, store them in a secret hiding place and wait for the Mossad to come and collect them.

In May 2009 Homsi was arrested by Lebanese intelligence, was tried and sentenced to 15 years’ imprisonment, but was released after only three years.

According to an investigative report by the German magazine Der Spiegel this past March, Zygier made unauthorized contacts with Hezbollah men and tried to recruit them in order to impress his Mossad superiors. According to that report, to convince the Hezbollah men that he really was a Mossad agent, he gave them Homsi’s name and told them the latter was working for Israeli intelligence.

Homsi told Bormann that in fact, he was acting as a double agent and had been reporting his contacts with the Mossad to Lebanese authorities. According to Homsi, Lebanese intelligence wanted to get the Mossad’s information as to the bodies’ location so that it could exhume the remains and then use them to bargain with Israel for the release of Palestinian prisoners.

An Israeli newspaper shows a photo of Ben Zygier, believed to be Israel's 'Prisoner X.'Credit: AP

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