Ten Lingering Questions on the Prisoner X Affair

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The publication of the heavily redacted version of Judge Daphna Blattman-Qadrai's report on the lonely death of Ben Zygier in Ayalon Prison on December 15, 2010 is probably the last piece of official evidence we will have on the case for a long while. While there is little reason to disbelieve the report's conclusion of suicide, there is still a long list of questions hovering over the case. Here are the main ones.

1. Twenty of the 28 pages of the judge's report have been withheld from the public. Do they contain the answers to a number of nagging questions about the circumstances of his death? First, why did it take two years to reach the conclusion that Zygier had killed himself in the most suicide-proof cell in the country and that his jailors were, at most, guilty of negligence?

2. Another nagging question is whether Zygier really believed that he could beat the 24-hour surveillance and succeed in carrying out his suicide attempt. Did he actually mean to kill himself? It looks much more like a cry for help.

3. And will we ever know if he was somehow pushed, purposely or inadvertently, to his death? Attorney Avigdor Feldman who met Zygier two days before his death to discuss his legal options said that he found him "rational, focused and speaking sense." What happened in the last 48 hours to push him over the edge?

4. It will be at least decades before the exact allegations against Zygier are officially disclosed. But whatever his sins, whatever the value of the information he had and the damage he could still cause, we must ask: Was the way the Shin Bet security service handled the case appropriate and was Zygier's indefinite and anonymous incarceration in the pressure cooker of Wing 15 the right way to deal with him? Maybe this allowed the Mossad three years of secrecy to cover its tracks, but the ultimate result has hardly been beneficial for Israel, not to mention Zygier.

5. There seems little question that whatever Zygier's position – if he had a position within the Mossad -- he was an unsuitable candidate for secret operations, who would have been recruited mainly for his useful Australian passport, according to foreign reports. If he indeed worked for the Mossad, has anyone in the agency been called to account for the circumstances of his recruitment, training and handling?

6. Assuming that due to an urgent need for operatives with foreign passports, the Mossad relaxed its stringent recruitment standards and allowed other unsuitable candidates to join its ranks, what has been done to rectify those mistakes, weed out other blabbermouths and provide necessary training to those remaining?

7. The need for foreign passports and identities to carry out clandestine operations has not vanished. What steps have been taken to prevent the next diplomatic scandal when Mossad agents allegedly using the passports of friendly nations are detected somewhere in the world? Or is this simply an unavoidable liability of vital intelligence operations?

8. Little is ever reported about the activities of the intelligence affairs sub-committee of the Knesset Foreign and Defense Affairs Committee, but it is supposed to fulfill a vital role – the only external civilian oversight of Israel's secretive intelligence community. Previous committee chairs have confirmed that they were not informed of the Zygier case. If he indeed posed such a risk to Israel's security, such a matter should have been brought to the sub-committee's attention, as should have been the multiple failures in his handling. Now the sub-committee is planning to hold an "in-depth inquiry" into the case. Their first question should be why the affair was originally hidden from them?

9. Not only Israeli agencies should be accountable in this case. Australia's intelligence services must also deliver some answers. From what has emerged so far, it seems that while the external spy agency, the Australian Secret Intelligence Service (ASIS) was amicably cooperating with Israel's intelligence services, its domestic counterpart, the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO), or at least elements within it, was busy blackmailing and "burning" an Australian-Israeli citizen and alleged Mossad operative. There is little doubt that better coordination in Canberra and between the two countries could have diffused this time bomb at a much earlier stage.

10. The minister responsible for Mossad and Shin Bet is Benjamin Netanyahu. Will we ever know what, if anything, the prime minister was told in 2010 about this case? Did Mossad Chief Meir Dagan who has a very low opinion of Bibi supply him with all the necessary details? And if so, did Netanyahu stand aside while his secret servants made such a hash of things?

Follow me on twitter @AnshelPfeffer

The tombstone of Ben Zygier at Chevra Kadisha Jewish Cemetery in Melbourne, Australia.Credit: AP

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