SYDNEY – Ben Zygier, the Australian-born Mossad agent who committed suicide in 2010, was incarcerated in a maximum-security cell because he leaked intelligence about Israel’s espionage operations against Iran, a new book claims.
- Ben Zygier's crime: Negligence, not treason
- Zygier 'almost certainly’ not Israel’s only Prisoner X, author says
Titled “Prisoner X,” the codename given to Zygier after he was taken by Shin Bet in early 2010, author Rafael Epstein claims Zygier revealed sensitive information about operations he'd been involved in to an Iranian businessman during a university stint in Melbourne in 2009.
“It was this Iranian who played a key role in his downfall,” Epstein wrote in an exclusive extract published in The Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age newspapers on Saturday.
“Put simply, Ben said too much to the wrong person at the wrong time.”
Epstein’s thesis contradicts previous media reports, which claimed that in 2008 Zygier – who had been moved from a field job in Mossad to a desk job – flew unauthorized to Eastern Europe to try and turn an associate of Hezbollah into a double agent.
But his apparent attempt to prove his worth to his Mossad superiors backfired and he allegedly exposed two Lebanese nationals working for Mossad.
Zygier did not fly overseas to conduct “freelance espionage,” sources told Epstein. “That event, I am explicitly told, did not happen.”
Instead, he believes Zygier leaked intelligence information relating to Mossad’s operations against Iran while he was studying for a post-graduate management degree at Monash University in 2009.
Zygier not only revealed he used to work for Mossad, but divulged “details of the operations against Iran in which he’d been personally involved,” according to Epstein.
Zygier did not have a senior role in the operations against Iran, Epstein wrote. But he added: “He had worked for a Milan-based satellite company that had operations across Africa and the Middle East, he had been to Tehran, and he knew plenty about what the Mossad was trying to do.
“It comes as no surprise then that when Ben babbled in Melbourne, the Mossad heard about it in Tel Aviv via Tehran.”
Zygier was ordered back to Israel, and on January 31, 2010, he was taken by Shin Bet, according to Epstein.
From then on, the one-time Netzer and then Hashomer Hatzair member was known only as “Prisoner X.”
He was confined to a maximum-security cell in Ayalon Prison that was once inhabited by Yigal Amir.
“No one suggested … that his talkativeness came from a desire to further his own Mossad career,” Epstein wrote. “Ben got into trouble simply because he just didn’t know when to shut up.”
The 34-year-old Melbourne-born father of two had attempted suicide several times before he took his life on December 15,2010, according to Epstein, who conducted interviews with close associates of Zygier in Australia and Israel.
Israel’s mysterious Prisoner X was revealed as Ben Zygier in February 2013 when an investigation by the Australian Broadcasting Corporation broke the story, forcing a gag order to be to be partially lifted by Israeli authorities.
Zygier's family have not spoken publicly about Prisoner X, and reportedly received about $1 million compensation from Israel.
Epstein, an award-winning journalist for ABC Radio and The Age newspaper, was a graduate of Netzer and first encountered a young Ben Zygier when he was a participant at Zionist activities where Epstein was a leader.