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Ben Zygier, Dead Mossad Agent, Arrested for Compromising Covert Iran Operation, Dubai Assassination?

ben zygier grave

Ben Zygier: doomed Mossad agent sacrificed on the altar of national security and expediency (Reuters)

This is video of the ABC Australia news show, 7:30, which dealt with the Zygier case.  I was interviewed for it and some portions of that interview are laced throughout the program.

The reporting of the past few days in Israel and Australia has caused me to rethink some aspects of the Ben Zygier case and develop a theory of what happened to this tragic individual.

The thoughts and theories below are based in part on Jason Koutsoukis’ 2010 report which first referred to Ben Zygier’s cover being blown by Australian intelligence. The Fairfax Media reporter has also expanded his coverage in the past few days with new information that fills out the picture. In Israel, reporters have interviewed Avigdor Feldman, who may’ve been the last civilian to see Ben alive. Feldman adds important elements to the story I’m going to tell. But what isn’t in these reports will be my informed speculation about what likely happened and how and why this tragedy unfolded.

Ben Zygier was a mid-level Mossad operative. Part of his work involved rather mundane intelligence activity recruiting Iranian and Saudi intelligence assets on the Monash University campus; and securing Australian passports for his travels to Iran and other countries hostile to Israel.

But another aspect of his work involved more complicated derring-do.  Koustoukis revealed in 2010 that Zygier worked for a mysterious European company that sold computers and other technical equipment. He also reported that Zygier used his passports to travel repeatedly to Iran, presumably to sell such equipment.

Sheera Frenkel, writing in the Times of London, says it was a company based in Italy. Given Israel’s known activities infiltrating Iranian nuclear plants, this business would have exported to Iran equipment the Mossad hoped would end up in criticial infrastructure where they could be used to sabotage various military facilities. Alongside legitimate commercial shipments it could easily have shipped materials like bombs or related material necessary for sabotage operations.  While there, Zygier could conceivably have even physically facilitated some of the assassinations or acts of sabotage that Israel has been responsible for.

The Australian reporter’s story two years ago compromised not just Zygier, who the Mossad would’ve have immediately recognized from reading the story, though his real name was not used; it would’ve potentially compromised the entire European export operation. This likely would’ve been a project months, if not years in the making. The equipment it sent to Iran was likely part of a much larger campaign aiming to sabotage critical Iranian industrial and military infrastructure.

Frenkel also raises another important fact: Israel informed Australian intelligence it had arrested Zygier eight days after the Dubai police informed the world it knew the twenty-seven Mossad agents who organized the assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabouh. She believes the arrest was related to this disastrous outcome for the Mossad. Either Zygier had mistakenly compromised the identities of the agents through an inadvertent error. Or more darkly, perhaps Zygier was stricken with conscience over the fact that his acts of passport fraud (in obtaining Australian passports four different times under different assumed names) was exploited to murder another human being.

This development may or may not have been facilitated by those contacts Zygier had with Australian intelligence. Knowing Australian-issued passports had aided in the murder, the intelligence agency would’ve desperately wanted to know how that happened, who did it, and why. If they found out from Zygier, it’s entirely possible they shared this information with Dubai.  Or perhaps the other way around, the Dubai police may’ve shared this information with Australian intelligence, which may’ve led them to Zygier.

Though we don’t know to what extent he actually did compromise the Dubai agents or the Iran commercial operation, the Mossad would’ve reacted with genuine, desperate alarm. That’s why it would’ve recalled Zygier, questioned him and, if it didn’t like the answers he offered, arrested and imprisoned him.

One important question is to what extent did he cooperate with Australian intelligence. Was he turned? Did he become a double agent? Or did he reveal information accidentally to them? Another possibility: did the Australians manage to convince him that his activities violated his moral conscience or endangered the world’s security in ways he hadn’t previously conceived?

As I said in an interview on Australian TV last night, I lean toward the latter theory (and I do this in part based on information given to me by a source who has several degrees of separation from the victim’s family). Ben was 34 years old, married only a few years before to an Israeli woman with whom he had two girls, one of whom was born only four days before he allegedly committed suicide. He was raised in suburban Melbourne as the son of a one of Australia’s most prominent Jewish families. He attended Jewish day schools and the Zionist youth group, HaShomer HaTzair. He attended college and studied law. He led a cultured, comfortable existence in Australia.

Then he made aliya. We have to assume he did this out of patriotic Zionist motives. Friends who knew him in the 1990s (before making aliya) said he seemed somewhat lost and unsure of what he wanted to do in life. His approach by the Mossad might’ve seemed like a boon to him–to have given his commitment to Israel a direction and purpose. What better way to devote oneself to one’s Zionist ideals than to serve Israel and protect it through service in the Mossad.

But after serving for some years and seeing what he was asked to do and having the Australians offer him a narrative that pointed out ways in which he was damaging world security, he may’ve developed a different perspective. One report I read today even claimed that Zygier was prepared to become a whistleblower or to cooperate formally with Australian intelligence when he was arrested. This prospect would’ve been a huge red flag for the Mossad.

Betrayal from within is the thing that spy agencies fear most. For Israel it would’ve been doubly damaging because it would show that spies who are dual-nationals are subject to being “turned” back by their native homeland’s intelligence. It would undermine Mossad’s major project of recruiting Jews in Anglo nations like the UK, U.S. and Australia. Recruits from these countries mingle freely in the world without drawing undue suspicion.  They are valuable assets in foreign espionage operations, as Zygier was. For all these Mossad dual nationals to see one of their own either afflicted with a moral crisis or deliberately being turned by Australian intelligence could demoralize or compromise their own commitments to the Israeli spy agency.

Mossad and Shabak had to deal with Ben Zygier firmly and definitively.  His interrogators would’ve sought to throw the fear of God into him–to intimidate him into both silence and accepting a prison sentence that would remove him from any situation in which he might further damage Israel’s interests. That would be why he was disappeared inside the Israeli prison system; why he was isolated; hermetically sealed off from outside human contact.

Such draconian treatment would’ve shocked Zygier, given that he’d have grown up in such comfortable circumstances. Shabak interrogations, even when they don’t involve the physical torture meted out to Palestinian security suspects, would be harrowing and degrading. They would cause him to question himself and his future. In fact, Avigdor Feldman specifically reveals that the inquisitors told the detainee that he would never see his family again, that they would turn on him as a traitor to his people, that he would become persona non grata among his fellow Australian Jews:

“His interrogators told him he could expect lengthy jail time and be ostracised from his family and the Jewish community. There was no heartstring they did not pull, and I suppose that ultimately brought about the tragic end.”

Such a form of psychological excommunication would have to weigh heavily on such a person.  But would that drive him to the extreme step of suicide? Uri Misgav, writing in Haaretz, expresses doubt that a man whose daughter had been born four days before would decide to take his own life. This presumes that Zygier would’ve known he had a new daughter. If I was the Shabak, this is news I would not want him to know unless I was using it as a form of blackmail or pressure. But if he did know, I would find it hard to believe he would kill himself. The guilt of abandoning such a vulnerable new being would make such an act taboo, I would think.

If he did not commit suicide, why would the Shabak have killed him? The day before he died, Zygier met with Feldman, who was consulting with the suspect about whether to accept a plea bargain offered by the State. Misgav says that Zygier, after discussing the pros and cons was inclined to go to trial and take his chances. The Shabak never wants security suspects to go to trial. In 99.9% of cases, the victim agrees to a plea bargain. They do so because they face a defined prison sentence whereas if they take their chances on a trial they may face life in prison.  Such a form of Russian Routlette, saves the intelligence services the potential embarrassment of having to reveal operational weaknesses, errors and even negligence or worse. All these secrets are far better left in the dark than exposed before judges in a trial.

In this case in particular, the spy agency would’ve wanted to avoid such exposure even more. It had imprisoned an Australian citizen who may have become a double agent for that country. The victim had knowledge of extremely sensitive security operations involving Israel’s paramount enemy, Iran; and possibly one of its most disastrous intelligence failures, the Dubai hit. If it was convinced there was no chance of avoiding a trial, and it was convinced these operations would’ve been compromised in that event, it is conceivable the security apparatus might’ve determined it was better rid of Zygier.

To be clear, I’m not saying definitively that this is what happened. I’m only saying I can conceive of it happening just as I can conceive of his committing suicide. The forensic investigation by the Israeli coroner should’ve been able to determine what really happened. The formal determination was suicide. But it’s entirely possible this was a finding it was directed to make by the security services; or that the murder might’ve been concealed in precisely the way Israel hid its assassination of Mahmoud al-Mabouh. In that case, it used a rare drug that killed while mimicing a heart attack. Israel’s chemical-biological weapons program is expert at wielding such weapons to eliminate enemies. Such drugs in the past have also killed (in at least one instance inadvertently) Israeli citizens suspected of espionage.

In summary, I think Ben Zygier was a victim of circumstance. The wrong man in the wrong place at the wrong time. I don’t think he was a master spy. I don’t think he planned to sell Israel’s most sensitive secrets. I think he was a young man who became trapped by his own misjudgments, helped along by Israelis and Australians who sought to use him for their advantage or to cover their tracks once he was exposed.

I think he was a victim of a national security state used to sacrificing individuals, even its own citizens on the altar of the collective good. I think he died because his interrogators were prepared to do whatever it took to neutralize him as a threat. He died because, as Uri Misgav wrote, the three judges in his case sacrificed due process and the rule of law on behalf of the secret police. They prostituted the law they were sworn to uphold for a perverted notion of national loyalty.

Though Ben Zygier is but one man, what happened to him is much greater than any one person. His death throws the inadequacies of Israel’s political, judicial and security system into a harsh light. They reveal that Israel failed Ben Zygier. It failed in recruiting an idealistic, confused young man who should not have become a spy. It failed once he had become a vulnerability in throwing him to the wolves.

Till now I’ve spoken mostly about Israel. But Australia factors into this story as well. Given that the Australians pressured Ben to give them information and possibly recruit him as a double agent, why did they essentially abandon him to his fate once arrested. Foreign Minister Bob Carr, after misspeaking egregiously initially in claiming his ministry had no idea of Zygier’s arrest, later said his government had been informed. But apparently the embassy official who received this information didn’t pass it along to Canberra. This seems a patently false claim. No foreign service officer would receive such critical information and keep it to himself.

Carr is trying to cover asses. But it ain’t gonna work.

Further, he claims the family never asked for assistance from the government, therefore it couldn’t intervene. Again, nonsense. If you know a potential intelligence asset of your side who is also your own citizen is behind bars in a foreign country, you abandon him? You don’t fight for his life? What sort of country is this?

I could conceive of the possibility that Zygier ultimately rejected the entreaties of Australian intelligence. Therefore, once caught they might’ve deliberately cut him loose. It would be callous, but one could conceive of a country’s intelligence agency doing this.  Of course, once such callousness was exposed there would be all hell to pay, as I hope there will be for everyone who facilitated this tragedy in any way.

A reader suggested I include links to all the posts I’ve written about Prisoner X and Zygier to enable reviewing my coverage of the case all the way back to 2010:

The Strange Case of Mr. X, the Prisoner With No Name
Israel’s Mysterious Mr. X, Prisoner With No Name is Alleged Terrorist
Israeli Human Rights NGO Demands Accounting of Mr. X
Daily Telegraph Breaks Case of Mr. X
Iranian General Murdered in Ayalon Prison?
Israel’s Prisoner, Mr. X, is Iranian Revolutionary Guard General Abducted by Mossad
Prisoner X Was Mossad Agent, Ben Zygier
The Lonesome Death of Mossad Agent, Ben Zygier
Zygier Visited Iran Undercover for Mossad, Recruited Saudi, Iranian Students at Australian University

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{ 52 comments… add one }
  • Curious and Curioser February 15, 2013, 12:18 AM

    - circa 2010 the height of Mossad infiltration was to get access inside the Iranian nuclear program of the simple act of disseminating the Stuxnet virus via USB memory to reprogram centrifuges and disrupt enrichment programs. He seemed ideally situated for that role under that front.

    - not much is being spoken about Zygier being arrested on or prior to February 24th 2010, dead on 15th December 2010 with a 4 day old child. I doubt conjugal visits were allowed so those dates/times don’t add up to a 9 month gestation. Not the biggest point in this but equally quite grey.

    • Bill February 15, 2013, 1:46 AM

      Maybe Stuxnet was an elaborate cover, or at least not the main game. As an embedded software developer, with plenty of security experience, I have always suspected the efficacy of Stuxnet. It’s not a totally impossible attack, but it was certainly a hell of a long shot. Much easier to sell compromised equipment directly to the people you are targeting.

    • Meni Zehavi February 15, 2013, 3:26 AM

      “I doubt conjugal visits were allowed so those dates/times don’t add up to a 9 month gestation.”

      Yes, this is an interesting point.
      The absolute maximum for pregnancy in Israel is 42 weeks. This is due not only to human physiology but also to a standard medical procedure, whereby at 42 weeks the pregnancy is ended, by artificially assisted birth if necessary (due to the threat that a more prolonged pregnancy creates for the woman’s health).
      Now, from Feb. 24 to Dec. 11, 2010, we have 290 days. This is only 4 days less than full 42 weeks. But of course, the pregnancy is counted from the last time the woman had her period, which is some 10-17 days prior to the conception.
      So, even if Zygier was arrested on Feb. 24, and his youngest daughter was born on Dec. 11, this doesn’t add up for a pregnancy (assuming that he was the girl’s father).

      About conjugal visits, this is not impossible (there has been information in the Israeli press that Zygier’s wife was allowed to meet him under conditions of utmost secrecy, presumably outside the Ayalon jail). But such a visit in the first two weeks after Zygier’s detention seems not quite likely.

      One possibility is that the birth came early due to natural causes (it could be as early as week 24, and if it came after week 32, the girl could survive even in ordinary conditions). In this case, Zygier would have a conjugal visit by his wife some 3-4 months after arrest, which is quite possible.

      Another possibility, which seems to me more likely, is that the birth date of the girl – as communicated to Zygier and his lawyers – was falsified, in order to serve as evidence that he was not her father.

      Information from the medical records of the girl (which includes the age of the pregnancy at birth) could shed light on the issue. The girl’s name is recorded on Zygier’s tombstone, but there is no guarantee that this is the name given at birth. It has been reported now by Barak Ravid in Haaretz (http://www.haaretz.co.il/news/politics/1.1930423) that Zygier’s family got millions in indemnities from the state, and changing the identity of his wife and daughters could be part of the deal.

    • dana February 15, 2013, 11:28 AM

      Curious and curioser, I noted the same “slight” discrepancy – you beat me to it. If Zygier was arrested in February (per news items saying Australia learnt of the detention on February 24, , 8 days after it was disclosed [by Dubai] that australian passports were used in the murder of al-Mabhouh), then we must conclude that by Feb 24 (unknown how much sooner) Zygier was already detained.

      A birth on December 11 (4 days before Zygier “killed” himself) implies his wife got pregnant on or about March 10th. As you say, this assumes normal human gestation period of 9 months.

      Conclusion: not Zygier’s daughter, no way no how (the idea of allowing conjugal visits under such conditions is sheer nonsense. Not worth even contemplation).

      Questions: did he know his wife gave birth to another child?
      were they perhaps already separated by the time he was arrested?
      if Feldman – or his jailers – told him of the birth, and Zygier realized the baby wasn’t his, then the telling
      could have been part of the psychological torture that wcould have contributed to despondency.

  • mary February 15, 2013, 1:33 AM

    As if no one ever knew of Israel’s fascism. Just like the US, disappearing and/or murdering American citizens without due process (and come on, do you really think Zygier would have ever gone to trial?) seems to have become the new reality.

    Human gestation is 40 weeks, or 280 days. Often a woman will carry a child beyond that time before giving birth. In this case, it’s a possibility.

    • Eden February 15, 2013, 2:41 PM

      Would you tell me which country is not fascist in your opinion?

  • Yanshuf February 15, 2013, 2:04 AM

    A novel in the making.

    BTW the police chief of Dubai has denied any contact with Zygier.
    I doubt Zygir considered his use of a Aussie passport for espionage as being unethical or immoral.
    Use forged or legitimate fake documents is a standard part of espionage trade craft.
    In one of the links you posted to Ynet it gives specific dates for two court appearances. The second indicated that the case had been adjudicated. Past tense. Within a short period of time he was dead.
    The judge who conducted the death inquiry and ruled it to be a suicide 6 weeks ago.she then turned it over to the state prosecutor to investigate the Israel Prison Authority for ״רשלנוח״ that I would translate in this conduct for criminal misconduct by prison wardens for permit g the suicide to happen.
    A Australian news source has reported that since the death the Ayalon prison has updated the technology to monitor breathing.
    Again revelation to any intelligence agency that Israel recruits from among it’s citizens who have dual nationality or that the security services use forged documents will not be a surprise or anything new.
    A great deal of the reporting is just sensationalism for the uninformed.
    A friends son uses his real American passport at times for espionage. He also has other identities. He works for an unknown to us, American government agency.

    • Bill February 15, 2013, 2:28 AM

      “I doubt Zygir considered his use of a Aussie passport for espionage as being unethical or immoral.”

      This aspect does bother me. It’s largely mirrored by the public reaction in Australia, which has been indifference, together with some vague sympathy for the situation “he was caught up in”. There’s no consideration that he could be considered a deliberate (if fairly minor) traitor.

      • Eden February 15, 2013, 10:39 AM

        Mr. Zygier did not betray Australia as far as we know. He was a dual citizen and it seems that he served in the Israeli secret services. Maybe he was also working for the Australians. The fact that he allegedly used his Australian passport to travel while working for Israel does not make him a traitor. The Australian gov’t does not restrict the use of its passport to dual citizens.

        • Bill February 15, 2013, 9:15 PM

          Zygier was probably fingered by the Australian security services and with good reason. He abused his dual citizenship status by privileging his Israeli loyalties. By his actions, he cannot be regarded an honorable Australian citizen.

  • Meni Zehavi February 15, 2013, 3:43 AM

    By the way, if the Australian govt. is really worried by the use of its passports by name-changing citizens turned foreign agents (potentially, not only Israeli agents), it can adopt the Israeli procedure of the recording of name changes. According to this procedure, passports and internal ID cards of Israeli citizens who changed their name bear both the new and the old names of the relevant person for 7 years, and the person is prohibited to change his/her name again for the whole duration of that period (unless there is a specific authorization by a relevant govt. agency for the name change).

  • Meni Zehavi February 15, 2013, 4:01 AM

    For those who read Hebrew, the Twitter feed of Yehuda Bello is a must read on the Zygier affair.
    He got several details before everyone else, he got them correctly, and he posts new details all the time.

    • dana February 16, 2013, 11:21 AM

      Thanks for the tip Meni.

  • marc b. February 15, 2013, 5:53 AM

    great reporting and compilation of links, although i am sceptical about some of the conjecture and characterization. for example, if he was involved in the iranian assassinations i can’t make the leap to his troubled conscience over passport fraud in the dubai hit. more likely his ‘troubled conscience’ involves his sense of being betrayed, or not getting his promised pay off, monetarily or in the form of a promotion, for the work. and frankly, if he were involved in the serial assassinations in iran and dubai, his death doesn’t strike me as a tragedy, as you call it. (i wouldn’t be surprised if more of the publicly exposed dubai team wind up dead, and good riddance as far as i’m concerned.) as for his murder (or suicide) and the prospect of a plea bargain, purportedly aiding all involved including the intelligence agencies, my guess, and it’s purely a guess, is that his death was necessary to send a message to others who might be tempted to betray intelligence, and that he was given the option of offing himself, or having his family suffer in some clearly described circumstance in the future.

    • Eden February 15, 2013, 7:02 AM

      It is ironic that while you are lamenting people being put in jail with no due process, you are also willing to accuse a country or an intelligence agency of murder when in fact by your own admission “it is purely a guess”.

      As for the “innocent” Iranian scientists killed. I would refer you to the article below.
      http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2012/02/iranian-scientists-wife-says-husband-sought-annihilation-of-israel/253368/
      The history of the Jewish people is full of individuals who planned and executed their threats resulting in deaths, expropriations, forced conversion, and exile. Israel has the right to prevent that and when it targets surgically only those who are planning to mass murder its people, Israel does it very morally, much more than most countries would.

      • Meni Zehavi February 15, 2013, 8:38 AM

        Yup. A statement published by an official press agency of an authoritarian regime that underlines a respected person’s fidelity to the ruling party line. How impressive.
        Some 80 years ago, you (or Goldberg, for that matter) could be impressed by a Soviet newspaper quoting a statement by a Moscow University professor about his utmost dedication to the cause of the worldwide proletarian revolution. You might be doubly impressed if the professor was not himself a proletarian by any reasonable definition (as most Russian professors in the 1920s-early 1930s were)…
        As an Israeli, I find the obsession of many of my countrymen with so-called existential threats baffling. Dammit, compared to its enemies, Israel is stronger now than it, or Jewish communities anywhere in the world, ever were. We are strong enough to give in on some issues, especially when respect of other people’s basic rights and dignity is called for.

      • marc b. February 15, 2013, 9:28 AM

        so sue me, eden. no, you’re right, israeli intellligence is incapable of murder, and we shouldn’t ‘guess’ because the facts will surely be laid out for all to see in the not so distant future. oh, wait. this guy has already been croaked since 2010. suicided in a suicide proof cell. if he took his life with his own hand, it was because he was driven to it and his jailers allowed it to happen. that much is not a guess.

        and i don’t see where i use the word ‘innocent’ to describe iranian scientists, but maybe you could point me to the tribunal that decided their guilt and imposed the sentence of death. if iranians used a hamas operative to kill an israeli nuclear physicist or biologiist allegedly involved in weapons production on the streets of tel aviv, you’d be whining about the existential threat. but israelis can even kill their own, and *meh* so what.

        • Eden February 15, 2013, 10:22 AM

          I am not suing you, I am just pointing at a major inconsistency in your comment.
          Yes, Israeli intelligence is capable of murder. Even the Israeli army kills people. Do you think there are intelligence agencies who never killed anyone? You have no basis to accuse Israel of having purposely killed its own man and you admit it since you say that it is “purely a guess”.
          If an Iranian managed to get to an Israeli scientist involved in weapon production and kill him or her, I would see that as a legitimate operation given the state of war between these two countries. I would also point out that Israel does not claim to have a program which purpose is to annihilate Iran. I would also point out that Israeli leaders do not repeatedly express their intention or belief that Iran will soon end as a country. lastly, while there is no evidence Israel has ever killed any of its own on purpose, one could not say the same about Iran.
          Also, while minorities in Israel enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of voting and getting elected and the freedom of free speech as Ahmed Tibbi has proven, one could not say the same of Iran.
          Here is one link of many to illustrate the killing of the politicians in the opposition in Iran:
          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chain_murders_of_Iran
          here is a link describing what teaching Christianity could do to your health in Iran
          http://religion.blogs.cnn.com/2012/09/08/christian-pastor-once-sentenced-to-death-in-iran-is-released-group-says/

          Contrast that to Vanunu who betrayed his country but was not killed and converted to Christianity and enjoy religious freedom in his jail cell.
          I personally do not have sympathy for traitors. Not for Vanunu and not for Pollard. I believe that people entrusted with national security information by their country should keep this information for themselves, especially when their countries are democracies, not perfect democracies but never the less better than the alternative.

          • marc b. February 15, 2013, 10:56 AM

            there is no inconsistency in my argument. i offered a possible altnernative explanation to the circumstances leading to the X’s death. these are the facts as we know them:

            1. X died a violent death; in other words he did not die of old age or disease.
            2. X’s death was the result of an intentional act; in other words he did not die as a result of an accident.
            3. X’s death occurred in confinement and under strict supervision, in conditions designed to prevent a suicide.
            4. X’s captors had the motive to prevent X from disclosing information about the conduct that lead to his incarceration, the conditions of his incarceration, and possibly about the conduct of others working for israeli intelligence.

            with these facts, the only logical conclusions are that 1. X killed himself of his own free will; 2. his captors killed him; or 3. his captors created the conditions that necessarily lead X to himself. only conclusions 2 and 3 take X’s captors’ motivations into consideration.

          • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 2:22 AM

            there is no evidence Israel has ever killed any of its own on purpose

            On the contrary, Israel has killed its own on purpose, only they happen to be Palestinian citizens and not Jewish, so hardly anyone cares.

            Israeli leaders do not repeatedly express their intention or belief that Iran will soon end as a country

            On the contrary, Israeli leaders repeatedly express their intention and belief that the Iranian regime should end. That is no different than Iran’s leaders expressing their hope that Israel’s current form of Jewish supremacist government be replaced with something more equitable to all citizens.

            minorities in Israel enjoy freedom of religion, freedom of voting and getting elected and the freedom of free speech as Ahmed Tibbi has proven

            This is further nonsense. Palestinian MKs are regularly & routinely charged with acts of treason & have had their Knesset privileges revoked. One MK was forced into exile. Muslim citizens do not have the right to appoint their own religious leaders without government approval. They may vote but their votes essentially don’t count since no governing coalition will include a Palestinian party within it. Please don’t atttempt to pass bubbeh meisehs off here as truth.

            This is not a place in which you may demonize Iran or carry on a campaign to persuade us of your view of its government. Such a debate is off topic. You will review the comment rules and respect them. Do that now. And stay on topic.

            The notion that Mordechai Vanunu “enjoys” anything in Israel is laughable.

      • chris February 16, 2013, 1:56 AM

        please-the cheap article you cite re what widows of assassinated iranian scientists are supposed to have said about their husband’s work goals, does not ring true and is transparent falsification used to justify their murder:they deserved it because their [alleged] goal was another holocaust…. i cannot find any iranian source for this quote nor could any native speakers i know recall ever reading such a statement in any iranian media outlet. Blame the victim, smear their reputation….make yourself and your own crimes saintly..And worse , construct an entire fairy tale to justify ongoing terror and bigger war crimes…..
        everyone knows that Iran is signed up to the NPT/IAEA and there is no diversion of fissionable materials etc. unlike the israeli regime, iran has not been invading its neighbours to grab territory whilst cleansing the land of its indigenous inhabitants through cold blooded calculated campaigns of terror, unlimited resources and superior technology. israel operates outside of all the recognised rules and agreements -creating its own rules because it can.
        i would be concerned that the electronics supplied through this criminal enterprise were designed to cause malfunction and potentially a nuclear accident. i would hope not.

      • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 2:26 AM

        when it targets surgically

        Apologists for state terror love using this disgusting term. In your case it is Israeli state terror. Feh foo-yah! You don’t murder people “morally.” You murder them. Murder is immoral whether you’re murdering a baby killer or a terrorist. The civilized way to enforce law is by arresting someone, trying them & sentencing them if found guilty. If you don’t do this you’re either a murderer or terrorist with the backing of the State.

  • Eden February 15, 2013, 6:21 AM

    Maybe Zyger killed himself when he heard that his wife gave birth to a child that could not be his?

    • marc b. February 15, 2013, 7:03 AM

      maybe. and maybe people do things after being held incommunicado for 10 months under intensely coercive conditions that they wouldn’t normally do. even in eden.

      • Eden February 15, 2013, 10:25 AM

        My comment was to illustrate the incongruity in speculating on something you don’t know much about.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 2:26 AM

      That’s disgusting. I’m rapidly losing patience with you.

  • Clare February 15, 2013, 6:40 AM

    As an Australian citizen, I have been closely following this tragic case and I assure you I am far from indifferent. The ABC documentary on Mr. Zygier’s incarceration and his family’s silence over the whole affair chilled me to the bone. The fact that the Australian government did know and did very little to assist him was extremely disturbing. After reading your post and learning of ASIO’s involvement, I am disgusted at the subsequent lack of assistance given to him by the Australian govt. He was compromised by Australian intelligence, who then indirectly exposed him via media leaks. They then washed their hands of him once he was arrested – and it seems they did not even inform his family in Australia of his fate.

    You ask in your post what kind of country would abandon one of its citizens. Based on the case of David Hicks, I had come to the sad conclusion that Australia is a country that is all too willing to acquiesce to its allies at the expense of its citizens. The case of Mr. Zygier only confirms it.

    Thank you for piecing together this story behind Mr. Zygier’s imprisonment and death. I can only hope that the people involved in Mr. Zygier’s mistreatment and death, both in Israel and in Australia, are held to account some day.

    • Bill February 15, 2013, 9:50 PM

      I am very concerned that a dual national would abuse his relatively benign Australian citizenship status in the service of a a foreign power. I hope from this, some clarification about what Australian citizenship actually means.

      As Australians, we don’t owe Zygier anything, beyond our sympathy for his lonely traitor death.

    • Pamela February 24, 2013, 9:05 AM

      Thank you for those comments, Clare. They are the first fair comments I have read.
      I am totally appalled at all the speculations about Ben Zygier, including the intrusive and prurient and completely unnecessary discussion of his wife’s pregnancy.
      I believe that a person is innocent until he/she is proven guilty.
      Mr Zygier was never formally charged with, and certainly not convicted of, any wrong-doing. It is my belief that he was a victim of Australian pique at Israel’s behaviour, and Israeli paranoia. We are told by the respected lawyer who spoke to him that he refused to enter a plea bargain because he was anxious to clear his name. When he realised that would never be allowed to him and after enduring the mental cruelty of being told he had shamed his family, he took the only way of escape open to him.
      I find it obscene that so many people are calling him a traitor and impugning his character and actions without any evidence. Firstly we do not know for a fact that he endangered anyone by actions or words, either deliberately or by accident. Just as it is unfair and misguided to accuse him of wrongdoing without knowing the facts, it is equally cruel to imply that he was somehow unfit for his work. This is character assassination of a person who was never given the opportunity to defend himself. It is to be supposed that he was not infrequently risking his life in the work he was called to do, during the years prior to his arrest and tragic death.
      I think it high time that someone stepped forward to protect the memory of this poor man for the sake of his family, until such time as the truth becomes known. Then, and only then, has anyone the right to judge him

  • Oui February 15, 2013, 7:52 AM

    “Either Zygier had mistakenly compromised the identities of the agents through an inadvertent error. Or more darkly, perhaps Zygier was stricken with conscience over the fact that his acts of passport fraud.”

    In this event, don’t get misled by misinformation dropped into the media. I don’t see a link to the Mossad hit in Dubai as certain media want you to believe. The Dubai police uncovered all Mossad agents because it’s an ultimate high-security state with video cameras, passport scanning and facial recognition. The passport fraud (Jackal ploy) was public knowledge, see article February 18, 2010. Who was the US helping with its investigation in money transfers?

    The killing of a terrorist in Dubai is not a cause for conflict of conscience. I would focus on his activities in Iran, Syria and Lebanon. Ben Zygier was a soft, sensitive person according to close relatives in Australia. In his work to infiltrate in Iran, he may have been involved with setting-up Mossad terror cells which led to the assassinations of scientists. The Mossad agents who were captured were all hanged.

    Some key information to consider, Ben Zigier’s lawyer said he claimed innocence to charges. Zigier could have been wrongly accused, the high pay-out to his family would be an indication. Perhaps it’s more about embarrasment in the end then national security of the state of Israel.

    Early in 2010, Israel had plenty of problems with its security and publicity: the Anat Kamm leaked documents and publication of UN Goldstone report: Gaza War Crimes. WikiLeaks of US Embassy in Canberra documents expressed the frame of mind of PM Kevin Rudd towards Israel. It seems as Shin Bet leaders grow older they mellow – Film The Gatekeepers.

    Australia intelligence chief makes secret trip to Israel over Dubai passport forgery – May 2010

    • Orange February 15, 2013, 10:27 PM

      Very good points Oui. I see no proof of any connection to passports and the Dubai affair. In any case, these matters were known, and are not major enough to explain the radical reaction of the ‘Prisoner X’ case. As you say, Ben Z could have been wrongfully accused, and indeed, might be the victim of double agents within the Israeli security services.

      He also could have been caught up in the fall out of the Lebanon spy ring that was busted in 2010.

  • Bill February 15, 2013, 10:53 AM

    I think people are placing too much emphasis on “how serious is the situation that could cause the Israelis to lock up one of their own” argument.
    1. Zyygier was not born in Israel. He’s definitely an outsider, so disposable for domestic politics.
    2. It’s fairly obvious that Zygier was involved with Mossad. But at what level? As other people have pointed out, he was pretty disposable if he was allowed to do passport runs. This also implies that he never knew much beyond immediate operational requirements. He may have known enough to blow an operation, but a whole scheme with international ramifications?
    3. It’s very unlikely that there was any attempt to make an example of him. The intended secrecy largely negates that.
    4. Governments at the moment don’t know what they’re doing. They don’t have a fucking idea, and they certainly couldn’t give much more than fig-leaf concern about human rights. Israel is no different in this.

    I think where Ben has ended up is not a matter of any grand conspiracy, so much as a matter of the times he was born in.

  • pabelmont February 15, 2013, 10:58 AM

    The general fascination seems to be with spies and such. what interests me is computers.

    Who would buy a computer from anyone they could not trust? Or an airplane (which is run by computers). Would anyone who might be “at war” (or the like) (such as Iran) with Israel or the USA reawsonably buy a computer that might be booby-trapped?

    Every computer contains ROM (read only memory) which contains, at a minimum, the bootstrapping programs for loading the operating system (O/S). But nothing prevents an unscrupulous manufacturer (or intermediary) (thing also voting machines!) from INSERTING ROM code to do very harmful things, the things that “virus” code also does. Now, I dare say that sufficiently “hip” buyers of computers could check the ROM and might (with luck) even find all of it and figure out what it does.

    I imagine a computer with code which says, “If I am in an Iranian nuclear facility, do-harm”. I can imagine a computer on an airplane which says, “if I am in a battle, and if my enemy is Israeli or USA, self-destruct”.

    Any computer folks out there care to comment?

  • Yanshuf February 15, 2013, 12:04 PM

    When I think of certain arms transactions that are made I like to calm myself that governments insist that manufacturers install kill switches that are not revealed to the buyer.

    Along time ago I read that America depends on the supply of spare parts for controlling the potential misuse of aircraft. Apparently much of the maintenance of aircraft is done or supervised by contractors in Arab countries and they feel if things heat up the contractors will leave for safety.

  • dana February 15, 2013, 12:17 PM

    More to my comment above, responding to Curious and Curiouser:

    Here is one of the many accounts of the case from yesterday, which has some interesting dates:

    http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/15/world/middleeast/israels-prisoner-x-linked-to-dubai-assassination-in-new-report.html?_r=0

    Note the following items:

    (a) Australia learns of Zygier’s detention on Feb. 24, 8 DAYS AFTER it was revealed that australian passports were used to commit Dubai murder of al-Mabhouh.
    (b) Zygier’s daughter was born 4 DAYS before his death – which we know occurred on December 15.

    We don’t know exactly when Zygier was arrested but we do know it was BEFORE February 24.

    To have a daughter born on Dec. 11, he would have had to have spent time with wife sometime around march 10-11. We therefore must assume an unusually long gestation of 91/2 months AND that he was arrested Feb 24 the latest (making the israeli notification to Australia unusually prompt). That’s two unlikely assumptions, which taken together make this a highly unlikely sequence.

    Ergo – the baby could not be his. No this cannot be – yet – ruled out with 100% confidence but it’s close enough.

    I am still looking BTW for the other input to the timeline for Zygier’s arrest, as provided by the Australian journalist jason K, who claims to have spoken with Zygier in early 2010, sometime AFTER the revelations from Dubai started trickling out ((the earliest article i have to fake Australian passports is from february 15, though that could be local US time). The best the exact time of the arrest can be pinned down is therefore sometime between February 14 and February 24, with the highest likelihood being around Feb 18-20.

    In which case the likelihood of the new baby being Zygier’s is lower still. Sure, one can make all kind of improbable assumptions, but the obvious conclusion is this: Zygier is not the father.

    Richard, I wonder what you make of this this? does that color the speculations as to possible motive for “suicide”?

    • Oui February 15, 2013, 2:03 PM

      IMO there is no truth to the article in Kuwait daily Al Jarida. Ben Zygier was not unveiled as a Mossad agent in the Dubai probe.

      “Head of Dubai police, Dhahi Khalfan, said the top-secret Israeli-Australian prisoner, Ben Zygier or Prisoner X, didn’t contact authorities in Dubai to give information of the 2010 killing of Hamas leader in the UAE.”

      The NY Times article reported by UAE The National has apparently been deleted – cached version.

      “Prisoner X” linked to Mossad hit in Dubai this URL has a new article: “Tunisian PM seeks political solution”.

      Photo analysis casts doubt on Australian’s reported hit squad link

      • dana February 16, 2013, 1:18 AM

        personally, i think the Dubai connection is a red herring and agree that the Kuwait daily article was a diversion. in any case, exposing Dubai passport scandal alone that would have not been enough to met him the harsh treatment he got, because by that time it was all known already. For myself,the dubai incident were of interest mainly as pindications of the his arrest vs. the new baby timeline,in which the feb 24 news article, was significant. It indicates that, based on what we know, he could not have been the father. BTW, the article you cite specifically mentions that Zygier was arrested shortly after returning from Australia. So there is the possibility that the Mossad, which refused to believe that an Arabic police could figure things out for themselves, jumped to the conclusion that they must have had a little help.

        It’s quite possible that what Zygier blew the whistle on to the Australians was much more significant than the Dubai case. he may not have finished what he started and so i also think that the ASIO came under political pressure to not pursue the case of of passport abuse by Israeli-Australian dual nationals, which obviously compromises anyone who ever made Aliyah from Australia (and frankly, from any other western country, especially the US).

        What israel fails to realize is that by throwing the book at Zygier the way they did they have compromised the very people who have been supporting israel, right or wrong. It now appears it’s mostly the latter, doesn’t it?

  • ss February 15, 2013, 2:25 PM

    Zygler didn’t hang himself, that was physically impossible in the circumstances.

    He met his fate by means of a muscle paralysing anesthetic drug, something like suxamethonium. The drug would prevent breathing and would thus asphyxiate the victim

    Such a drug was used for the “wet disposal” of Dr David Kelly as well as the Hamas operative in Dubai.

  • Davey February 15, 2013, 7:24 PM

    Thanks for this in-depth reporting on this sordid affair. It seems to me that this matter reveals the ambiguities, possibly tragic ambiguities, of this dual-nationality business at its core. Mossad American dual-loyalty “assets” should take note of how Mossad takes care of its own, that is, with the same cynicism that mars so much Israeli international and national life.

  • Bill February 16, 2013, 1:36 AM

    He abused his Australian nationality to assist a foreign power.

    If you are Australian, he was a traitor, and I laud our security services for revealing him.

  • Tim Horgan February 16, 2013, 3:03 PM

    This is the Australian who was closest to Ben Zygier in Israel.

    Dan Behrang in the IDF- Dan (Danny) Behrang is kneeling on the bottom left of the photo-

    https://www.evernote.com/shard/s202/…mall&width=786

    Dan Behrang at Ben Zygiers Wedding. Dan is last on the right with his arm around Maya Zalewski’s Dad.

    http://farm1.staticflickr.com/115/26…20f544f7_z.jpg

    What must be the major priority of the Israeli security services now is not the question of Zygier/Prisoner X: that is now a problem for the politicians. What they now need to know urgently is the identity of the “well-connected source” who leaked the story to the Australian journalist. For anyone who knows Tel Aviv and Israeli society the first question must be-

    Question.
    Why approach an Australian journalist with the story?

    Answer.

    1) You were a friend of Zygier and horrified at what was done to him.
    2) You are Australian.
    3) Like Zygier,You made aliyah from Australia and served in the IDF/Security services.
    4) As an Australian you mix in the small Izzie/Ozzie community.
    5) You know/trust/can relate to the Australian journalist.
    6) You break the story.

    As mentioned the Izzie/Ozzie community is quite small.

    • Richard Silverstein February 16, 2013, 8:13 PM

      I don’t think Behrang was the source if that’s what you’re implying. Australian intelligence was the source for Koutsoukis.

      • Tim Horgan February 16, 2013, 11:37 PM

        Thanks Richard,

        Trevor Borrman of ABC TV did cover thie Koutsoukis aspect but said that the story had died down a year earlier. Then Bormann himself was approached in Israel by ” A respected and trusted source with connections to Israel’s security establishment told me something he couldn’t hope to have revealed in the local media. Prisoner X”

        As soon as the ABC TV/Bormann story broke all of Dan Behrangs work was removed from Flickr.

        EXTRACT FROM TREVOR BORRMAN ABC TV PROGRAMME
        BORMANN: Then, during an assignment in Israel last year, an intriguing development. A respected and trusted source with connections to Israel’s security establishment told me something he couldn’t hope to have revealed in the local media. Prisoner X, he said, was Australian. He told me that X was a Jewish man in his mid-thirties who’d been in Israel for about ten years.
        He’d lived in the Tel Aviv suburb of Ra’Anana with his Israeli wife and two children. This Australian, he claimed, had worked for spy agency, Mossad. I was given the name – Ben Alon.

        • Richard Silverstein February 17, 2013, 2:04 AM

          Personally, I think the trusted source was Yossi Melman. I don’t think Behrang has the same level of “respect” or “trust.” Melman is a veteran intelligence reporter and undoubtedly knew a great deal about this story. In fact, he railed against me for publishing the claim that Prisoner X was the Iranian Asgari, but would not share any information about why he believed I was wrong. Yossi Melman published an extensive story about Zygier & the then upcoming ABC TV documentary that went up on the Walla site BEFORE it aired. I believe the only way he knew so much about the documentary before it aired was that Trevor Borman shared this information with him & perhaps the entire documentary. This could very well mean Melman was Borman’s original source. Melman may’ve felt pangs of conscience about the injustice meted out to Zygier and so been motivated to blow the whistle.

          I also believe it’s likely the only reason the judge finally ruled Zygier’s case a suicide & forwarded it to the prosecutor for investigation of negligence was because Israel knew the documentary was coming and wanted at least to be able to say there had been some official judicial process that had been completed.

  • Tim Horgan February 16, 2013, 3:11 PM
  • Tim Horgan February 16, 2013, 3:14 PM

    Apologies,

    FYI- Dan Behrang is kneeling on the front left of the IDF photo and in the wedding photo is last on the right with his arm round Maya Zalewski’s father.

    https://www.evernote.com/shard/s202/view/notebook/11de5d58-dcd1-447d-a4f2-fceef78fed0a?locale=en#st=p&n=11de5d58-dcd1-447d-a4f2-fceef78fe

    http://farm1.staticflickr.com/115/263818353_2320f544f7_z.jpg

    • dana February 18, 2013, 2:19 PM

      Tim Horgan, the links no longer work, it’d seem. I think they removed the photos from flicker. Am not familiar with evernote, BTW. Is that a storgae site?

      • Tim Horgan February 19, 2013, 9:35 PM

        Thanks, Dana,

        I have put another link below of the IDF photo so I hope it works. I would like to know if anyone else could not download the photos as the wedding photos etc. were removed from Flicr last week. If anyone can stll not download I am happy to email them as attachments-

        timhorgan at usa dot net

        https://www.evernote.com/shard/s202/res/0126f61c-16ad-4fe0-bd4b-b02eab3f5aca.jpg?resizeSmall&width=1366

        Re: EVERNOTE.
        I am not hugely computer-literate but I was introduced to Evernote last year by a friend who is a bit of a computer-geek and I find it very, very useful. I use the standard service which is free but seems to allow mr a huge amount of capacity. Best have look at

        http://www.evernote.com

        or look at online reviews

  • Jonathan February 25, 2013, 10:38 PM

    I don’t think Zygier exposed the Dubai operation, I think that was the work of fine detective work by the Dubai police chief, but it makes sense that the exposure made the Mossad nervous and in the general house-cleaning that resulted Zygier was picked up as a risk exposure.
    I would add that if someone wanted to kill him they could have done so abroad, without arresting him and it would have looked more convincing.

  • Alex March 5, 2013, 2:43 AM

    Another point: ASIO was created after the discovery, due to the VENONA codebreak and the case of a defector who changed his mind and refused to go because he was so afraid of being taken to Australia, that the KGB had an absolutely enormous network in 1940s Australia and had infiltrated the police force. IIRC Sir David Petrie, the WW2 MI5 director, led the mission to set up an Aussie intelligence agency.

    ASIO’s institutional memory is probably marked by the experience of this, that and the fear (“cultural cringe” in Australian English) of being treated as an irrelevant colonial entity rather than a serious independent nation. Also, having lived there, I would say that Australians seem enormously casual until they actually care about something and then they become absolutely perfectionist. I think the Mossad operation spoke to this, infringing on Australian self-respect, and motivated them to rip it as hard as possible – turn Zygier, pump him for information on as many Mossad operations as he knew about, and then basically let the Israelis have him, so they could find out just how much the Aussies knew.

  • jackson January 11, 2014, 6:39 PM

    Just another incident of certain governments imposing their
    desired outcome on events world wide. Anyone who doesn’t conform to
    the program or opposes the U.S.A or their allies are the enemy and
    must be killed’/ removed /invaded/labelled as evil. Destabilization
    of the middle east assisted by the west supplying arms to “the
    rebel’s”….and Australia is not immune to getting caught up in
    assisting their so called Allies of America /Israel (as both
    America and Israel are joined ). Who’s to say Australia didn’t
    assist in giving the passports willingly’ ? The world is a murky
    place and there are more slight of hand and magic tricks being
    played out by our western governments upon the mass sheep
    population than David copperfield can pull on an Audience.
    Cognitive blindness is a human trait in 100% of all the normal
    people’…the phychopaths running governments exploit it every day
    to stay in power and achieve whats best for the Western countries .
    Market manipulation; population manipulation; war’s and killings.
    ….while we concentrate on what we are being told by the bia’s
    western media. Remember people China/ Iran/ Syria /Russia/ North
    korea /Cuba – all have one thing in common…they won’t do what
    America wants them to do’…. The future will be very interesting
    with the rise of China’….. take the time to see the beauty of all
    other cultures as the western countries are slowly losing financial
    power…’

    • jackson January 11, 2014, 6:44 PM

      If the west play by their own rules…..or will we change
      1/2 way through the game engage in another war to ensure we remain
      in power’…..we wouldn’t have to pay back so much debt if we were
      at war with who we owed it to ..right???

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