Jason Koutsoukis has published a follow-up piece to Ronen Bergman’s, which I posted about yesterday. He and Bergman cooperated together on a piece for Der Spiegel which either has just come out or is about to. Koutsoukis reveals much information not included in the Yediot piece of yesterday. I imagine Bergman’s piece, which is four times longer, will expand knowledge of this case even further.
In his Sydney Morning Herald story, he establishes that Zygier from his teenage years, like many Jewish children involved in Zionist youth groups, intended to make aliyah to Israel. He would’ve been filled with the heady exploits of the IDF and Israel’s storied intelligence agency, the Mossad. After arriving in Israel and seeing that newspaper ad recruiting agents for the Mossad, Zygier would’ve been intrigued. He would’ve seen it as a chance to prove his loyalty and devotion to his new homeland. It also would’ve intrigued him as a chance to prove his manhood and make a mark for himself in life.
Once he completed the extensive training course, he was sent to Europe to infiltrate a number of companies doing extensive commercial trade with the Arab world. He worked for one such company in Milan, which had no idea of his affiliation. Though he mastered his job quickly, he never came close to learning the company’s secrets and penetrating any trading network with Iran, though this had been his assignment. He remained with this company for 18 months until he was fired for losing the company one of its major clients. Zygier worked for at least one other such company, perhaps more, having no more success.
As I wrote yesterday, he was called home and assigned a desk job in the portion of Mossad called Tsomet, which involved primarily intelligence analysis. Because he must’ve felt a sense of failure as a result of the European venture, and because of his frustration with a back office position, Zygier decided to freelance. Without knowledge of his superiors, he made contact with a Hezbollah agent having the intent of “turning” him for the Mossad. He even traveled to Eastern Europe and met with him. But the Hezbollah operative was far more skilled at his job than Zygier.
When the Arab demanded proof of his bona fides as a Mossad agent, Zygier offered him intelligence about Israel’s spy network in Lebanon. While Bergman and Koutsoukis each present this as a good-faith attempt by Zygier to prove to his bosses that he had what it took to return to being a field operative, it’s possible this was a deliberate betrayal by Zygier. If it was, it would be even more embarrassing to the Mossad.
As a result of Zygier’s failed effort, two high-level Lebanese officials were exposed. Afterward, even more Israeli spies were identified by Lebanese intelligence, though it’s not clear that these further exposures resulted from what Zygier started. This put Israel in the dark as far as knowing the intentions of one of its most implacable enemies, Hezbollah. All this happened just as a major civil war was beginning in Syria, in which Hezbollah might play a major role.
Koutsoukis’ article reveals the extraordinary lengths to which the Mossad went to recruit these agents. In order to put off any suspicion of Israeli involvement, Ziad al Homsi was approached in his village by a Chinese who claimed he represented the City of Beijing. The town mayor was invited, supposedly by the Chinese city government to a trade fair there. That was followed by another trip to Bangkok at which the Mossad revealed itself and its true intent. They sweetened the offer with a $100,000 payment to him to spy for them. This, of course, means that Israel maintains a well-developed network in these cities and uses these countries to recruit its agents. I can’t imagine that this will go over well with either of these governments. That is, unless the Chinese knew about and implicitly condoned the activity because of some prior arrangement/quid pro quo between the two.
There are many reasons Israel clamped down hard on this scandal and refused to allow word of it to leak. Perhaps primary, is that this would’ve been the first time a Mossad agent would’ve deliberately betrayed Israeli intelligence assets. Such betrayal, even if accidental, would pierce the agency’s reputation of fierce loyalty and impenetrable discretion.
Another primary motive would’ve been to eliminate any questioning of the Mossad’s recruitment methods. How would a needy, unstable, grandiose individual who wasn’t even able to keep a secret accepted into the Mossad? Compare the abject failure of this incident to the heroic exploits and bravery chronicled in story after story of Mossad derring-do. It just wouldn’t do to have such embarrassment circulating with Mossad’s name and reputation attached.
The secrecy has worked its desired effect. Even though it has now been exposed and we have a much clearer picture of what happened, there is no clamor for anyone’s head to roll. There is no call for boards of inquiry to examine how this could’ve happened and prevent it from happening again. Meir Dagan’s reputation remains intact.
This is the impact of secrecy and the national security state. Citizens are denied their right to know what’s done in their name. These same citizens accept this bargain as the price of protecting them from unsavory enemies. Meanwhile, the intelligence agencies are allowed to make such egregious errors and no one is called to account. Though harm may be done to Israel and its reputation in the process, everyone accepts it as the price of doing business in this so-called nasty part of the world.
Silverstein has published Tikun Olam since 2003, It exposes the secrets of the Israeli national security state. He lives in Seattle, but his heart is in the east. He publishes regularly at Middle East Eye, the New Arab, and Jacobin Magazine. His work has also appeared in Al Jazeera English, The Nation, Truthout and other outlets.