NOTE: Middle East Eye just published my new piece about Iran’s drone attack against a secret Israeli base in Kurdish Iraq. Give it a read and please post to social media.
חשיפה: האיש שעליו אמר נתניהו: “היו צריכים להוציאו להורג” הוא בכיר המוסד המכונה “האסיר איקס 2”, שריגל עבור איראן. למרות שעברו כשני עשורים, כל הפרשה עדיין תחת צא”פ
Former Israeli attorney general, Yehuda Weinstein, has just published a memoir of his time in public service and private legal practice. One passage deals with one of Weinstein’s most infamous cases as a defense attorney. Though he doesn’t reveal any particulars of this “highly sensitive security case,” a knowledgeable Israeli source has confirmed Weinstein was speaking of the case of Prisoner X2 (Prisoner X was Ben Zygier, before his identity was known).
Amir Oren published a profile of this Mossad spy who betrayed his country after being “turned” by Iranian intelligence. Prisoner X2 was arrested, jailed, convicted of treason, and sentenced to over a decade in prison. All in secret. Once locked up in prison, he was kept in complete isolation; could neither see nor talk to other prisoners; was separated even from prison guards, who didn’t know his name; imprisoned in a windowless cell with security cameras; and only permitted a short daily walk in a courtyard surrounded by heavy metal walls. This wasn’t just punishment. This was revenge. Like what the State meted out to Mordechai Vanunu.
Oren met and interviewed the spy’s wife, who refused to go on record due to fear that the State would further punish her husband if she spoke to the press.
Israeli journalists who sought and failed to report this story were stymied by highly restrictive military censorship. Oren’s article was taken down by decree of the censor. Yossi Melman reports that he twice appealed unsuccessfully to the Supreme Court to remove censorship after the spy had long served his jail sentence.
Oren published the original tweet referring to Weinstein’s book and offered a screenshot of the relevant passage:
טפח המסתיר טפחיים ובכל זאת גילוי מרעיש בספרו החדש של עו״ד יהודה וינשטיין, ״היועץ״: תיק בטחוני רגיש שלא פורסם ואשר הנאשם בו, מרשו של הסניגור הפרטי וינשטיין טרם מינויו ליועמ״ש, הורשע ונדון לשנות מאסר רבות. אמנון הנזכר כאן – אברמוביץ. pic.twitter.com/D4qXWhMBfq
— Amir Oren (@Rimanero) March 19, 2022
As an aside, Ilana Dayan, host of Israel’s version of 60 Minutes, called Uvda, interviewed me for two days in Washington DC. The interview largely dealt with my reporting on Prisoner X2. On completion of the interview, she told me it should be aired soon, which I presumed would mean within a few months. Two years later, after repeated assurances from her producer who arranged the interview, I gave up on the project. I suspect that the military censor put the kibosh on it. Though I’m not sure why the producer could not have admitted this if it was the case.
In his book, Weinstein recounted a meeting he had with then-defense minister Ehud Barak and then-PM Bibi Netanyahu. This is a translation of the passage displayed in the Hebrew screenshot:
When I served in private practice, [reporter] Amnon Abramovich forward to me one of the most highly sensitive security cases. He appealed to me to take the case. Years later, I was accustomed to tell him: “You brought me a a complex and difficult case with no fee, no publicity, and in which the accused got the harshest sentence of my entire career as a defence attorney–and the longest of all the clients I represented, combined.”
Once, sitting together in the courtyard of the PM’s residence on Balfour [Street], defense minister, Ehud Barak, tattled on me to Bibi, revealing that I was the defense attorney for this case. Bibi replied: “they should have executed him.” So despite everything [Bibi said] we succeeded, and didn’t do too badly [for the client].
Prisoner X2 was not executed, and received a 14-year sentence, and was released in 2018.
One of the reasons for the sensitivity of the case and for Netanyahu’s harsh statement, is that Prisoner X2 was the Mossad chief for Iran. As such, he was in a position to know all the intelligence gathered on Iran. He also would have known of any and all Iranian spies the Mossad had inside the country. He would have done enormous damage to Israel’s intelligence apparatus. However, nothing of this was ever reported. Thus, the Mossad avoided a tremendous black eye and the Israeli public was denied knowledge of a significant failure of its intelligence services.
Iran, of course, is one of Israel’s arch enemies. The news that it had penetrated the deepest recesses of Israeli intelligence would also have sent shockwaves throughout the country. But one of the facets of the Israeli national security state is that its security apparatus remains all-powerful, with the power to suppress any and all information it deems harmful to national security, including scandals damaging its own reputation.