UK United Kingdom

Prisoner X: a new twist in the Ben Zygier story

The case of Ben Zygier, the Australian who died in a high-security Israeli prison, simply refuses to go away. On Tuesday we learned more from an ABC special on Foreign Correspondent. In a twist that would…

Ben Zygier’s grave. Did the Melbourne betray a top secret Israeli intelligence operation? AAp/Julian Smith

The case of Ben Zygier, the Australian who died in a high-security Israeli prison, simply refuses to go away.

On Tuesday we learned more from an ABC special on Foreign Correspondent. In a twist that would seem beyond the imaginative powers of the best thriller writer, the ABC claimed that Zygier had undermined an ongoing Israeli intelligence operation to reclaim that bodies of soldiers killed in fighting in Lebanon decades ago.

The Foreign Correspondent report effectively superseded Der Spiegel’s version of events in March which told us that Zygier had compromised at least two high-value Mossad agents in Lebanon through maverick action, resulting in their imprisonment, and the Mossad agent’s own incarceration in a top security Israeli prison.

The Spiegel piece provided a plausible account of why the hapless, vulnerable Zygier might have ended up in this predicament. The outing of valuable, carefully and extensively groomed foreign agents in a key strategic location such as Lebanon can explain why Mossad should have treated this as a disaster. It is more understandable, then, why Zygier was deprived of his name and threatened with a lengthy jail term.

The ABC programme undermined that particular rendition of the story, and raised more questions than it answered. No mention was made of two Lebanese contacts. Instead a Lebanese man, a Ziad al Homsi, was interviewed.

After he had been unwittingly exposed by Zygier, he had been sentenced to 15 years imprisonment, but released after just three.


Was it because he wasn’t quite as valuable as was originally suggested? Was it because he was, as suggested by the programme, in fact a double-agent who was working for the Israelis and the Lebanese Government? If it was the former, a punitive action against Zygier makes less sense.

And if it was the latter, why was he imprisoned at all, and why was he willing to be interviewed by the ABC? And where is Mustafa Ali Awadeh, the other significant mole who, it is alleged, with al Homsi, worked with Hezbollah?

We are also led to believe that the sole purpose of the mission Zygier unwittingly subverted was to locate the remains of three Israeli soldiers who had been captured and died during the Israeli invasion of Lebanon in 1982.

Israeli soldiers on the Lebanese border. Did Ben Zygier sabotage a Mossad effort to retrieve the bodies of Israelis killed in the 1982 Lebanon war? EPA/Hassan Bahsoun

The battle was at the township of Sultan Yacoub in the Beqaa Valley. The Israelis do all that they can to bring home the remains of soldiers who have died in actions abroad, and therefore this seems a sacrosanct mission. Except that the mother of one of the dead soldiers has subsequently stated that she was led to believe that her son had been moved to Syria, and therefore his body couldn’t have been in Lebanon.

If this is true, either Mossad did not know of the general whereabouts of the soldiers’ remains, or al Homsi was leading the Israeli secret service on with a more intricate plot, or he was there for other purposes. (And if so, why, one might ask again, is he no longer in prison?)

Another small, but notable, detail has emerged about Zygier: that he had made two suicide attempts even before he was arrested and incarcerated. Prospective agents for most, if not all, intelligence agencies go through a full and robust process of psychological screening, and their personal histories are explored as deeply as possible.

Yet we are supposed to accept at face value that all the erratic emotional and behavioural characteristics Zygier came to display were not readily visible in advance of his having been recruited by Mossad. They came on, we have to conclude, after he was tested in the field, and found wanting.

What we can safely say at this point is that instead of a blanket silence that shrouded the early part this sorry case, we now seem to have white noise intruding: too much information, with a good deal of it contradictory, or perhaps even diversionary.

Under such conditions it may be reasonably concluded that the possible goal is to prevent us from achieving any genuine clarity on Ben Zygier. And we have yet to hear either directly or indirectly from our own intelligence agencies.

Their contribution at this point might be telling.

Articles also by This Author

Sign in to Favourite

Join the conversation

17 Comments sorted by

  1. Marilyn Shepherd


    I am inclined to believe Trevor Bormann's reports and found the claimed reason for Zygier's incarceration and sad lonely death unbearable.

    1. Bruce Tabor

      Research Scientist at CSIRO

      In reply to Marilyn Shepherd

      Sorry Marilyn,
      It just doesn't ring true. To make someone "disappear" and put them in the most secure cell in the most secure prison in Israel, they must have done more than compromise the recovery of the remains of Israeli soldiers. It is plausible that this is just one of the operations Zygier compromised, albeit a minor one. The Der Spiegel account is more plausible. Zygier's treatment can only be compared to that of Mordechai Vanunu. Of course Vanunu could't disappear, because he went to the press first.

  2. Darren Parker

    logged in via Facebook

    One thing's for sure, Mossad will be extra careful about taking a soft boy from the comfortable Melbourne suburbs again.

    1. Marilyn Shepherd


      In reply to Darren Parker

      Mark Regev is a soft boy from Melbourne too you know.

      The thing is that Australian citizens should not join these spy agencies in the first place.

  3. Russell Walton


    How can anyone be so naive as to expect the truth from professional liars?

  4. Jack Arnold


    When have Israeli security told the world anything that did not serve Israeli purposes?

    The BIG QUESTION raised here on TC by others is, "Why was there a hanging point in any facility where a person on suicide watch was held?"

    Then, of course, why was the relevant security camera not working? Convenient incompetence!

    An ordinary person could reasonably conclude on the evidence presented that the Zionist Israeli government assassination an Australian citizen in Israel for their own undisclosed purposes.

    Makes one question why the Australian government supports the Zionist government.

    1. Eric Thacker

      Viticultural Contractor

      In reply to Jack Arnold

      If our government ever dares to soften support for the Zionist Israeli govt our TV screens will again be saturated by the odious Mark Regev. Abbott and crew are bad enough without adding him and his ilk to the mix.

    2. Jack Arnold


      In reply to Eric Thacker

      Hi Eric ... woud you be so kind as to enlighten me as to who Mark Regev is and why he has created such a reputation?

  5. Jim KABLE


    I am disturbed by the multiple Australian passport Family Name changes Ben was permitted to make - there must surely be some kind of alarm bell sounding each time Australians who also bear Israeli (or other) passports do this kind of thing! I know the general reason given for this disguising of identity - but making Australia complicit in such deviousness is not right, surely. Any Australian citizen working for the military/government of any other nation should have to give up their Australian citizenship - should they not? An English cousin in the Fleet Air Arm had to give up his dual French citizenship when he entered the Royal Navy. A Welsh-born friend here had to give up his UK citizenship when he became a NSW MLA.

    1. Russell Walton


      In reply to Jim KABLE

      "Any Australian citizen working for the military/government of any other nation should have to give up their Australian citizenship - should they not?

      I agree in principle, but it's unenforceable to some extent. If Israel, or any foreign government covertly misuses Australian passports with the compliance of Australian citizens whose first loyalty is obviously not to Australia, there's very little that our government can do.

      There's an old fashioned term for this practice--"treason".

  6. Che Gorilla

    Human Rights Activist

    This is the second piece from Professor Patrikeef on Prisoner X. Much has changed since the first was posted at The Conversation on 22 February. Almost nothing was known then as you would expect about national security matters in both Australia and Israel. However nothing of any particular interest is known now. What is interesting is how Australian commentators and observers including in the universities have handled the saga.

    The first article was mainly about the al-Mabhouh Dubai operation…

    Read more
    1. Jack Arnold


      In reply to Che Gorilla

      Well Che, it is a good thing that you have got that off your chest.

      Now you might explain to us why in the 21st century, Israel treating the indigenous Palestinians in the same manner as the Nazis treated the Jews in the Warsaw and Krakow ghettoes during the 1940s is not the same abuse of human rights deserving the same condemnation and prosecution for crimes against humanity.

    2. Russell Walton


      In reply to Jack Arnold

      "Che" could also use his real name, unless of course, his parents actually were Mr and Mrs Gorilla.