After ABC news named Zygier on Tuesday, the Israeli government took the rare step of banning Israeli media from reporting any details contained in foreign media reports.
It later relaxed the ban because Zygier’s name and photo were easily available on the internet and members of Israel’s Knesset had used parliamentary privilege to speak about the case.
But the level of secrecy surrounding Zygier’s incarceration has led to intense speculation about what he was accused of.
Ben Hartman is a journalist with the Jerusalem Post newspaper.
“There’s a lot of people speculating he was a double agent or that he betrayed the Mossad or the country or sold state secrets. It’s all just speculation because what people are driven by is the idea: what must he have done in order to be kept in that sort of isolation and that sort of high security situation?” he said.
After Zygier’s arrest in February 2010, Australia was told he would be “treated in accordance with his legal rights as an Israeli citizen”.
But his Israeli lawyer Avigdor Feldman, who visited Zygier the day before he died, described his treatment as "stupid, inhumane and repulsive".
Feldman said Zygier believed he was innocent and added that the allegation against him – which he said he could not disclose – was not a matter of a threat to the security of Israel or its government.
Before his arrest, Zygier changed his name three times – to Ben Alon, Ben Allen and finally Ben Burroughs.
That alerted the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation, who started investigating him on suspicion of using his passport for espionage.
Australian media reports say Zygier travelled to Iran, Lebanon and Syria.
Michael Omer-Man, managing editor of the 972 online magazine, says Australians have relatively easy access to countries that are enemies of Israel.
“The Australians are particularly wary of Israelis with dual nationality taking out new passports under new names because of that,” he said.
Some reports claim Zygier was involved in attempts to derail Iran’s nuclear program, which Israel fears is being used to make nuclear weapons.
“He was involved in a front company supposedly selling electronics to Iran. That obviously opens the door to speculation about a million different operations that have been attributed to Israel regarding sabotaging the nuclear program,” said Omer-Man
Meanwhile, Australia’s Fairfax media quoted unnamed security officials as suggesting Zygier may have been about to disclose information about Israeli intelligence operations, including the fraudulent use of Australian passports, to the Australian government or media.
Four Australian passports were used by the assassination squad that travelled to Dubai in January 2010 to kill Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh.
The Jerusalem Post’s Ben Hartman says some Israeli journalists know the details of Zygier’s case – but can’t report it.
“In Israeli media there are a number of people who very well know what the actual story is, but aren’t able to say it because of the legal orders against it and because of the military censor also in Israel,” he said.
The government cover-up has angered civil rights activists.
Dan Yakir is chief legal counsel at the Association for Civil Rights in Israel.
“One issue of concern here is that a prisoner was held under total secrecy, disconnected from the world, and the fact that he committed suicide although he was kept in the most protected cell in the prison service,” he said.
“The other issue is the fact that the court issued such a wide sweeping gag order on the whole affair.”
Zygier’s family in Melbourne and Israel, where he was married with two children, have not spoken about his death.
Australia has launched a review of how its intelligence officials handled Zygier’s case.
Another layer has been added to Israel’s ‘Prisoner X’ spy story, as new details shed light on Ben Zygier’s dealings with Mossad. An Israeli lawyer says the man – who took his own life in a jail cell – did not seem like he was at risk of suicide.
Zygier’s associations with Mossad are still cloudy, as media agencies report different accounts of his previous work with the organization.
According to Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida, Zygier reportedly took part in the 2010 killing of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mahbouh in Dubai and offered the government information about the operation in return for the United Arab Emirates’ protection.
Australia’s Fairfax Media reports that Australian security officials suspected Zygier may have been about to disclose Israeli intelligence operations – including the use of fraudulent Australian passports – to the Australian government or the media.
The Israeli government has not confirmed or denied Zygier’s association with Mossad. However, Zygier himself reportedly confided in at least two friends that he had been recruited by Mossad.
Zygier’s suicide has shed light on Mossad’s recruitment of foreign-born Jews who could spy under cover on their native passports.
Mossad has come under criticism many times for using the passports and identities of citizens of foreign countries. And despite repeated promises to stop the practices, it seems the organization is refusing to change its ways.
Threatening an all out diplomatic storm between Australia and Israel, the details surrounding the death in 2010 in a prison in Israel of the now famous, Prisoner X are just now starting to come out, sending the Israeli Government into panic mode and even causing them to ban the reporting of information about the case.
He died on December 12, 2010 in solitary confinement in a top-security cell of the Ayalon Prison prison in the same cell which had previously held and been designed for Yigal Amir the assassin of Yitzhak Rabin. Dual Israeli-Australian Ben Zygier, also known by his Israeli name of Ben Alon, reportedly committed suicide by hanging himself on Dec. 15, 2010 at the age of 34.
Although the death occurred over two years ago details about the case are just now coming to light as the veil of secrecy has been partially lifted amid a growing diplomatic storm between Israel and Australia. Up until now the man was only known as “Prisoner X”, whose identity was vigorously guarded.
One of the facts that have recently emerged is that Prisoner X was an Australian citizen working for Mossad, the Israeli Secret Intelligence Service, although in what exact capacity has not been reported.
Another fact that has come to light is that he was already under surveillance by the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) who was investigating him on suspicion of espionage and for being one of three citizens reported to have been using Australian passports to fulfill missions for Mossad.
According to various media reports Mr Alon was also known by the name of Ben Allen, among others, and had changed his name four times in just as many years, which initially caught the attention of the ASIO.
According to the Guardian under Australian law citizens can change their name every year and Mr. Alon did so at least four times. This would have allowed him to put together several sets of documents, including Australian passports, which may have been used by Mossad, either as cover for Alon “X”, or passed along to other operatives.
The publication The Age reported that Ben Zygier had held or applied for Australian passports using the names Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows.
The case is particularly embarrassing for Mossad because it exposes one of the ways that they produce or obtain false identities for their operatives. This is not the first time that Australian passports have been linked to Mossad operations, nor is it the first time they have bungled operations or been exposed using foreign passports as cover for their agents.
According to media reports and other sources the assassination in January 2010 of Hamas operative Mahmoud al-Mabhouh in Dubai was the responsibility of MOSSAD. At the time Israel received strong condemnation from Australia and Britain because apparently Mossad had use passports from their countries to carry out the hit.
There are not many details that have emerged about what Alon was really doing for Mossad, or even if he was in fact an agent, but what has is potentially damaging for Israel and the Israeli intelligence service if one is to judge by the official reaction. The potential fallout is apparently so great that Israel has effectively issued a complete bans on publishing details about the case.
After calling an emergency meeting between the editors and owners of major Israeli media outlets and Israeli security officials the government instructed them not to publish any new material or details on the case, however according to RT Israeli media are still allowed to cite reports from foreign sources.
There is speculation that Alon was providing passports for Mossad, however this is unlikely due to his military service for Israel and the way he was imprisoned and mysteriously committed suicide, in a cell with cameras and sensors which monitored heart rate and the physical condition of the prisoner.
Another clue as to the seriousness of the operations that Alon may have been involved with along with the mysterious other tow Australians was reported by Haartz, which quotes one Tzvika Levy, who heads the Lone Soldier Project: “Suddenly I made the connection, and realized that Ben Zygier arrived to Kibbutz Gazit as a lone soldier about 13 years ago, along with two other young men from Australia. I remember his friends went to serve in the Armored Corps, and he wanted me to help him get into the paratroopers. He served for two and a half years, even though his age required him to serve only six months. For that, he had to sign a form, agreeing to lengthen his service."
So who were the other two Australians? Why did Alon enlist for extended service? And why was it that he died in an Israeli prison without the proper Australian authorities being informed? There is speculation that he was a double or triple agent, and that his end was the obvious one for anyone playing both sides of the fence.
If he was working for the Australians as well as Mossad, his death is perfectly in keeping with what a former intelligence officer once told me, “Mossad always gets their man”, even if he is one of their own.
Voice of Russia, RT