The latest developments in the case of Prisoner X continues to reverberate around the world (though as many Palestinians are rightly say, where’s the equal attention on the countless Palestinians held for years illegally in Israel’s administrative detention system?) Some of the latest on Prisoner X here, here and here.
The Australian-Israeli man recently identified as Prisoner X — found dead in 2010 in a maximum-security prison cell — may have been involved in the assassination of a Hamas leader that year, an episode that was among the most embarrassing in the history of Israel’s intelligence agency, Mossad.
The Kuwaiti newspaper Al Jarida reported Thursday that Ben Zygier, who immigrated to Israel from Australia and apparently spent a decade working for the Mossad, was among the 26 suspects in the assassination plot, in which Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, a Hamas official, was drugged and suffocated in his hotel room in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
Al Jarida, a liberal opposition newspaper, said that Mr. Zygier had provided the authorities in Dubai with “names and pictures and accurate details” in exchange for protection, but Israel kidnapped him from a hiding place and imprisoned him on charges of treason about a month after the Jan. 19, 2010, operation.
The Dubai plot, for which Israel has never acknowledged responsibility, led to diplomatic sanctions against Israel because fake passports from Europe and Australia were used in the operation. Australian journalists reported Thursday that Mr. Zygier, one of several people under investigation by the Australian intelligence service on suspicion of passport fraud, was arrested just before he was set to disclose Israeli secrets about the passports to the Australian government or the news media.
The reports quoted a security official with knowledge of the case as saying that Mr. Zygier “may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance.”
The Israeli prime minister’s office and the Justice Ministry declined to comment on the emerging details in a case that has dominated the news here for days, more than two years after what appeared to be the suicide of a man known only as Prisoner X was revealed in local news reports that the government immediately quashed.
Politicians, journalists and human rights advocates have questioned the appropriateness of My. Zygier’s secret detention; the circumstances around his death by hanging, which was ruled a suicide despite his cell having been under constant surveillance; and the extraordinary court order that banned local reporting on the entire episode.
“The Prisoner X affair is a classic story of Israeli failure,” read the headline over a column by Amir Oren in the left-leaning daily newspaper Haaretz. “The most sensitive agencies aren’t functioning,” Mr. Oren wrote. “In its 65th year, the State of Israel still doesn’t control the basics.”
Australia was one of several countries whose relations with Israel were strained by the revelations that the Dubai authorities made after the assassination of Mr. Mabhouh, a founder of Hamas’s military wing who played a role in the kidnapping and killing of two Israeli soldiers in 1989 and who helped supply Hamas with weapons from Iran.
In a confidential diplomatic cable published by WikiLeaks, Australia’s Foreign Ministry told the United States Embassy in Canberra that the Dubai affair had made a coming United Nations vote more complicated. “Australian officials are ‘furious’ all the way up the chain of command,” it said. “In the wake of revelations from Dubai, the government is in no hurry to reassure Israel of its support.”
The cable was dated Feb. 25 — one day after Mr. Carr said Australia was notified of Mr. Zygier’s detention.
Gad Shimron, a former Mossad agent who wrote a book about the agency, described Mr. Zygier’s case as “so unusual and so extraordinary,” but not unique.
“Throughout the Mossad’s history there are plenty of stories about people who at one point or another behaved in a way that is so bluntly different than the James Bond kind of manner they were expected to be,” Mr. Shimron said in a radio interview.