Israeli lawmakers to investigate Australian spy mystery

JERUSALEM Sun Feb 17, 2013 3:29pm EST

1 of 2. Israel's Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (R) arrives at the weekly cabinet meeting in Jerusalem February 17, 2013. Netanyahu appealed on Sunday for Israel's secret services to be spared public scrutiny, in an apparent bid to douse speculation that an Australian immigrant's 2010 jailhouse suicide was espionage-related and covered up.

Credit: Reuters/Ronen Zvulun


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JERUSALEM (Reuters) - Israeli lawmakers announced plans on Sunday to investigate the 2010 jailhouse death of a reported Australian immigrant recruit to the Mossad spy agency.

The statement by Parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defence Committee followed calls by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu at a cabinet meeting to dim a growing media spotlight on the affair he saw as at risk of jeopardizing national security.

The case kept under wraps for two years then publicized by Australian television last Tuesday involves a 34-year-old immigrant, Ben Zygier, said to be a Mossad operative held on suspicion of security offences, who died of what has been labeled an apparent suicide behind bars.

In a terse communique, the legislative panel's subcommittee on intelligence said it has "decided to conduct an intensive examination of all aspects of the incident involving the prisoner found dead in his (prison) cell in December 2010."

While unlikely to have any immediate political consequences the investigation may lead to a wider inquiry with potentially broader repercussions.

Netanyahu's government has restricted reporting in Israel on the case, now overshadowing his victory in a national election held last month, using court gag orders, military censorship and direct requests to news editors.

Such steps have done little to douse demands for the authorities to come clean about the circumstances of Zygier's imprisonment and how he was able to kill himself in a highly-supervised isolation cell.

Without citing the case specifically, Netanyahu said on Sunday he "absolutely trusts" Israel's security services and what he described as the independent legal monitoring system under which they operated.

"We are an exemplary democracy," Netanyahu said in remarks aired by Israeli broadcasters.

"But we are also more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper operation of our security branches," Netanyahu also said.

"Therefore I ask over everyone: Let the security services continue working quietly so that we can continue to live in safety and tranquility in the State of Israel."

The few Israeli officials who have spoken of Zygier's case have not denied that he was linked to Mossad, which in early 2010 was accused by Dubai of using Australian passport-holders to assassinate a Palestinian arms procurer in the Gulf emirate.


Media reports have speculated that Israel suspected the Melbourne-born Jew of betraying or threatening to divulge Mossad missions, perhaps to Australia's security services, as they probed passport fraud.

Civil liberties groups and some Israeli lawmakers have demanded to know whether Zygier's rights were violated by his months of incarceration under alias.

In an apparent reversal from previous statements, Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr said on Thursday his ministry had known about Zygier's jailing as early as February 2010. On Wednesday he said Australian diplomats in Israel only found out about the detention after his death in custody later that year.

Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli lawyer with whom Zygier consulted in Ayalon prison, said last week that that meeting was arranged by a "Mossad liaison" and that his client had denied "grave charges" for which he awaited trial.

Feldman also said that Zygier's family, which has declined all comment on the affair, knew about his detention. The incarceration was approved by several Israeli courts.

Two senior cabinet members, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, told Israeli media on Saturday the case was rare but lawful.

"There are extreme do with our security and even the need to preserve human life, when we need to take an extreme step such as this," Yaalon told Channel Two television.

Meridor said that publishing the prisoner's identity would have risked "serious harm to security." He did not elaborate.

Tzachi Hanegbi, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's conservative Likud party said he had never been informed of Zygier's arrest as chairman of the parliamentary defence panel at the time.

"This requires explanation," Hanegbi said. "Usually, every significant subject, whether it is impressive achievements or embarrassing failures, is laid out before the subcommittee."

Former Mossad director Danny Yatom told Reuters the agency was under no legal obligation to brief oversight lawmakers in such circumstances.

(Writing by Allyn Fisher-Ilan and Dan Williams; Editing by Jason Webb)

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Comments (4)
saavedra wrote:
Media reports have speculated that Israel suspected the Melbourne-born Jew of betraying or threatening to divulge Mossad missions, perhaps to Australia’s security services, as they probed passport fraud.

But Israel is faced by changes, such as one of it’s agents leaking information. So they throw him in a cell without a name or number without formal charges or habeas corpus to rot.

“We are an exemplary democracy,” Netanyahu said in remarks aired by Israeli broadcasters. Yes Bibi and it really shows.

Feb 17, 2013 4:13pm EST  --  Report as abuse
Tiu wrote:
Zygier should have known any information he gave to any foreign government would soon be heard about by his masters.
The only “exemplary” Nuttyahoo knows anything about is how to rule through terror. He just wants to make sure all his other dual citizen intel assets don’t get cold feet or change their minds about the role they are playing.

Feb 17, 2013 4:31pm EST  --  Report as abuse
A majority of American families believe in God and attend church regularly. Most belong to the Christian faith in which the Bible is the word of God. That is the basis of the majority belief in supporting the state of Israel, particularly remembering the Holocaust perpetrated by the German Nazi party against European Jewry during the Second World War .

However, there is now a very serious contention that American sympathy and support for Israel has been subverted by a powerful gang of lobbyists pushing a political agenda that exists to demonise the largest indigenous people of the former land of Palestine, the essentially peaceful Muslim Arabs, who have lived on the land continuously for over one thousand years – a millennium in which there was only ever a minority Jewish presence.

In the 65 years since the then newly-formed United Nations voted for the establishment of a Jewish state in Palestine, Israel has become the only undeclared nuclear state and arguably now the most powerful in the world after the US and Russia. Chillingly, however, the Israeli government refuses to sign the nuclear Non Proliferation Treaty (NPT) or to subject its huge, secret nuclear arsenal to the inspection of the IAEA.

Notwithstanding its success in the export of military equipment, diamonds, pharmaceuticals and chemicals to both the EU and the US, it still receives many billions of dollars every year at the demand of the influential American Israel lobby that is now the loudest unelected voice in American politics. The reasoning for this transfer of American tax dollars to a foreign state whose standard of living is already higher than that of most Americans, is largely unexplained.

What we do know is that the Israel lobby ensures that no US Member of Congress is elected to that position unless they commit to supporting its anti-Arab, pro-settlement, political agenda. This is in stark contrast to the European Union representing half a billion people in 27 member states that condemns Israel’s illegal settlements outright and demands human and civil rights for all.

The end result is that five million Muslim Arabs have now been dispossessed of their lands, homes and businesses by the occupying force of the Israeli army under the pretence of ‘state security’. Furthermore, Israel has now induced over half a million of its citizens to leave their homes to illegally settle on occupied Arab land in the West Bank and in East Jerusalem. This is a deliberate policy to ethnically cleanse the entire land of former Palestine, of all Muslims (and Christians).

The question is, why would Christian, or Jewish, American families support such an inhuman, illegitimate and immoral policy? Ever since Zionist militants from the terrorist Irgun Zvai Leumi, bombed the King David Hotel in Jerusalem, killing 91 British and Arab civilians, it appears that Israeli militants are allowed to assassinate, with impunity, their opponents anywhere in the world – even on the high seas in international waters or in hotels in neutral countries.

Yet both Christian and Jewish Americans apparently still authorise unlimited support for the Israeli government notwithstanding that these policies will almost certainly lead to a new Middle East war that could escalate into a nuclear conflict and the suspension of oil supplies through the Strait of Hormuz with a consequent doubling of energy costs internationally and the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs worldwide, including the US.

It is a disaster waiting to happen as a demanding, Israeli prime minister struts and frets his hour upon the stage, funded and financed by a subservient and subordinate, US Congress whilst thousands of unemployed and homeless Americans stand in line at soup kitchens in California, New Jersey and Nevada, as their representatives vote yet more money overseas.

Where is this ‘exemplary democracy’? Not, I would suggest, either in Washington or Tel Aviv.

Feb 17, 2013 4:38pm EST  --  Report as abuse
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