Exclusive: Australian-Israeli Mossad Man, Few Days before Suicide, Seemed ‘A Nice Guy,’ No Special Stress – Considered a Plea Bargain
By YOSSI MELMAN in Tel Aviv
A prominent Israeli lawyer who frequently defends people accused of serious security-related violations confirms that he was one of four defense lawyers representing Ben Alon.
Alon was the immigrant from Australia (at age 24) who joined the Mossad as a secret operative, but then ran into severe trouble that has not yet been publicly explained. At age 34, in late 2010, he was found dead in a specially designed high-security cell in an Israeli prison — as revealed this week by Australia’s ABC in an episode of the documentary TV series “Foreign Correspondent.”
The official finding was that Alon — who was born in Australia as Ben Zygier — committed suicide by hanging.
Avigdor Feldman, the defense attorney respected for his human-rights work, visited the prisoner — whose arrest and imprisonment were kept absolutely secret, as ordered by a judge in her “gag order” — only two days before Alon’s death.
Feldman says he noticed no signs of severe distress and describes Alon as “a nice guy.”
The attorney was hired by Alon’s wife, who is an Israeli. (They were reported to have two children.) She wanted Feldman to provide “a second opinion” as to whether Alon should accept a plea bargain that was offered by State prosecutors. His wife and other unspecified family members were able to visit Alon, even though his location and predicament was an official secret that could not legally be revealed.
Alon was charged with very serious acts of espionage on behalf of enemies of Israel, but he insisted that he was innocent.
The start of his trial had been delayed, because plea bargain negotiations were continuing.
On this day that the Israeli government and courts partially lifted their ban on any discussion of this case in the Israeli news media, Ben Alon’s family and friends in the country remain silent. But in Australia, according to news media there, “friends” are describing his personality.
They apparently suggest that Alon (reported by the ABC documentary to have had a fairly new Australian passport naming him as “Ben Allen,” a name probably chosen because it doesn’t appear Jewish or Israeli) was “talkative” — a friendly chatterbox.
He may have been using that trait or ability in the service of Israel, as he is said to have made a point of befriending Iranian and Syrian students in Australia — while ostensibly taking courses in his native country, during a long break from his life in Israel. There is also the possibility that he was being too friendly with Iranians — too friendly, from a Mossad point of view.
With his “clean” Australian passport he could, of course, visit Iran, Syria, and other locales that Israel considers to be “enemy countries.” The cover story could be visiting friends, or doing business on behalf of non-Israeli companies selling products in the Middle East.
Having contact with the enemy — even as part of your espionage mission — can be extremely delicate, often leading to suspicions that you got too close to “the other side.” There have been occasions when a spy who may have seemed reliable is suspected of becoming a double agent, and a person’s true loyalties are difficult to ascertain in some cases.
There is the suggestion now that Alon had a possibly “problematic” personality, which was discovered little-by-little. He is believed to have been a Mossad operative for only about four years, indicating that he did not become a senior man in the espionage agency.