Zygier’s Suicide Detailed; Israel Suggests Talking to Australia Wasn’t the Crime

The constant tug of war between protecting the nation’s security and satisfying the people’s right to know — an important facet of Israeli life — is on display, as authorities gradually release details of Ben Zygier’s death: though not yet his life.

Ben Zygier (from Australia’s ABC “Foreign Correspondent”)

A judge approved the release of parts (though not all) of the investigators’ conclusion that Zygier — an Australian-born Israeli, reliably reported to have been a covert operative in the Mossad — hanged himself in his high-security prison cell on December 15, 2010.  He tied a wet bedsheet to the bars of the window in the toilet-and-shower part of the cell, where cameras apparently were absent.  The sheet was twisted tight around his neck.

The report also said that there was a small amount of a tranquilizer drug in his bloodstream, but the investigators stated that the drug had nothing to do with Zygier’s suicide.

The judge, however, declared that she is keeping the case open, because there is evidence of “culpability” by prison authorities. They should have known that preventing the possibility of suicide was a vital part of their job.  But instead, according to The Jerusalem Post, they made their first priority isolating Zygier so that he could have no communication with other people.

The report might be considered surprising when it reveals that Zygier’s family was actively involved and kept informed during the death investigation.  There is no indication, however, that the family was told anything at all about their loved one’s covert career — or what he might have done to anger the Mossad and Shin Bet (the domestic security agency).

Prime Minister Netanyahu

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu obviously sought to discredit media reports that Zygier’s violation was revealing information to the Australian Security Intelligence Organization (ASIO) by issuing an unexpected statement: “between the government of Israel and all its agencies, and the government of Australia and the Australian security agencies, there is excellent cooperation, full coordination, and complete transparency in dealing with current issues.”

The situation seems to suggest again that Australian officials were not disturbed by Israel’s arrest of Zygier.  Officials revealed last week that they were informed through intelligence channels when Zygier was locked up in February 2010.  It is, at the least, a remarkable coincidence that around the same time the Australian government was criticizing the Mossad publicly for using Australian passports in its covert operations — including the murder, the previous month, of a Hamas operative in a Dubai hotel (the assassination mission in which up to 26 Israeli secret operatives were seen by security cameras).

Another reasonable conclusion, though admittedly not based on full facts, would be that Ben Zygier’s alleged crimes against Israel were considered very serious.  One of the lawyers on his defense team has revealed that when Zygier was considering a plea bargain — a day or two before his death — the state prosecutors’ offer was a “double-digit sentence”: at least 10 years in prison.


February 20, 2013

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