For the very first time, on Wednesday the Australian government admitted that the Australian citizen who was detained in Israel, Ben Zygier – also known as Prisoner ‘X’ – worked for the Israeli government. In a statement reported by the official news agency (AAP), the Australian Foreign Minister, Senator Bob Carr, said that Zygier was “employed by the Israeli government”, however he did not confirm or deny reports that he worked for the Mossad.
Last month, Carr ordered a review of how the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade had dealt with the case. On Wednesday, he said that results indicate that during his imprisonment in Israel, Zygier was given the right to see a lawyer regularly and permitted 50 visits by family members. He described Zygier’s case as being “complicated and outside the usual framework of consular activity”, and criticized the lack of transparency in the government’s decision making process regarding consular responsibilities. He also criticized the fact that the details of the assistance provided by the Israeli authorities to Zygier were not requested by the Ministry, nor were they given until after he ordered the review.
An investigation reported by the Australian (ABC) Network revealed that Zygier was the same prisoner who was detained in solitary confinement at the beginning of 2010 but whose name and the charges against him were never revealed. He was found dead in his cell 10 months later. It was alleged that he had committed suicide, despite being held in a cell designed to monitor prisoners around the clock to prevent suicide.
(ABC) revealed that Zygier was one of three Jewish Australians that changed their names several times and obtained new passports for the Middle East and Europe in the context of their work with the Mossad.
Carr also stressed that his government strictly condemns the “shameful” use of Australian documents in secret intelligence operations for other countries. He added, “If Australian passports were misused here, we are certainly obliged to take this matter seriously.”
He further stated, “If the world believes that Australian passports are routinely used in an unethical manner by other countries, the lives of Australians presenting their passports in other countries will be endangered,” adding, “We cannot live with this.”
Relations between Australian and Israeli intelligence have been strained following Australia’s expulsion of the Israeli diplomat in 2010. This was as the result of an investigation that revealed that Australian passports were used in the operation to assassinate Hamas military official, Mahmoud Al-Mabhouh, suspected to have be carried out by the Mossad.
Moreover, Carr supported the Foreign Ministry’s estimate that Israel would not have given the Australian Consulate direct access to Zygier, however, he added that “Despite this, it would have still been better to request information about the prisoner in 2010.”
ABC later reported that Israel detained Zygier on suspicion that he had revealed all aspects of his work with the Mossad to Australian intelligence, and particularly the details of a highly confidential operation in Italy.