Israel abuzz over Australian-Jewish spy who mysteriously died in jail

Thursday, February 14, 2013 |  Ryan Jones

The Israeli media and political scene are currently buzzing with the story of an Australian Jew who was apparently recruited by Israel's Mossad, later arrested for suspected treason, and then reportedly committed suicide in an Israeli prison in 2010.

Up until now, this prisoner has only been known as "Prisoner X," but on Wednesday it was finally revealed, much to the frustration of Israel's government, that his name was Ben Zygier, an Australian Jew who had immigrated to Israel years earlier.

A large degree of speculation surrounds the story, but according to the story floating around in Israel's newsrooms, Zygier was a capable agent who helped Israel gain information on Iran, Syria and Lebanon.

But, when he was passed over for a promotion, Zygier reportedly became angry and started selling Israeli secrets to the Iranians and others. A short time later, he disappeared.

Israel has officially stated that Zygier committed suicide in 2010, roughly 10 months after being incarcerated. But Zygier's lawyer says he met his client just days before the alleged suicide, and saw no warning signs. Rumors are rife that Israeli authorities assassinated Zygier or pressed him into committing suicide.

What exactly Zygier did and whether or not it warranted silencing him in this way will likely not be known for many years. But in the meantime, the episode is rekindling debate over whether or not the Mossad is too reckless in its recruitment of foreign-born Jews.

These Jews, many of whom do immigrate to Israel and become citizens, as Zygier did, must make regular use of their foreign passports for espionage purposes. This has two negative consequences. First, it risks a diplomatic crisis between Israel and the nation whose passport was used in this manner. Second, and more important, is that it risks the standing of the entire Jewish community in the immigrant's country of origin.

It is the same thing that happened as a result of Jonathan Pollard's capture in the US. Those who hold anti-Semitic and anti-Israel views have for years held up Pollard as "evidence" that no Jew can be trusted because all are loyal to Israel over their country of residence.

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