Australian Foreign Minister Bob Carr rebuked Israel on Monday for failing to provide the Australian government with a full explanation of the circumstances that led to the 2010 arrest, imprisonment and suicide of Australian-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier.
Speaking to reporters during a visit to the US, Carr said he had ”asked [Israel] for all information relevant to Australia’s concerns on this and we will continue to do that.”
”Australia has a clear interest, a distinct point of view on this – an objection to Australian passports being used by Australian citizens or dual citizens who are off working for foreign intelligence agencies,” Carr said. ”I am not aware there has been a comprehensive accounting for what has happened, for what gave rise to his arrest, his detention, his suicide.”
Carr stressed that the use of Australian passports by foreign intelligence agencies could pose a danger to all Australians traveling abroad.
He added that though he had not yet made his concerns clear personally, Israel was aware of his position due to previous statements he had made.
Earlier this month, Carr warned that if it’s confirmed that Israel used Zygier’s Australian passport for intelligence-gathering purposes, Australia would register “the strongest protest.”
“Certainly if Australian passports were misused here, that’s something we are forced to take very seriously,” Carr told reporters. “No country can allow the integrity of its passport system to be compromised. We can’t say whether it happened with Mr. Zygier’s several passports. I hope the inquiry that takes place … in Israel can clarify this.”
The issue of misused passports is particularly sensitive for Australia. In 2010, an Australian investigation concluded that Israel had counterfeited four Australian passports used by a suspected hit squad that murdered a Hamas official in Dubai. Australia retaliated by expelling an Israeli diplomat.
However, Carr said there was no evidence Zygier was involved in the Dubai killing.
Zygier was found dead in his Ramle prison cell in December 2010 after eight months behind bars as an unnamed inmate in what prison authorities determined was a suicide. The reason for his arrest has yet to be officially revealed, but he was known to be on trial for serious charges and was contemplating a plea bargain when he took his own life.
On Sunday, German newspaper Der Spiegel reported that Zygier was arrested for inadvertently leaking sensitive information to a Lebanese Hezbollah operative that led to the arrest of informants spying on the terror organization. Siad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh were arrested in 2009 and sentenced to 15 years in prison for spying for Israel.
Zygier, a Jewish man from Melbourne, was trying to prove his mettle to the Israeli spy agency in an effort to regain face after failing to fulfill expectations during an operation in Europe, the German report said.
According to the report, Zygier, who was apparently recruited by the Mossad in 2003, was sent to Europe in 2005 to infiltrate companies that were dealing directly with Iran. Zygier’s mission was to try to gain access to potential informants in Iran and Syria. However, after two years, during which he was employed in the accounting division of a company, Zygier was recalled to Israel without having achieved substantial results.
Zygier, disappointed, was assigned a desk job but still hoped to find his way back into the field, Der Spiegel reported. Apparently acting on his own initiative, he began trying to recruit informants in Lebanon to spy on the Hezbollah terror organization. He contacted an affiliate of the group in a Balkan state and tried to recruit him. However, the Hezbollah activist succeeding in turning the tables and duped Zygier into providing information that eventually led to the arrests of al-Homsi, Awadeh, and a string of other informants in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, after spending a year behind a desk, Zygier asked for permission to continue his academic studies in Melbourne, and in 2008 he began a graduate degree in Monash University. During the period of his studies, Zygier was apparently indiscreet about his activities with the Mossad, which eventually learned he was leaking details of his service, some of them inaccurate. Zygier was called back to Israel to face an investigation during which details of his unauthorized solo Hezbollah operation came to light. He was subsequently arrested, incarcerated under strict secrecy, and charged with what one of his lawyers said last month were “serious” crimes.
Israeli authorities reportedly sought a prison sentence of up to 10 years for the offenses. A plea bargain was under discussion when Zygier, who was 34 and married with two children, took his own life by hanging himself with a bed sheet in the shower adjacent to his cell on December 15, 2010.