Ben Zygier, the Mossad agent who committed suicide in Ramle’s Ayalon Prison in December 2010 while facing unspecified “serious” criminal charges, had nothing to do with the Mossad’s reported assassination in Dubai in January 2010 of Hamas weapons dealer Mahmoud al-Mabhouh, Israel’s Channel 10 news claimed Thursday night.
An unconfirmed Kuwaiti newspaper report earlier Thursday had linked the 34-year-old Melbourne-born agent to the Mabhouh assassination, and claimed Zygier had betrayed the Mossad to Dubai over the affair, naming those involved and seeking Dubai’s protection before being kidnapped by the Mossad.
Dubai police chief Lt. Gen. Dahi Khalfan Tamim also told Arabian Business the allegations in al-Jarida were false. He suggested that Zygier “may have committed suicide when it was revealed that he was a hired hitman and it became clear to the world that he was a criminal and running from justice.”
Israeli media reports Thursday gave more credibility, however, to fresh reports from Australia that claimed Zygier had been about to spill information to the Australian authorities or the media about his Mossad work — including the Mossad’s alleged habit of using Australian passports to send agents into enemy countries, including for the reported Dubai hit — when he was arrested in early 2010.
Jason Koutsoukis, a reporter for Australian’s Fairfax newspapers, who said he was tipped off about three Australian-Israelis who were spying for the Mossad, told Israel’s Channel 2 on Thursday night that Zygier was arrested “a week or 10 days” after he had tracked down and called Zygier in early 2010 in Israel — having spoken to him several times previously — to ask him whether he was one of the trio. “The timing of his arrest was very suspicious,” Koutsoukis said.
Far from spilling any information, however, Koutsoukis said Zygier was so firm and credible in his denials that “he convinced me” he had nothing to do with the affair. Koutsoukis wrote up the story in the Sydney Morning Herald in February 2010 without naming Zygier or any other suspected Australian-born Mossad agents. He said Zygier did not seem under pressure in their conversation.
Koutsoukis told Channel 2 he did not know whether Zygier had, as reported, entered Syria and Lebanon on behalf of the Mossad, but was “fairly certain” Zygier “went to Iran a number of times.”
Thursday night TV news broadcasts said Zygier had reportedly run an Italian-based Mossad front company selling electronics to Iran.
The exposure of the affair, if accurate, has caused “great damage” to the Mossad, Channel 10 reported, and also signaled a series of Mossad failures.
Amid multiplying reports that Zygier was “an unstable personality,” it was unclear why this had not been recognized when he was recruited or during his years in the Mossad, the TV report said.
Furthermore if, as reported, Zygier and other agents were asked by the Mossad to exploit a provision in Australian law that allows citizens to change their passports, and did so frequently, the Mossad ought to have realized that the Australian authorities would pick up on this, Channel 10 said.
Finally, the notion that Australian security services would not be aware of its citizens entering Iran on recently issued Australian passports, the TV report said, suggested that the Mossad was out of touch with intelligence services’ capabilities.
Zygier was reportedly called in for questioning by the Australia Security Intelligence Organization after he went back to Melbourne from Israel in 2009, ostensibly to study for a master’s degree, but reportedly to mingle with Saudi and Iranian students on campus on behalf of the Mossad.
Conflicting reports this week have suggested various scenarios for what happened next, including that Zygier confessed to the Australian authorities, that he was thought to be about to do so, and that the Australian authorities leaked information about him to the media or were about to do so.
One way or another, Zygier was back in Israel and under arrest by early 2010, jailed at Ayalon Prison, in the cell that previously held Yigal Amir, who assassinated prime minister Yitzhak Rabin in 1995.