Zygier ‘discussed plea bargain with mother hours before his suicide’

Zygier ‘discussed plea bargain with mother hours before his suicide’

Mossad’s inability to spot that Australian-born agent was unsuitable recruit constitutes ‘a crushing failure’ now being investigated by the agency, Yedioth Ahronoth reports

Ben Zygier at his wedding (photo credit: screen capture Channel 10)
Ben Zygier at his wedding (photo credit: screen capture Channel 10)

Ben Zygier, the Mossad agent who committed suicide in Ayalon Prison on December 15, 2010, discussed the plea bargain that would have seen him kept in jail for at least 10 years in a phone call with his mother, Louise, in Australia just hours before he took his own life, a Hebrew newspaper reported Friday.

“It is not known precisely what was said” in the call, the report in Yedioth Ahronoth noted, adding that Zygier’s parents had been kept fully informed on the circumstances of their son’s arrest and had been shown “the grave indictment which had been served against him.” Zygier knew that if he did not agree to the plea bargain, he would likely be jailed “for a lot longer” than 10 years, the report said.

The Yedioth report traced Zygier’s service in the Mossad, noting that he applied for a post with the intelligence service in a faxed application in response to a Mossad “wanted” advertisement. It said the intelligence organization’s failure to recognize that he was not an appropriate recruit constituted “a crushing failure” of the Mossad’s evaluation process. That process was now being urgently reviewed by the Mossad, the report said, in order “to learn the necessary lessons” to prevent repeat occurrences.

The lengthy Yedioth report Friday mirrored parts of news stories from late last month in the Sydney Morning Herald which detailed Zygier’s years of frustration and failure in the Mossad, culminating in what was described as “one of the most serious security breaches in Israeli history”: He failed to make headway obtaining information from European companies trading with Iran. He spoke indiscreetly about his Mossad service while studying for a Master’s degree while on a leave of absence in Australia in 2009. And, most critically, in an effort to prove his usefulness, he broke regulations and initiated a rogue operation in which tried to recruit a man linked to Hezbollah as a double agent.

After his arrest in early 2010, the Sydney newspaper reported on March 25, “Zygier broke down and admitted that sometime in 2008, before he took his leave of absence and moved to Australia, he had flown to eastern Europe to meet with a man he knew to have close links with Hezbollah with the intention of turning that person into a double agent. Instead, the man reported the recruitment attempt to Beirut, and himself began playing the same game as Zygier, except in reverse. Without Zygier’s knowledge, the man was reporting every detail of his contact with Zygier back to the Hezbollah leadership in Beirut. Israeli officials believe that even [Hezbollah chief Sheikh Hassan] Nasrallah himself was being kept informed.”

When this man asked Zygier for proof that he was a real Mossad agent, “Zygier readily complied and began supplying him with real intelligence from Tel Aviv, including the names of Ziad al-Homsi and Mustafa Ali Awadeh, Mossad’s two top informants in Lebanon.” The two were reportedly arrested by Hezbollah and sentenced to 15 years in jail for spying for Israel.

“When Zygier was arrested, he was also found carrying a compact disc with additional classified information” which Israeli officials “believe he was also preparing to hand over to the other side,” last month’s report said.

At some point, an Israeli official told the Sydney newspaper, “Zygier crossed a red line and went to the dark side… Israeli informants have certainly changed sides in the past. But a regular Mossad employee has never done what Zygier did. It is a bitter defeat for Mossad, but for Hezbollah it is one of the rare instances in which an Arab intelligence service prevailed over its Jewish counterpart.”

The Zygier affair made international headlines in February, when details of his clandestine incarceration and later suicide finally emerged, over two years after he took his own life in an isolated cell in Israel. Before that, there were rumors in the Israel media regarding a mysterious “Prisoner X,” who was being held under absolute secrecy in the Ayalon prison.

According to a Der Spiegel report last month, Zygier 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. Acting on his own initiative, he began trying to recruit informants in Lebanon to spy on Hezbollah. The affiliate of the group who turned the tables on him was based in a Balkan state.

Zygier, who was 34 and married with two children, took his own life by hanging himself with a bed sheet in the shower of his cell.

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