The shocking story of Ben Zygier, a 34-year-old Australian recruited by the Mossad and quite possibly murdered in an Israeli jail cell in 2010, has exposed Israel’s international fifth column to the light of day. This whale surfaces every once in a while. Remember the "passport farm" run by the Israelis in New Zealand back in 2004? Similar operations were uncovered in Australia and in Israel itself: regarding the latter, travelers to the Jewish state had their identities stolen, their passports duplicated and handed out like candy to Mossad agents. Then there were those two FBI raids on the Washington headquarters of AIPAC, the powerful Israeli lobby, during the course of which agents surrounded the building and carted out boxes of documents and computer hard drives as part of the Steve Rosen-Keith Weissman affair, in which two top AIPAC officials were indicted and tried for stealing US secrets from the Pentagon, and only had their case dropped because a trial would have revealed those secrets to the world. And who could forget that 2001 Fox News four-part series reported by Carl Cameron, which concluded there was evidence the Israelis were watching the 9/11 hijackers on American soil and failed to report their movements to US authorities?
This time, however, the story has an unusual twist. It appears that Zygier, a fervent Zionist, discovered something that caused him to turn against his Mossad bosses – something so sensitive, of such importance to the Jewish state, that his incarceration in a Israel’s high security Ayalon prison – in a "suicide-proof" cell originally designed for Yitzhad Rabin’s assassin – was a closely-guarded secret. Prison personnel were not told his identity, and a media blackout was imposed shortly after the story of "Prisoner X" came out in the Israeli media. All mentions of the arrest were scrubbed from Israeli web sites.
That was two years ago. Now we learn Zygier "committed suicide" in his suicide-proof cell.
The Australians had been on his trail for a while. He and two other Australians who had emigrated to Israel and then returned after changing their names – and applying for Australian passports – were under investigation for engaging in espionage. An Australian journalist had questioned Zygier about his activities, and he furiously denied being involved in any covert activities on Israel’s behalf. There are reports of his interrogation by ASIO, Australia’s intelligence agency.
There seems little doubt Zygier was recruited by Mossad ten to twelve years ago: his friends are now recalling it. The New York Times says he used at least four names: Ben Zygier, Ben Alon, Ben Allen and Benjamin Burrows, traveling to Iran, Syria, and Lebanon on behalf of his Israeli paymasters. The nature of his transgression has yet to be definitively revealed, yet the story is coming out in spite of the Israeli government’s frantic efforts to stop it. The Sydney Morning Herald reports:
"Australian security officials suspect that Ben Zygier, the spy who died in a secret Israeli prison cell in 2010, may have been about to disclose information about Israeli intelligence operations, including the use of fraudulent Australian passports, either to the Australian government or to the media before he was arrested.
“‘[Zygier] may well have been about to blow the whistle, but he never got the chance,’ an Australian security official with knowledge of the case told Fairfax Media yesterday.
"Sources in Canberra are insistent that the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) was not informed by its Israeli counterparts of the precise nature of the espionage allegations against Mr Zygier. However, it is understood that the former Melbourne law graduate had been in contact with Australian intelligence."
There is much speculation surrounding the reasons for Zygier’s arrest: the most popular appears to be that he was about to reveal details of the 2010 Mossad hit job in Dubai, during which an entire team of some 20 Mossad agents succeeded in murdering an Arab arms dealer with links to Hamas.
The problem with this theory is that the facts about that case are pretty much known: the Israelis collected data from travelers to Israel and then used it to create bogus passports, which were then issued to Mossad agents. Photos of these agents appeared in the Kuwaiti media, and were published on the internet. A Kuwaiti paper is now claiming it was Zygier who turned over this information, including the photos, to the Kuwaitis, and that the Israelis kidnapped him in Kuwait. The paper quotes "a former Mossad commander" who contends Zygier was part of the Dubai assassination team until he "switched to the other side." Yet this tall tale hardly explains why the Israelis would keep the identity of "Prisoner X" such a closely-guarded secret, quashing press reports of his incarceration, and denying his very existence until now. It wouldn’t explain why Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called an "emergency" meeting with Israeli editors over their handling of the story. And it wouldn’t account for the fact that Zygier was apparently in contact with the Australian intelligence service prior to his arrest – or have they, too, "switched to the other side"?
I guess it all depends on what one means by "other side." Because, from the perspective of the increasingly isolated Israeli government – which cultivates a narrative of the Jewish state as besieged on every side – "the other side" means everybody else, including the West.
We don’t know the nature of Zygier’s "crime," but we know with reasonable certainty what it was not. In all likelihood it had nothing to do with the Dubai assassination, the forging of passports, or any of the other depredations against international law and morality that we already know about. It’s something new – and worse.
There is some speculation it had something to do with the impersonation of CIA officers by Mossad agents who were trying to recruit Jundullah terrorists in their campaign to destabilize Iran, and this may be more credible: after all, according to the report by Mark Perry in Foreign Policy, "The Israelis, flush with American dollars and toting U.S. passports, posed as CIA officers in recruiting Jundallah operatives – what is commonly referred to as a ‘false flag’ operation." (Emphasis added.)
So it isn’t just Australian, New Zealand, and European passports the Israelis are stealing – there’s an Israeli "passport farm" churning out American passports, too. But then again, why would Zygier – reportedly a committed Zionist, who had been recruited by Mossad and emigrated to Israel where he started a family – threaten to expose this type of operation? It doesn’t add up – unless the Israelis were mounting an operation against his native Australia, or other Western countries such as the US.
Israel’s Mossad is notorious for its ruthlessness, and its unwillingness to play by the rules: for example, when it comes to industrial espionage, Israel’s Western "allies" are considered fair game. A GAO report on Israeli espionage in the US concluded the Jewish state "conducts the most aggressive espionage operation against the United States of any U.S. ally." Australia presumably merits the same treatment. But Zygier didn’t "switch sides" because of a few stolen gadgets. It had to have been something that aroused his conscience, and perhaps reawakened long dormant loyalty to his Australian homeland – or to the concept of morality itself.
This is not the Israel we once knew, or thought we knew. We are dealing here with Bibi Netanyahu’s Israel, a country veering to the very edge of fundamentalist extremism, increasingly aggressive and impatient to assert itself as the dominant power in the Middle East. Their above-ground lobby is not only hyperactive, it is hyper-potent, strong enough to rule the US Congress with an iron hand – as Chuck Hagel pointed out, to his sorrow – and do much to push the US into a disastrous war in Iraq (as John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt showed in their book on The Israel Lobby). Yet what about the clandestine aspect of this phenomenon – the covert complement to Israel’s overt fifth column? The Zygier affair gives us a brief, incomplete glimpse at this sinister subterranean creature, and a scary one it is.
No, we don’t know why the Israelis kept "Prisoner X" locked up in absolute secrecy, and then panicked when word leaked out about his "suicide." No, we don’t know for sure that he was murdered by his jailers – although his lawyer, who saw him days before his death, has said he seemed rational and not at all suicidal. We can’t know for certain what horror he uncovered, and caused him to rebel. Yet that horror, whatever it was, was no ordinary one: it motivated him to reject the views and actions of a lifetime, and reverse course with stunning abruptness.
Zygier was reportedly offered a plea bargain by the Israeli authorities, and turned it down because he was determined to clear his name. Was he an Israeli Bradley Manning, intent on exposing the crimes of the Jewish state – crimes we can only imagine?
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
The Republican filibuster of Chuck Hagel reared its head too late for me to comment, and I’ll save my remarks for Monday, when the dust has cleared. Suffice to say here that I was far too optimistic to shout "How Sweet It Is!" — the title of my last column on the Hagel nomination. That’ll teach me to jump the gun when it comes to declaring victory over the Lazarus-like neocons. I have to take some grim satisfaction, however, in pointing out that the Senate vote underscores my political acuity when it comes to another topic I’ve been dealing with this week – the politics of Sen. Rand Paul, a.k.a. Paul the Lesser.
Sen. Paul voted "no," giving the Hagel-haters the one-vote margin they needed to delay the confirmation for another ten days. Phil Klein, neoconnish political reporter over at the Washington Examiner, tweeted "Rand Paul, neocon hero!" To which I can only say – with absolutely no relish – didn’t I tell you so? Heck, I nailed the Lesser Paul back in 2010, before he even made it to the Senate.
Yes, but my prescience – however much I brag and carry on about it – is really no fun at all: remember Cassandra, of Greek mythology, who offended the gods and was punished in a unique manner? The poor thing was granted the gift of prophecy, but cursed with the proviso that no one would ever believe her. These days I often recall the poet Robinson Jeffers’s conjuration of this ancient tale:
"The mad girl with the staring eyes and long white fingers
Hooked in the stones of the wall,
The storm-wrack hair and screeching mouth: does it matter, Cassandra,
Whether the people believe
Your bitter fountain? Truly men hate the truth, they’d liefer
Meet a tiger on the road.
Therefore the poets honey their truth with lying; but religion –
Vendors and political men
Pour from the barrel, new lies on the old, and are praised for kind
Wisdom. Poor bitch be wise.
No: you’ll still mumble in a corner a crust of truth, to men
And gods disgusting – you and I, Cassandra."
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Here is the link for buying the second edition of my 1993 book, Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, with an Introduction by Prof. George W. Carey, a Forward by Patrick J. Buchanan, and critical essays by Scott Richert and David Gordon (ISI Books, 2008).