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Netanyahu backs spies as Australian mystery simmers
Published Sunday 17/02/2013 (updated) 19/02/2013 14:29
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An Israeli prison guard keeps watch from a tower at Ayalon prison
in Ramle near Tel Aviv Feb. 13, 2013. An Australian man committed
suicide in the high-security Israeli jail in 2010 after being held for
months in great secrecy, Australia's ABC channel said on Tuesday,
throwing new light on the case. (Reuters/Nir Elias)

JERUSALEM (Reuters) -- Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu appealed on Sunday for the public spotlight on Israel's Mossad spy agency to be turned off after news of the jailhouse suicide of a reported Australian recruit.

The affair was kept under wraps for two years until it emerged last week with an Australian television expose that identified the dead man as 34-year-old Ben Zygier, a possible Mossad operative detained on suspicion of security offenses.

Using court gag orders, military censorship and direct requests of news editors, the Netanyahu government has tamped down reporting on the case in Israel.

That has done little to douse demands at home and in Canberra for the Israelis to come clean about the circumstances of Zygier's imprisonment and how he was able to kill himself in highly supervised isolation cell.

Without citing any specific case, Netanyahu told his cabinet he "absolutely trusts" Israel's security services and what he described as the independent legal monitoring system under which they operated.

"We are an exemplary democracy...but we are also more threatened, more challenged, and therefore we have to ensure the proper operation of our security branches," he said in remarks aired by Israeli broadcasters.

"Therefore I ask over everyone: Let the security services continue working quietly so that we can continue to live in safety and tranquility in the State of Israel."

The few Israeli officials who spoke about the case have not denied it centered on Zygier nor that he was linked to Mossad, which in early 2010 was accused by Dubai of using Australian passport-holders to assassinate a Palestinian arms procurer in the Gulf emirate.

That has prompted media speculation that Israel suspected the Melbourne-born Jew of betraying Mossad missions, perhaps to Australia's security services, as they probed passport fraud.

Civil liberties groups and some Israeli lawmakers have also demanded to know whether Zygier's rights were violated by his months of incarceration under alias.

No benighted country

Avigdor Feldman, an Israeli lawyer with whom Zygier consulted in Ayalon prison, said last week that meeting was arranged by a "Mossad liaison" and that his client had denied "grave charges" for which he awaited trial.

Feldman also said that Zygier's family, which has declined all comment on the affair, knew about his detention.

Two senior members of Netanyahu's cabinet, Intelligence Minister Dan Meridor and Strategic Affairs Minister Moshe Yaalon, offered reassurance in Israeli media interviews on Saturday that the case was rare, lawful and necessary.

"This took place because of extreme, most extraordinary circumstances, in order to protect very important interests," Meridor told Channel 10 television.

The incarceration was approved by several Israeli courts.

Publishing the prisoner's identity would have risked "serious harm to security", Meridor said without elaborating.

While also reticent about what led to Zygier's arrest, Yaalon told Channel Two television: "There are extreme situations...to do with our security and even the need to preserve human life, when we need to take an extreme step such as this."

Tzachi Hanegbi, a lawmaker from Netanyahu's conservative Likud party who chaired parliament's Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee and intelligence subcommittee when Zygier was arrested in early 2010, said he was not informed of the case at the time.

"This requires explanation," Hanegbi said. "Usually, every significant subject, whether it is impressive achievements or embarrassing failures, is laid out before the subcommittee."

But asked about Hanegbi's remarks, former Mossad director Danny Yatom told Reuters the agency was under no legal obligation to brief oversight lawmakers in such circumstances.
1 ) Maureen / Australia
17/02/2013 22:06
Poor man. He paid for the sins of the Israeli Junta!

2 ) Alison / UK
17/02/2013 22:16
Mr Netanyahu says "Israel is an exemplary democracy"!!!! An example of what exactly I wonder?

3 ) gabi / australia
18/02/2013 01:59
It would be interesting to see if Israel had taken X before a court - to prove their case against him - if his lawyers would have been briefed on any evidence supporting his "crimes"? But that had been avoided by Israel's action, action which we would deride if done by other countries.

18/02/2013 03:19

5 ) Alex / America
18/02/2013 05:46
Oh, shut up Maureen! I believe that Israelis have tried to SAVE LIVES by isolating a potential threat to national security. You have no idea what it means to live in a lone democratic enclave surrounded by blood-lusting enemies. Yet, millions of Israelis continue to survive daily threats from Arab and Islamic states.

6 ) Reader / from Edmonton
18/02/2013 07:17
Death by state.

7 ) Rami / Palestine
18/02/2013 08:31
"We are an exemplary democracy..." After having said that, how could anyone believe another word out of the mouth of Nuttyahoo.

8 ) Mel / USA
18/02/2013 19:17
#5:Alex/America:"lone democratic enclave surrounded by blood-lusting enemies"? I PRESUME you're talking about Gaza,W.Bank,E.Jerusalem?! You can't rationally be referring to ROGUE-NUCLEAR,4TH LARGEST MILITARY,WEALTHY,"MOST MORAL"MILITARIST-JUNTA,ETHNO-THEOCRATIC,APARTHEID,LAND-THIEF ISRAEL? The only people who survive ACTUAL"daily threats"are Palestinian/Arab people,subjected to radical ZIONIST war crimes,& Zionism's Holocaust of the Holy LAND! This is 2013! Not WW1&WW2!Israel's a VICTIMIZER now!

9 ) Maureen / Australia
19/02/2013 22:15
#Alex. Well, you poor sod, aren't you a fine example of democracy? Served time in the Zionist IOF, eh?
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