A fascinating article recently appeared in the Fairfax newspapers in Australia concerning the late Melbourne-born Mossad agent Ben Zygier. The result of a joint investigation by Fairfax in Australia and Germany’s Der Spiegel magazine, the article, entitled “The life and death of Prisoner X,” outlines the sequence of events which led to Zygier’s arrest, imprisonment, and ultimate suicide in an Israeli prison. In the words of the author, Jason Koutsoukis, Ben Zygier “was responsible for one of the most serious security breaches in Israeli history, a breach that led directly to the imprisonment of two of Israel’s most prized Lebanese informants.” While an interesting story in its own right, the Zygier case also highlights the perils of allowing Australian Jews to have joint Australian-Israeli citizenship: in particular, it reveals how the Mossad deliberately recruit these dual nationals to use their Australian passports as cover for their operations – including for assassinations.
The general tone of the article is sympathetic to Zygier, whose story is described as “the tragic downfall of a passionate Zionist, a young man who aspired to a life of heroism, and yet, in the wake of his own shortcomings, willingly gave away such sensitive information to the enemy that it represents one of the most serious security breaches in Israel’s 65-year history.” It is quite bizarre that an Israeli spy, who betrayed his Australian nationality by using his Australian passport to conduct intelligence operations for another country, is described in an Australian newspaper as someone whose downfall was “tragic.” Zygier was a shameless traitor to the land of his birth, and one can only conclude that his ultimate downfall, rather than being “tragic,” was entirely appropriate.
Ben Zygier was born in 1976 in Melbourne to a wealthy Jewish family. His father owned a food manufacturing business and became a leading figure in Melbourne’s Jewish community, serving as Chief Executive of the Jewish Community Council of Victoria. Educated at Jewish Schools, Zygier quickly became a passionate Zionist and joined the Zionist youth movement Hashomer Hatzair. After beginning a law degree at Monash University, he deferred his studies to move to Israel. He ended up living at the Kibbutz Gazit close to Israel’s border with Lebanon. There he met up with fellow Australian Jew Daniel Leiton and the two became friends. Koutsoukis notes that “Leiton recalls first meeting Zygier in the late ‘80s in Melbourne. Even then, he says, the two teenagers shared a passionate belief in Zionism, with Zygier already making it clear he would make Aliyah, the act of immigration for diaspora Jews to the land of Israel.” Another friend of Zygier, Lior Brand, described him as “obviously clever, and ready to defend Israel against its enemies, no matter what the cost.” Read more