A Kuwaiti newspaper, Al-Jarida, reports today that according to Western sources, Ben Zygier aka ‘Prisoner X’ (who is claimed to have committed suicide in a high security Israeli prisoner in 2010) belonged to “band 131,” the Mossad team that assassinated Hamas commander Mohammed Mabhouh in Dubai on January 19, 2010.
Zygier is alleged to have provided Dubai authorities with detailed information about members of the Mossad team and in return for doing so was provided protection.
The same sources claimed that Zygier was later tracked down by Israel, kidnapped, and imprisoned on charges of treason.
The secrecy surrounding the Zygier case inevitably provides fertile ground for abundant speculation. For instance, Dimi Reider has an interesting theory about how Zygier could have exposed an Israeli false flag operation. But absent any additional evidence, I’d say that currently the Dubai theory ranks as somewhat more plausible.
Of course it leaves plenty of unanswered questions, but it’s not too difficult to fill in the blanks.
Let’s start with one feature of the Dubai investigation that was particularly striking at the time: the Dubai police were spectacularly efficient in identifying the Mossad agents.
The conventional wisdom among reporters and analysts covering the story was that this speedy detective work could largely be credited to state-of-the-art surveillance systems and software for tracking communications and financial transactions. It wasn’t so much a story about the brilliance of Dubai’s sleuths but more about the Western technology at their disposal. Maybe.
On the other hand, if as Dubai’s detectives examined the video evidence, they also had Zygier at their side identifying faces and naming names, that would certainly have expedited the process.
Why would Zygier have been so helpful? We can only guess, but it might have gone something like this: Dubai got a lucky break — they arrested him as he tried to flee.
However confident a Mossad agent might be when traveling across the Middle East with an Australian passport and a non-Jewish name, that confidence would likely swiftly evaporate if such an agent found himself detained by authorities who suspected he was in Mossad. In a country where torture has on occasions been administered directly by its rulers, it’s quite likely that an Israeli such as Zygier might have chosen to talk rather than risk being abused by a cattle prod.
Moreover, in the opinion of some of those who knew him, Zygier was not cut out for the job.
One Hashomer friend who was on Kibbutz Gazit with Zygier in 1994 said that Zygier “never struck me as someone who was stable.”
“I could never imagine someone like that being good for Mossad,” said the acquaintance, who like most acquaintances interviewed about Zygier did not want to be identified. “Also, Ben talked too much.”
So, if he did spill the beans, then end up getting hauled back to Israel in secret, it seems quite possible that he would have then been charged with treason, a charge that Israeli Army Radio now reports that he faced.
Did the severe conditions in which Zygier was imprisoned, along with the humiliation of the circumstances that landed him there, lead him to commit suicide?
One of his Israeli lawyers who met him just days before his death says he gave no indication he was going to commit suicide.
“When I saw him, there was nothing to indicate he was going to commit suicide,” said Avigdor Feldman, a top human rights lawyer.
In an interview with Israel’s army radio, Mr Feldman said he had met Prisoner X to offer him advice ahead of his trial.
“His family asked that I meet him to advise him. The trial hadn’t properly started yet,” he said, indicating the prisoner had already been indicted and that talks were under way with senior prosecutors to reach a plea bargain.
“He asked for advice and I sat and listened to him. Not that I’m a psychologist, but he appeared rational, focused, he spoke clearly about the issue and didn’t exude any sense of self-pity.”
A day or two later, Mr Feldman’s liaison at the prison rang him to say the prisoner had died.
The lawyer admitted he was surprised “that a man who was being held in a cell like that, a cell which was being monitored and checked 24-hours a day, could manage to commit suicide by hanging himself.”
Mr Feldman, who said he knew the prisoner’s real name and had access to the file on his arrest but was unable to give any details for legal reasons, said it was clear the detainee was facing a very long jail term.
“I understood that he was told he was likely to face the longest possible jail term and that he was likely to be ostracised by his family,” he said.
A life sentence, perhaps in isolation, and being disowned by his family — Zygier might not have appeared suicidal but he certainly had reason to despair.